Nintendo and Minecraft: What the Heck Happened?

Nintendo and Minecraft: What the Heck Happened?

Minecraft and Nintendo should have been a match made in heaven. So what happened?

There are people who say Minecraft is just a fad. Those people are starting to sound a bit like the folks who snorted "This whole Pokémon thing will blow over" while Pokémon Gold and Silver flew off the shelves at the start of the millennium.

The first full release of Minecraft hit the PC in 2011. Last June, Mojang's data analyzer Patrick Geuder announced via Twitter that all editions of the game have sold a combined total of 54 million copies. That tally includes the game's sales for desktop computers, mobile platforms, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and even the tough little Raspberry Pi. Since June, Minecraft has also been released on PlayStation 4, PS Vita, Windows Phone, and Xbox One.

That'd be a pretty complete list of platforms if not for one obvious holdout: Nintendo.

Minecraft isn't on a Nintendo system, and it's an odd omission. The family-friendly sandbox game is a huge smash with young kids, which is Nintendo's target audience (and a more important audience than ever, given how many games and platforms are now competing for their attention).

So where's Minecraft Wii U? Where's Minecraft 3DS? Now that Mojang is owned by Microsoft, has Nintendo blown its final chance at benefitting from a match made in the Sky Dimension?

Touch Me Minecraft

Minecraft was born on the PC, and that's the version many players still swear by. However, the touchpads native to the Wii U and the Nintendo 3DS would be well-suited for the game, particularly when mucking around with inventory.

Kids in particular are falling further away from the keyboard / mouse combo (and thus falling further away from everything good about civilization, some purists would argue). While it's true Minecraft is thriving on mobile - Minecraft: Pocket Edition has sold over 30 million copies according to data released by Mojang on January 12 - players of all ages sometimes find the game's controls a bit slippery on a touch screen. An analogue stick / touch screen combination is a great compromise.

An even better idea is to make that analog / touch screen combination portable. Is there a single person that would object to having Minecraft on the Nintendo 3DS? True, the PS Vita version of the game offers touch-screen support, but the 3DS's dual screens would keep menu management clean and organized. A 3DS version of the game could also incorporate StreetPass functionality somehow.

And how about Miiverse? Nintendo's weird but wonderful social service would benefit from some Minecraft-related company. Who knows what people would be able to build and instantly share? In fact, Kevin, a Minecraft enthusiast from Alabama, wonders if missing out on player creations isn't the saddest thing about the lack of Minecraft on Nintendo platforms.

"To me, the real missed opportunity to me lies with Nintendo's passionate and creative fanbase," he says. "I think we would have seen some people play and create in ways never seen before."

In that vein, let's all weep gently over the lost opportunity for an official "Minecraft: Mushroom Kingdom" mod. Imagine fighting Goombas instead of zombies. Mining bricks instead of cobblestone. Fighting Bowser instead of the Ender Dragon. Constructing Mario worlds that stretch to the horizon.

The team-up between Nintendo and GungHo for the upcoming Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros Edition clearly indicates Nintendo is not adverse to letting its characters feature in other big-name properties. Minecraft: Mushroom Kingdom is something that should exist, but it doesn't.

Nintendo: Not Interested

There are plenty of great reasons for Minecraft to wind up on Nintendo platforms, but Nintendo's attitude towards the block-building phenomenon has been, in a word, lackadaisical.

Kotaku Editor-in-Chief Stephen Totilo was curious about the lack of Minecraft for Nintendo platforms. At E3 2014, Totilo asked legendary game designer Shigeru Miyamoto and Nintendo Software Planning and Development director Shinya Takahashi why Nintendo hasn't collaborated with Mojang. "I haven't played it myself," Miyamoto told Totilo, "But I have heard quite a bit about it."

Miyamoto then suggested Takahashi probably knew more about the game than he did and added, "I like that style of game, and I look at Mario Maker [for the Wii U] as being something in a similar vein."

