Educators have known since 2011 (and probably earlier) that Minecraft, the popular building sim game, can be a real boon in the classroom. This belief gave birth to MinecraftEdu, a version of the game aimed at schools. However, just as Microsoft acquired Minecraft developer Mojang, the software giant now has TeacherGaming, MinecraftEdu's creator, under its belt as well. Minecraft: Education Edition is slated to replace MinecraftEdu starting this summer, and the changes sound restrictive — though not terribly costly.
The information about the changes comes via blog post on the official Mojang website, although to get the full picture, you need to follow the links to both the Minecraft: Education Edition page as well as TeacherGaming's MinecraftEdu FAQ. Essentially, Microsoft acquired the rights to Minecraft when it bought Mojang two years ago. However, since MinecraftEdu was an officially supported alternate version of the game, its rights belonged to developer TeacherGaming. Now that Microsoft has acquired TeacherGaming as well, it will phase out MinecraftEdu and encourage educators to invest in its own Microsoft-backed Minecraft: Education Edition instead.
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For what it's worth, Minecraft: Education Edition still sounds like it has everything teachers need to give their students something that's both fun and informative. The game provides maps with coordinates, a portfolio mode for sharing pictures, multiplayer mode with support for up to 40 participants, customized avatars and the ability to import and export worlds for sharing. The program also provides lesson plans for topics ranging from arts to sciences to engineering.
Here's where it gets a little tricky: MinecraftEdu already provided a lot of these features, and was a little less restrictive, to boot. MinecraftEdu allows mods, runs offline and doesn't require an ongoing subscription fee. On the other hand, Minecraft: Education Edition could wind up being less expensive than its predecessor. An Education Edition subscription costs $5 per student, per year, while MinecraftEdu server software costs $41 (one-time) plus between $14 and $18 per student license. Since license fees don't recur in MinecraftEdu, either service could be cheaper, depending on how many years a student needs to use the game.
For the moment, users can still purchase MinecraftEdu software and licenses and use them in the future, since the licenses never expire. Come this summer, though, it's likely that Microsoft will transfer over the service to Minecraft: Education Edition completely. (Teachers can try a free trial this summer, with a full release coming sometime before the 2016-2017 school year.) Whether the new program works better or worse than the old one remains to be seen, but either way, students will probably appreciate the chance to play a video game as part of their schoolwork.
For those who don't feel the scholarly compulsion, the well-received Minecraft: Story Mode from Telltale Games will also make its way to Wii U on Jan. 21 for $20.