Is Minecraft the Metaverse?

Minecraft is the hugely popular “sandbox” game in which players can wander around a virtual planet (with a virtual surface area eight times that of Earth!), mine minerals, harvest timber, and build things out of the resources they collect. Most players construct houses, gardens, paths, and walls, but some players make immense recreations of structures like the Notre Dame and the USS Enterprise, or build virtual computers and working GameBoys.

When I started playing Minecraft with my kids last year, I immediately thought of the Metaverse — the shared virtual reality system in Neal Stephenson’s now-classic 1992 science fiction novel, Snow Crash. The Metaverse was a simulated universe where people could buy or rent virtual real estate and set up a business or a home-away-from-home, furnishing it with virtual goods that cost real money. “Minecraft is the first big step towards the Metaverse,” I thought.


P1HQs  Imgur

But, as is so often the case, reality is turning out to be stranger — and more interesting — than fiction. The Metaverse was about simulating reality in a virtual world, but Minecraft’s future might be about converting virtual things into real things. Take a look at Minecraft.print, a project by Cody Sumter and Jason Boggess of MIT’s Media Lab. They’ve developed a Python script that allows anyone to take objects that have been constructed in Minecraft and bring them into the real world via a 3D printer (see video above). Similarly, Eric Haines has written a program called Mineways that generates 3D files from Minecraft models so you can have them printed out by 3D printing service bureaus such as Shapeways. (Image on right is a model of the Ford Engineering Design Center modeled in Minecraft, converted with Mineways, and printed with a 3D printer).

The neat thing about this is Minecraft is a lot easier to use than most 3D design software. It doesn’t take long to learn how to stack blocks in Minecraft. I can easily imagine the game becoming the basis for a 3D design program that feels like a game and allows collaborative design, and which generates models that can be made real with a 3D printer.

When I play Minecraft now, I imagine a large Dr. Seuss-like machine in an empty lot, scooping up dirt, spitting out bricks, and stacking them in the shape of my virtual house.


Boing Boing is a pioneering blog that offers an eclectic blend of of tech culture, gadgets, entertainment, business, and more — a “geek’s eye view” on the world. Original feature reporting from some of the most-respected technology writers today and original Boing Boing Video episodes have made Boing Boing an Internet mainstay. Mark Frauenfelder is founder of Boing Boing, editor at MAKE, and author of “Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World“.

Mark Frauenfelder / Boing Boing
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  • Bob Sabiston

    Just so you know, if you aren’t into mining stone and chopping wood, you can just build/print voxel objects directly with the iPad/iPhone app “Voxel”! Check it out.

  • JubJub

    Seriously? Second Life predates it by several years, has it’s own thriving economy, and is much more metaverse like.

  • dreddpiratebob

    The metaverse has been going for a few years now. It’s Second Life mate :)

    You can even sword fight in it.

  • Eric Haines

    I certainly agree with this post (though not the spelling of my last name). In particular, I’ve noticed how easy it is to create using voxels, it’s a skill we all learned before we were toddlers: put block A on top of block B. I work for Autodesk, a CAD software company, and in giving a talk about my Mineways program I noted that the 35+ million players ( are all architects, since everyone builds.

    What’s compelling about this voxel building method is that it maps to reality so easily for us: we all understand a solid block, and that there’s only one solid block per spot. We don’t have any weird disconnects. With surface modelers there’s, “I’m making just a surface, not a solid”, and with solid modelers there’s, “I’m taking objects and shoving them through each other”.

    Some fun little voxel-based modelers are out there, such as 3DTin, and the “Voxel” app on the iPad. I’m looking forward to a friend’s entry in the field, Endlyss ( I think what we’ll see in a good voxel modeler is an onion-layer approach. You can always put down single blocks, but soon you’ll want a wall tool and so learn that method, a “change all these to those” tool, a “let me paint on this surface” tool, and so on.

    • admin

      Thanks Eric! We corrected the spelling. My Life Scoop

  • Sarge Misfit

    “The Metaverse was a simulated universe where people could buy or rent virtual real estate and set up a business or a home-away-from-home, furnishing it with virtual goods that cost real money”

    Check out OpenSim, AuroraSim, and the various virtual worlds that use those open source software applications, such as InWorldz. Although virtual currencies are used, those currencies can and are exchanged for real world dollars. In those virtual worlds, people are doing exactly as you state; building, buying and selling virtual goods, real estate, setting up businesses, attending social venues and events and much more.

    The Metaverse is here and it didn’t start with Minecraft.

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  • Solo Mornington

    Of course Minecraft is cool, but really, you know… Second Life is the metaverse. :-)

    Clever people have been exporting Second Life content to 3D printers and papercraft for almost a decade now.

    Also, the newest metaverse kid on the block: CloudParty, playable in a WebGL-enabled web browser.

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  • Brock

    What’s with the sky in the Minecraft picture? Snow crash?

  • Some Humanoid

    While I recognize that the real point of the article was on the 3D printing project, I winced when I read the part about Minecraft as a “first step” toward a Metaverse. There are other games and virtual worlds where people can and do rent virtual land and form homes, communities, and even businesses that see real-world profit. Some single areas in Entropia Universe have been sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Second Life’s been at it for about a decade, and everything in it is user-generated content.

    Minecraft is a collaborative virtual world, yes, and a popular one. I play it; I love it. However, it completely lacks the economic features that are characteristic of a Metaverse as you describe – not because those things are still “in the future,” but because it was a gameplay choice on the part of its creator.

    Second Life’s interface isn’t exactly user-friendly, nor is it known for its stability, but it is a place where people have homes and businesses, selling user-created content and cashing out the game currency for real-world money – and a tech writer addressing virtual worlds to any degree would do well to be familiar with it. Though a lot of it is rather unimpressive, there are a few regions and communities that are absolutely amazing and far worth the effort to find. As such, SL is far closer to the Metaverse than Minecraft is, or is capable of becoming in its current state.

    So, I’m sorry, but I’m afraid this article falls under that old adage: when a news headline asks a question, the answer is “No.”

    • Eric Haines

      Sure, “first step” would be wrong, but Mark’s phrase was, “first big step”, and that’s just a matter of opinion. Building objects is a skill reserved for the dedicated few in Second Life; in Minecraft it’s what everyone does by default. It’s this “building something that lasts” element that makes Minecraft so compelling for me. No real game there, sadly, but the potential for others to take this building concept farther in the years ahead, along with those elements of Second Life that work, makes for exciting times.

  • Lani Global

    The metaverse includes Minecraft, however, Minecraft is quite crude compared to OpenSim. Just go visit OSGrid and I think you will agree.

  • gert

    “Minecraft is the first big step towards the Metaverse” — I used to work in the virtual world Second Life, which is much, much closer to the Metaverse than Minecraft. If you don’t know Second Life and are interested in Metaverse-like virtual worlds, you should check it out!

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  • Enon

    Minecraft? No, Second Life was the first step.. but, that aside, I liked the points you made. Good read.

  • KGisWish

    this shiitt even for real as what birdbrain is going to pay for that