As Mojang sets course for Minecraft's future with the promising modding API, they've also been working on another important feature for the community, one focused more on the casual audience that Minecraft managed to capture. If they play their cards rights, Realm could be huge. Here's why.
Minecraft on Xbox 360 is hugely popular despite it being a clearly inferior version (portable doesn't count because it's portable). It gets updates way later, has smaller maps and generally less things to do. It doesn't have mods either, which are a huge part of the PC experience. So why does it sell so well? The answer lies in the undeniable appeal of multiplayer. On PC starting a server requires a stable online payment option, effort put into researching the proper hosts and the options they offer. On 360 you start it up and… you play multiplayer. Sure it ain't as good as the PC version, but it works out of the box. Split screen is also a huge deal to their target audience (we'll get to that later).
You might say to yourself reading this: “Well I don't care about the 360 version, on PC I can have mods and have a better experience”. To those people I say:
It's not aimed at YOU.
We know Minecraft may have started out with a core indie loving audience, but it's grown way beyond that, and right into the young, casual crowd. It has captured the hearts of a young generation that obsess over the game and actually make up a decent amount, if not the majority, of the community. Kids as young as 6 years old are getting into Minecraft and that young age range Minecraft dominates goes all the way up to 16. It's a huge audience, and one that Mojang has made lots of money from via merchandise. This is the prime audience for Realms.
Not everyone has a 360. Suddenly, any kid with a computer built after Nolan got hold of Batman will be able to play a superior version with just their friends as easy as they could have on 360… . for a price. You might think kids will not pay for a monthly service like that, and there's logic in that, but you'd be wrong. They already do - it's called Xbox Live Gold. If you don't trust me just ask anybody that played a Call of Duty match on XBL in the last 5 years.
“But won't it kill third party server hosting?” No. Probably won't even affect them at all. The audience they're trying to capture a market that a third party could never capture because they never could - it's an audience that doesn't exist in that form yet. And the existing audience simply won't care about Realms because they want mods and customization and advanced features that just won't exist in Realms.
Mojang's got a huge casual audience that they can tap, maybe even double tap (if they already bought the 36 version) without stepping on anyone's toes, and they're tapping it in the most optimal fashion available. And it's not just Mojang that can profit, it's the community as well. Realms could use as a stepping stone to advanced server hosting and modding. It could benefit the community as a whole.
In conclusion - Realms is a great way to provide simple, yet effective server hosting for casual players while not destroying third parties. It's great for Mojang, it's great for the community, and it's probably great for you too, if you're reading this.
Now, how about that modding API?