Commentary

Game On: Microsoft Buys Minecraft Looking To Build Windows Mobile

Microsoft has agreed to pay $2.5 billion for the Swedish game-development company Mojang and its “iconic Minecraft franchise” although its three founders — creator Markus Persson, CEO Carl Manneh and game designer Jakob Porser — are leaving to pursue other opportunities.

The game, which generated about $326 million in revenue last year, “has become a global phenomenon since its launch in 2009 as an incomplete ‘alpha’ project,” write the Guardian’s Keith Stuart and Alex Hern, selling more than 50 million copies on PCs, smartphones and gaming consoles.

Mojang’s 40-or-so staffers will remain in Stockholm, but the enterprise will become part of Microsoft Studios, which publishes the popular Halo, among other titles. 

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“Yet Minecraft looks little like Halo and its Hollywood-level graphics,” write Michael del la Merced and Nick Wingfield in the New York Times. “Its worlds look blocky, like pixelated Legos. But the gameplay — focused on building elaborate virtual structures — has drawn a huge and dedicated following around the world.”

The company’s own description of the game, accompanied by a one-minute video, is “Minecraft is a game about breaking and placing blocks. At first, people built structures to protect against nocturnal monsters, but as the game grew, players worked together to create wonderful, imaginative things.” 

Although the game is very popular on Microsoft’s Xbox, “the bigger potential gain from owning Minecraft is a chance to bolster Microsoft's smartphone business,” write Shira Ovide and Evelyn M. Rusli in the Wall Street Journal.

“Gaming is a top activity spanning devices, from PCs and consoles to tablets and mobile, with billions of hours spent each year,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a statement. “Minecraft is more than a great game franchise — it is an open world platform, driven by a vibrant community we care deeply about and rich with new opportunities for that community and for Microsoft.”

“Minecraft is among the most popular mobile apps for iPhone and Android phones, but Mojang has said there wasn't a compelling reason to make a version for Microsoft's Windows Phone system,” the WSJ’s Ovide and Rusli report. “The software powers fewer than three out of every 100 new smartphones sold. Microsoft didn't discuss its plans for Mojang, but the company could make a Minecraft app for Windows PCs or smartphones, with extra features not available on other phones.”

“The acquisition is part of a ‘feeding frenzy’ in Silicon Valley as the giants of the tech world buy up smaller companies to support the burgeoning ‘ecosystems’ they are trying to develop,” Wedbush Securities games analyst Michael Pachter suggested at the Gamesbeat conference in San Francisco, the Financial Times’ Richard Waters, Tim Bradshaw and Sally Davies report. “Other recent deals with a strong gaming element include Amazon’s purchase of Twitch, a video streaming service for gamers, and Facebook’s acquisition of virtual reality company Oculus.”

But where Oculus is out of the future, Minecraft evokes the past. In a Marketing Daily commentary this morning, Curtis Hougland writes about Minecraft being straight out of the ’80s. “Minecraft represents a lo-fi way to invite friends into a highly authentic virtual environment without fear of a Second Life-like strip club rising up next door,” he observes.

“Playing video games is often an evolutionary process, and the first video game that really hooks you becomes the lens in which you compare future experiences and the doorway to other games, genres and platforms,” blogs NPR’s Steve Mullis. “Since its release, Minecraft has become that doorway for a great many players of all ages and demographics, especially those that might not label themselves as ‘gamers.’”

Minecraft’s creator, Persson — “lovingly referred to as ‘Notch’ by fans worldwide,” writes PC World’s Brad Chacos — wrote a farewell letter that is chock full of regrets over its having become so successful that it upended his life as a “nerdy computer programmer who likes to have opinions on Twitter.” 

Notch is getting 71% of the $2.5 billion in cash that Microsoft is shelling out — or about $1.75 billion. Porser’s cut is 21% ($525 million); Manneh’s is 8% ($200 million).

Never again, Notch avers. He’s going back to “doing Ludum Dares and small web experiments. If I ever accidentally make something that seems to gain traction, I’ll probably abandon it immediately.”

You’re not the only one thinking, as we did in the ’80s, “and reverse the charges.”

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