The many faces of the Microsoft Minecraft acquisition

Source: Mojang

Yesterday we got the official word that Microsoft is buying Mojang, the company that publishes Minecraft, for an astonishing $2.5 billion. On the off chance you've never heard about Minecraft, it's a voxel-based building/fighting/exploring game that is hugely popular across the PC, mobile devices and game consoles. What's interesting is how this news is being talked about. There's the Microsoft message, the Mojang message, and the message that Markus "Notch" Perssron (co-founder of Mojang and the original Minecraft developer) shared. Let's start with Microsoft:

Microsoft's message is upbeat and Xbox Chief Phil Spencer implies a certain warmth between himself and Persson (as well as the rest of the gang at Mojang), and maybe there is. But in the past Persson has been critical of the company and of Windows 8 in general (Minecraft was written in Java):

Granted that was a long time ago and people change. But one thing Spencer doesn't mention in his video is that while Microsoft is buying Mojang, Persson isn't sticking around. He, as well as co-founder Jakob Porser and CEO Carl Manneh, will leave the company once the deal is finalized. Now to be fair, Persson hasn't worked on Minecraft for a long time, but he's a popular guy among Minecraft fans and I can't help but think this casts a shadow over Microsoft's acquisition party. Persson posted his reasons why he's leaving and they pretty much boil down to 'I want to be a game developer and do my own thing, rather than being the figurehead of some huge company and have people send me hate mail.' (I'm paraphrasing.) As the majority shareholder of Mojang, I suppose at this point he can afford to do whatever he wants. But it's hard not to see this as some kind of exit-snubbing of Microsoft. And then there's Mojang's announcement of the deal that feels like it is treading a line between not angering Microsoft and being as supportive of the community as possible. In an ideal world, nothing much will change. Microsoft says Minecraft will remain a multi-platform game and Mojang says:

There’s no reason for the development, sales, and support of the PC/Mac, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, Vita, iOS, and Android versions of Minecraft to stop. Of course, Microsoft can’t make decisions for other companies or predict the choices that they might make in the future.

I find that phrasing to be curious. I guess they're suggesting that Sony or Apple could toss Minecraft off their platforms once Mojang is owned by Microsoft? I do think it's safe to say we'll see plenty of "exclusive content" for the Xbox and Windows versions of Minecraft in the months and years to come. So that leaves us with the question of why Microsoft would spend $2.5 billion for what is essentially a single game (Mojang has a couple of other titles but they've not made much of a splash), particularly since the original mind behind the game isn't part of the package. Yes, Minecraft is wildly popular but it's been popular for a few years now; is there enough gas in the tank to make that money back? (Minecraft retails for about $20 on consoles, $27 on PC.) I have to assume Microsoft plans to expand and extent Minecraft into a franchise. Think of the game a little bit like Lego. Every time a popular fantasy movie comes out, I envision Minecraft theme-packs that bring Minecraftian versions of the major characters in that movie to the game. And they can sell new textures sets, or packs of new monsters. Maybe packs of new items too. Basically they're going to try to sell us a ton of "DLC" for Minecraft. But here's why that makes me nervous. In the past Minecraft has been a heavily modded game with the community creating textures and new game play and other features. In order for Microsoft to really capitalize on the game I think they'll have to shut down the modding community; that won't be a popular decision, to put it lightly. Or maybe they'll leave the PC version alone and just focus on monetizing the console and mobile versions, neither of which are easily modded. We'll see how this all works out. Will this turn out to be a brilliant acquisition of will Mojang be another one-hit wonder company, and Minecraft a fad that vanishes as quickly as it appeared? Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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