Microsoft has announced it will launch Minecraft: Education Edition, a version of the hugely popular video game that will allow teachers to collaborate with students and potentially see them build historical worlds in the virtual game environment, this summer.
Microsoft, which paid $2.5 billion for Mojang, the Swedish developer of Minecraft, in 2014, plans to launch a free trial of the new version of the game in the summer but will ultimately charge an annual subscription fee of $5 per child and teacher for access to the new software. With over 100 million players, Minecraft is one of the best-selling video games of all time and is available on PCs, games consoles, tablets and smartphones.
Minecraft: Education Edition will build on the success of MinecraftEdu, which is a version of the game developed by a Finnish company and used by 7,000 classrooms in over 40 countries. Late last year, Microsoft bought the four-year-old version of the game and is now planning on building on top of the services it offers.
The Education Edition of Minecraft will allow students to create characters that they can continue playing with from one session to the next. Additionally, an in-game camera will allow players to take pictures of their efforts in the game and save the images to an online scrapbook that they can share with family and friends.
Each teacher and student will need an Office 365 ID in order to access the new version of Minecraft. The $5 subscription fee will also give each user access to Microsoft's suite of cloud-based productivity tools and email. Each student will also be given the option of downloading the game outside of the classroom to continue playing the game at home without having to pay for another copy of it.
Microsoft is hoping that the hugely engaged Minecraft community will help develop this new version of the game. It has established an online portal for the game where it hopes teachers and students from around the world will upload content that can be shared and used by other classrooms.
“One of the reasons Minecraft fits so well in the classroom is because it’s a common, creative playground,” Vu Bui, COO of Mojang, said in a statement. “We’ve seen that Minecraft transcends the differences in teaching and learning styles and education systems around the world. It’s an open space where people can come together and build a lesson around nearly anything.”
Microsoft has already posted a few examples of these worlds on the website, including maps allowing students explore the great pyramids of Giza, World War 2 Anderson Shelters and the Temple of Artemis. There are also some community-created examples, including a feudal Japanese map designed to discuss Japanese poetry, a map using Minecraft blocks to show Brutalist architecture and one that shows huge molecules that can be explored.