Microsoft Bought in Minecraft What It Could Never Make Itself

Illustration for article titled Microsoft Bought in Minecraft What It Could Never Make Itself

More than any other title in very recent history, Minecraft has permanently changed gaming. Motion control? 1080p at 60 frames per second? They've got nothing on an infinite world full of vaguely 8-bit-looking blocks. With its purchase of Minecraft and the studio behind it, Microsoft isn't just buying a game; it's buying the heart of a generation.

Advertisement

Here's everything Microsoft picked up today in its $2.5 billion Minecraft purchase. It's way more than just pixels.

A legion of loyal fans

Ask a kid—any kid—about Minecraft, and you're almost sure to make an instant connection. It's the modern-day equivalent of greeting your nephew with a clumsy "Mario twins" reference. And adults are just as smitten. The combination of simple mechanics combined with virtually limitless depth makes Minecraft great for after-work play with old college friends and all-day summer vacation binges. There's a reason we all know its name.

The community of fandom around the game is staggeringly huge and multilayered. It's not just that there are tens of millions of fans of Minecraft itself. There are entire sprawling sub-communities based on the game's hundreds of utterly transformative mods. There are celebrity Minecraft players that post hundreds of hours of videos to YouTube, play together, and rub elbows with fans. Minecraft even has its own convention, one that Microsoft has already confirmed will continue after it absorbs the company that makes the game it honors.

It's a thriving community of enthusiastic builders and makers, the likes of which Microsoft hasn't seen in ages, if ever. And with Sony dominating the next-gen battlefield in part thanks to a super indie-game friendly outlook that could bring about whatever the next Minecraft might be, Microsoft needs some love of its own.

If you can't build a passionate fanbase around your products—and let's face it, Office works just fine but doesn't stir many hearts—you can always just buy one. And Microsoft just bought millions of the most passionate fans in the world.

An entry into the classroom

And of course what makes Minecraft great is that it's so much more than just a game. Even if you've got no love for spelunking through endless digital caverns, riding pigs, or slaying creepers, the simple block-by-block building that Minecraft refined and popularized is suited to all kinds of building. Minecraft isn't just a vehicle for the tech-inclined to build out 1KB hard drives; it's a format for building and experimenting and creating that's already inherently fun. Wiring up a skeleton slayer with redstone logic gates is infinitely more fun—and arguably far more effective—than reading through a coding tutorial. And kids are already doing it on their own, they just need a little nudge and some context.

Advertisement

It's a huge educational opportunity, one that Microsoft would be wise to exploit. Kids get to play Minecraft in school, and Microsoft gets to sponsor their squeals of joy, earning respect and recognition from young 'uns that will never have that sort of attachment to Windows 8 (or 9 or 10) or Microsoft Office.

Not to mention that the classroom is a place where Microsoft desperately needs to catch up. Apple has its (troubled) plan to push iPads to the classroom. Amazon's Kindle Fires have kid-friendly modes built right in. Google's cramming Chromebooks in to computer labs. Microsoft, meanwhile, has its stalled-out Surface RT and little else to offer, short of setting schools up with Xbox Ones. Minecraft is a quick and easy way in, and crucially, it's one that's supported on virtually all of Microsoft's competitor's devices.

Advertisement

More than just a game

And that's where the true value of Minecraft lays for Microsoft, the chance to gently attach itself to what's already the most transformative and wildly popular software in recent memory. Sure, the 50 million copies already sold aren't doing any good for Microsoft, but there's still room to grow, whether by (carefully) slicing off a piece of Minecraft's naturally occurring micro-transaction scene, pushing big licensing deals, or just watching the phenomenon that is Minecraft continue to soldier on.

Advertisement

Microsoft is at its heart a software company. But in a world where Google Docs and free OS X upgrades are closing in from all sides, selling the kind of software Microsoft traditionally has isn't nearly as easy as it used to be. Meanwhile, Minecraft sells like hot cakes on fire. $2.5 billion might sound like a lot to you and me, but as far as Microsoft is concerned it hardly registers. A few billion dollars is a small price to pay to own some of the world's best selling software in its totality. Especially when Minecraft is profitable enough that Microsoft should recoup its investment in just a few years.

