Minecraft For RTX Beta Signals The Increased Popularity Of Ray Tracing

By Patrick Moorhead - May 8, 2020
RTX Minecraft showcase of lava, ice, and luminescent blocks 

For the past ten years, PC gaming has increased in popularity, but since COVID-19 hit the scene, it is becoming even more popular. I captured some of that in my recent blog here where I cited some comments NVIDIA’s CFO made on the topic. It makes sense that as more people are staying home, many are occupying their time playing PC games. Part of that reason for the growing fascination with PC games is its intense realism versus consoles. NVIDIA provided a major boost to realism with its “GeForce RTX” branded graphics cards in 2019 that were the first to support accelerated ray tracing. NVIDIA has been busy hammering away at supporting more games and adding RTX technologies to more of its cards. Today, I’d like to talk about an interesting announcement NVIDIA made last week about a Minecraft beta with RTX support on Windows 10. Net-net, I believe it demonstrates the increased popularity of ray tracing and puts another feather in Microsoft’s cap with Microsoft Game Studio Support.

What’s ray tracing?

For those unfamiliar with ray tracing, let me step back a bit and do some background education. As I wrote here, ray tracing is a technology that has been used by filmmakers and studios to create the most realistic lighting, shadows, and reflections, but it took fleets of server farms to properly batch-process the video, frame by agonizing frame. Most games today do an OK job faking lighting using rasterization techniques, but when you look closely, the reflections of light do not actually represent what real light rays would do. I believe this is one way humans can spot the differences between video games and reality. Ray tracing is a technique that better simulates the actual trajectory and reflection of light as it bounces off materials that have different reflectivity characteristics. A mirror is different from paint, which is different from gravel, which is different from a car hood. The other thing I will add is that ray tracing reduces the time it takes for developers and artists to create “brute force” effects in many of today’s games.

Minecraft with RTX on Windows 10

Ray tracing has become very important for a multitude of games from a variety of publishers. I documented many games here last August but Digital Trends added to my list here.

Minecraft is an incredibly popular game that I am certain your kids or grandkids aged 8-15, either play it or have played it. Minecraft did have some unsupported ray tracing mods but, according to my son, they were buggy. Now we have a fully ray-traced Minecraft supported by NVIDIA and Microsoft. You will need an NVIDIA GeForce RTX card to play it, but when you do, players get access to a fully path-trace rendered environment with physically based materials and support for NVIDIA’s DLSS 2.0.

RTX “Off” 
RTX “On” 

According to my teenage gamer son who wrote about his experiences here, “What I loved most about it personally, is that coming from a Minecraft player who grew up on the game and has almost played for 10 years is that it gives me the old feeling I had whenever I logged on for the first time ever. All the textures and light effects come together perfectly and no effect seems out-of-the-ordinary like some of the incomplete 3rd party ray tracer packs. It brings back that sense of realness and astonishment that hits you when you see things. While I was simply walking around a vanilla world I was in shock and awe on how truly amazing it is and how the Minecraft RTX community has an official release of RTX Minecraft, I cannot wait until this comes out of beta and I and my friends can play and Livestream it together.” I would call that a positive testimony! You can find Pico Moorhead’s blog here and many of his screenshots here.

So what?

So, what is the significance of Minecraft with RTX on Windows 10? I have a few takeaways. First off, Minecraft has a newly supported genre and age group target now supported by RTX. While not all Minecraft players are kids as I saw from the two Minecons I attended, the age skews lower than let us say Battlefield V. This support is good for ray tracing as it just means more games in lower age groups supporting RTX. That, of course, would be good for NVIDIA.

Xbox Game Studios

Also significant is the support from Xbox Game Studios with the breadth of the15 game development studios who published Minecraft and a multitude of PC and console games. Given the next Xbox, Xbox Series X, code-named Scarlett will support ray tracing and Microsoft’s DirectX ray tracing API inside Direct X 12, I fully expect Xbox Game Studios to jump on ray tracing. Given NVIDIA has the only ray tracing graphics cards out there and its installed base is growing quickly, that must be good for NVIDIA.

Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.

Patrick Moorhead

Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.