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Sweden uses Minecraft for urban planning

Swedish National Land survey has put its maps on Minecraft to promote its work

Since December 2015, anyone playing popular sandbox game Minecraft has been able to build their worlds on the actual map of Sweden.

Lantmäteriet, the Swedish National Land survey, launched the country’s maps as Minecraft-friendly downloads to increase interest in geospatial information and open data, particularly among younger citizens.

“We were going to launch some maps as open data and I thought it would be great to do it on Minecraft, and our managers liked the idea,” Bobo Tideström, business developer at the Lantmäteriet, told Computer Weekly.

Tideström introduced the idea of a Minecraft Sweden in August 2015, and the complete map of Sweden and individual maps of each of its 290 municipalities were released to the public four months later. “For a governmental department, we completed the project very fast,” said Tideström. Lantmäteriet had a small internal team working on the project while the map data was converted to Minecraft by outside consultants using FME mapping tools.

The maps have gathered over 19,000 downloads to date, but Tideström believes their reach is far wider through the visibility of the project and the use of the maps in various other projects, such as a competition for schools to design a future city in the municipality of Kiruna.

“We were surprised that municipalities and organisations have started to use Minecraft as an actual planning tool for city development and have a dialogue with citizens,” said Tideström. “It is an easy way to translate maps into 3D, which makes it far easier for people to see how their city will look.”

The project, which cost an estimated kr400,000 (£36,000), has also received an accolade from the IT community, winning Digital Project of the Year at the Swedish CIO Awards.

Sweden is not the first country to recreate itself in Minecraft. Denmark and Norway have previously had similar projects, but Tideström said Lantmäteriet has gone a step further with the granular data the maps offer, from roads and lakes to forests and grasslands.

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Lantmäteriet used the earlier project in Denmark for benchmarking, namely in opting for downloadable maps instead of a server-based approach. “In Denmark, they had an open server so people could log in and play,” said Tideström. “They had big problems with houses being torn down by players.”

The Swedish maps are available in 8x8 metre resolution (each Minecraft block is equivalent to eight meters). While this means small file sizes for downloading, the maps are more suitable for roaming the landscape than building detailed houses. To address this Lantmäteriet has so far launched four municipalities in a higher (1x1) resolution to enable more creativity.

“In some areas, schoolkids have built the whole centre of a town so it looks like real life, with the right textures and colours,” said Tideström.

Tideström said the Minecraft project hasn’t faced any major technical issues, but it has had an impact on Lantmäteriet’s approach to IT projects. The agency is now encouraging more experiments and fast deployments in addition to traditional large-scale projects.

“We realised if we would have taken this project through our normal process of driving things, we would have released it in 2018 or 2019,” he said. “We are now looking into how we can change this prioritisation and act faster with the deployment of ideas.”

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