Advertisement

Of course the endgame needs to be more than just selling more copies of Minecraft, or Xbox consoles. The Minecraft community does't just love its game; it can be ferociously protective of it. And yes, Microsoft could hypothetically use this purchase as a cudgel and make "Minecraft 2" an Xbox One exclusive. But that would be at the cost of destroying the phenomenon that it just paid billions of dollars to purchase, and surely Microsoft knows that. Minecraft on iOS and Android and Playstation and OS X will continue to exist, and probably thrive; Microsoft is in the business of being all-encompassing.

Minecraft isn't Candy Crush or Angry Birds. It's a thriving ecosystem, one inhabited by millions of people, spread across every generation. That's not something you can intentionally set out to build; it's something that happens through a mix of timing and competence and magic. Could Microsoft have built something like that internally? It could certainly have tried. But its success would have been subject to more stars aligning than it can afford. Minecraft, meanwhile, is a shortcut to the exact kind of success Microsoft needs right now.

Advertisement

By snapping up Minecraft at the peak of its popularity, Microsoft is getting the chance to reintroduce itself to millions upon millions of users in the comfort of the blocky wooden shacks they lovingly call home. And if it can avoid burning them down in the process, well, all the better.

DISCUSSION

zachariahnelson
Zach Nelson

Dear Microsoft,

You didn't just adopt a videogame, not even just a community of over 100 million people, you adopted the idea that came with it all. A lot of (and I mean a lot) of people are going to act negatively towards this acquisition. I've been playing Minecraft for almost four years now and I show no sign of stopping, I hope most of the other millions of people think so too. Being a product designer I know one thing is true, when something needs to be fixed or improved, and I personally think that this purchase was a great fix for Minecraft.

Minecraft is absolutely enormous, too big for Mojang to handle alone anymore which I don't think a lot of people are willing to admit. Notch was right, he's not a CEO he doesn't want to run an industry or rule the world he wants to just make cool games, and even though he hasn't been involved in Minecraft for years his persona really carried beyond him throughout the game and Mojang, passing the reigns to someone who is more capable makes a lot of sense.

Even though I support the acquisition, I am very skeptical, I work in a corporation as well for a huge tech company making products for new revenue streams. The one thing I'm getting out of this job right now is, I hate revenue streams, I hate profit. You know how many great ideas get killed because it won't make enough money for the company. It's bullshit. And you just adopted something that goes against every corporate convention, lets make a game that has infinite possibilities and sell it once. Now let's keep adding to this game forever and never charge a single penny. I paid for this game when it came out in alpha, so I paid around $12 I think, imagine the value I get now after four years. Guess what, I will never pay a single penny for vanilla Minecraft again. The point I'm making is that I know what you're gonna do now. You paid $2.5 billion dollars for a game everyone already has, how are you gonna make that money back? You're gonna sell us Minecraft again. There is no money is pushing out free updates, especially at this scale, it's not worth your effort.

Don't do that, instead give us what we really really want. Modding, holy shit have we been promised the modding API for so long, and we'll pay for it too. If you can create a Minecraft market for people to sell their mods and resource packs we will pay for every single one. I use Sphax Pure BD Craft x128 texture pack. I will gladly pay a dollar or two for that texture pack if I had to. I would pay for Galacticraft, Hat Mod, SUES Shaders and many others. What you have to give in return is quality, if we're paying for something we want the best out of it. A lot of us has played these mods and most of them stop updating, none of them are compatible or create duplicate items. We want quality mods that just work, and if you give that to us then we will pay for it and you will get your money back.

PS: Minecon, I heard you guys were running that show now. I hope you are still offering the volunteering position because I helped out at 2013 in Orlando and had a blast, I was planning on spending a week volunteering this time as well.