1.8 now includes a new default player skin named "Alex", which appears to represent a female character (It could be another generic unisex skin, but to me at least it stands out as female.) using the new slimmer arm model that Jeb showed off a while back
According to Mojang's support page for skins, the Steve and Alex skin are randomly assigned to all account ID's if the player is not using a custom skin. There is currently no in-game option to change this, but you can still be Steve again by downloading the original skin. You can switch between the large or small arm model on the Profile Page, while logged in of course.
Opinions on the new skin? One things for sure, if it's meant to be a female character, it throws Notch's "genderless" explanation off a cliff. Though the fact that Steve clearly represents a male character and actually had facial hair at one point kind of did that too.
I actually really like it. Not too flashy, small amounts of shading, and a new character model to boot! I really think the muted colors blend in with a lot of the blocks more
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Yes, Steve is either gender with a goatee. We'll go with that.
In all seriousness, I like this new default skin and welcome the variation it will bring to servers full of people who can't be bothered to get new skins. Now instead of just being Steve, Steve, Steve, someone with a skin, Steve; it will instead be more like Steve, Alex, Steve, guy with a skin, Alex. Any variation is an improvement.
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Accounts without a custom skin will see either the classic Steve skin, or the newer Alex skin, which features slimmer arms. This is based on your random account ID, so your default cannot be changed. If you are Alex and you'd like to be Steve, you can download the Steve skin here.
At this time, this arm style is only available on the Alex model; in the future, this arm type will be a feature that can be used with custom skins. Alex skins will show as Steve in versions prior to 1.8. Any instances of existing custom skins featuring a three pixel-wide arm are a bug, and will be fixed in the next pre-release.
Why? For the sake of Minecraft canon, Notch decided that there were no genders. As players playing the game though, we can easily see the distinction of Steve being more towards a male. This creates a disconnect, especially for female players. They went and removed the old grunt sound, but Steve is still male to us, even though if within Minecraft canon "he" is genderless. I see no issues with this new skin, because it doesn't destroy the cannon of the world being genderless (this new skin is more unisex than the Steve model, if more apparently a female counterpart to Steve) while letting females feel more of a connection to the game and world. How is this bad? Most people probably change their skin anyway, and you have all these "girls" running anyway, whether it's in the official Minecraft canon or not.
I think it's a good change, but the purists are going to hate any change though, it seems... (I'm not directing this towards you; just saying it in general.)
Rather than randomly assigning a model skin though, I'd like to see a way to be able to choose it.
Also, on the discussion of grass, that seems really out of place if it is a change as well. It looks nice, but way out of place. I'm guessing it's a texture pack? Odd of them to show this with that, if so, which makes me wonder. I can't see them making grass so highly detailed like that though (unless they overhaul it all, in which that skin will be out of place, so no, I can't see it).
I'm using a custom skin, and I got the 3 pixel arm model... what did I do? I don't dislike the new skin model, but my current skin doesn't fit upon it. The sooner I get that "Pick Skin Model" Button, the sooner I can use my old skins again.