Minecraft Earth is a new AR game coming to Android and iOS this summer – from Microsoft. Yes, you read that right, Microsoft is going head to head with Pokemon GO, Wizards Unite and JWA this summer with persistent AR Minecraft holograms. No loot boxes, no pay to win, only raw Minecraft. Closed beta is coming this summer.

Announced at the Microsoft’s campus by Alex Kipman, Minecraft Earth is the next installment in the booming block building franchise. Earth is special, as it takes place in a very special world – our world – and aims to invoke the same exploration fantasy as the original PC game. Minecraft already has 91 million active players, a number which is likely to grow as Earth goes live.

The game is one of the most ambitious attempts at planet scale AR we’ve seen to date, as every system in the game seems to work seamlessly in real time. This is a bit hard to explain in words, but keep in mind that everything written here can be seen by other players and they can interact with it.

Before we continue, we strongly recommend you watch the cheeky reveal trailer below:

Next generation of AR

The game is an adaptation, not a direct clone of Minecraft, but it is build on the existing Bedrock engine, which means all Minecraft behaviours and features will be present: from Redstone machines to spider spawners.

Just like Pokemon GO, Minecraft Earth forces you to venture out into the real world and collect resources. Unlike GO, these “tapables” are placed randomly around you and there should always be at least two nearby. Tapables are the key to building stuff, as they reward resources and items needed for the building mode.

In order to build structures, players will have to use build plates. Build plates come in a variety of sizes, from table top to 200 x 200 feet gargantuans. Building seems to be real time and collaborative, everything that other players do is also visible to you. All you have to do is to raise your phone and you will see what’s going on.

Wait, what? You read it right.

Microsoft is going the extra mile and enabling something Niantic has been blabbering about for years now: shared multiplayer AR experiences. Microsoft is using its new Azure Spatial Anchors technology, combined with machine vision, to enable anchoring AR content on top of real-world objects.

The objects you create in Minecraft Earth will always stay in the same place – regardless of who’s looking at them.

Another adventurous win for OpenStreetMap

As reported by The Verge, “We have covered the entire planet in Minecraft,” explains Torfi Olafsson (game director). “Every lake is a place you can fish, every park is a place you can chop down trees. We’ve actually taken maps of the entire world and converted them to Minecraft.”.

These maps are based on OpenStreetMap, an open source repository of user provided map data, also used by Pokemon GO. The maps are also used as places for Minecraft adventures – dungeons that range from easy loot grabs to challenging encounters where you can lose your items if you die.

Adventures are designed for multiple players and are played in real time, while seeing other players, shared mobs and resources in real time! The idea is that you essentially become your phone in Minecraft Earth, and your camera is a lens into this virtual world.

Adventures are not “announced” anywhere, they simply randomly appear on the world map. Microsoft is relying on people going out and seeing them, rather than having an in-game map to inform players on their existence. There’s a deep layer of intricate social behaviour at work here, as players will need off screen communication support to report Adventures with fellow players.

Jason Cahill, an engineering architect for Minecraft, said that adventures will be heavily based on data coming in from Microsoft’s Azure Spatial Anchors. The data will be anonymized and used only to detect object features and create “safe spots” for adventure spawns. Cahill emphasized that adventures will start off conservatively, based on places where players often collect tapables. If the system determines the area as “safe”, the adventure will be permanently placed on the map and new players will simply need to walk up and start interacting with it.

Closed beta

 now plans to let Minecraft players access Minecraft Earth for a closed beta this summer. It’s not clear how many will be able to access the beta, or whether it will be restricted to the US initially. It’s early days for Minecraft Earth, and Microsoft doesn’t have all of the answers to many questions figured out just yet.

You may sign up for the beta here.