While Takahashi agreed Minecraft would appeal to young audiences and be easy to play with the 3DS or Wii U touch screens, he was seemingly uninterested in putting Minecraft on either system except perhaps to bolster its popularity in Nintendo's home country.

"What's interesting is that, in Japan, Minecraft is not popular in the way it is in the U.S. and Europe," he told Totilo, "so we've also thought that, if we were able to do a partnership like that, it might bring opportunity to help make Minecraft more popular in Japan."

Though Miyamoto is synonymous with Nintendo's biggest game franchises, he's a designer first and a player second. And being in charge of Nintendo's Entertainment Analysis & Development has likely left him with less time than ever to play games. But comparing Minecraft to the upcoming level-creator Mario Maker is a bit tone-deaf, even when allowing wiggle room for possible mistranslations from Japanese to English.

That's not to discredit Mario Maker, which looks poised to deliver a lot of fun on its release in 2015. However, while Mario Maker and Minecraft both revolve around building, the former is more about structured game design, whereas the latter resembles unsupervised play. Given Minecraft's influence, Miyamoto should know the difference.

Similarly, though Takahashi's desire to make Minecraft more popular in Japan is a good idea, his remarks to Totilo make it seem as if he's not too concerned with Nintendo's huge audience outside Japan. It likely isn't the attitude Takahashi wanted to project, but again, it's tone-deaf.

Less and Less Likely

Nintendo's small interview with Totilo made it clear Nintendo wouldn't object to seeing Minecraft on Nintendo platforms, but it has little interest in instigating the project. Mojang, however, won't be approaching Nintendo any time soon. That has nothing to do with the Microsoft buy-out, either. Mojang never needed Nintendo's support, and it never will. Minecraft is everywhere.

"For single console owners, [the lack of Minecraft on Nintendo systems] sucks," says Adam Roffel, reviews editor at GamesReviews.com, "But I don't know anyone with a Wii U who doesn't own another console or a PC."

Matthew "CK" Stone, the developer of the Megacraft Classic mod (which adds Mega Man-themed blocks, weapons, and items to Minecraft) points out neither developer is probably interested in maintaining yet another version of Minecraft.

"The more platforms that Minecraft appears on, the harder it's got to be to get the game out on just one more platform," he says. "There are so many versions of the game being maintained and updated, and it's got to be hard for Mojang and its affiliates to divide attention among all of them."

So while Nintendo and Mojang could do beautiful things together, neither company is motivated to reach out to the other. Mojang is now owned by Microsoft, and has its hands full with the upkeep of Minecraft in its current form. Nintendo, as usual, is primarily interested in its own projects.

While the aforementioned Minecraft: Mushroom Kingdom fantasy is tantalizing, we'd be far more likely to see vanilla Minecraft on Nintendo's systems. Given the widespread availability of Minecraft on every platform barring pacemakers (for now), the game's presence probably wouldn't bolster the Wii U's lukewarm sales even if Nintendo did engage in the complicated dance required to get permission from Microsoft.

A Sad Ending, but Not Hopeless

The chasm between Nintendo and Mojang almost comes across as a story of a missed connection: A tale of two lovers who had the potential to bond like diamonds and sticks, but never actually met because they were too busy, or too apathetic, or both.

But even the saddest stories contain a grain of light, and Mojang's chief word officer, Owen Hill, offered a flicker of hope when asked if we'd ever see Nintendo and Minecraft come together.

"Personally, I think it would be great to see Minecraft on Nintendo platforms," he said. "Who knows what might happen in the future? Never say never, and all that."

In the meantime, let's hunt some pigs and make some pork chops.

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Nadia Oxford

Staff Writer

Nadia has been writing about games for so long, only the wind and the rain (or the digital facsimiles thereof) remember her true name. She's written for Nerve, About.com, Gamepro, IGN, 1UP, PlayStation Official Magazine, and other sites and magazines that sling words about video games. She co-hosts the Axe of the Blood God podcast, where she mostly screams about Dragon Quest.

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