Might actually improve Microsoft Minecraft

Why Microsoft pays 2.5 billion for "Minecraft"

To create something with your own hands. To think up something and make it come true. Whether young or old: For many people there is little more fulfilling than creating. Writing on paper, paint on canvas, steel on stone. It was not for nothing that "Lego" was one of the most successful game ideas of the last century.

In January 2011, the Swede Markus Persson, better known by his nickname Notch, brought this concept into modern times after a few years of development when he published his virtual construction kit "Minecraft" for PC. In doing so, he gave people a tool with which to build buildings of all shapes and dimensions with blocks of pixels. Ranging from simple houses to gigantic replicas of real sights and entire planets, a real urge to create was aroused.

New versions for mobile devices and consoles followed, and Persson's company grew to 40 employees. Earlier this week, Mojang announced the acquisition by Microsoft for a rumored $ 2.5 billion. A murmur went through the branch. How can a company that didn't exist four years ago and offers a single successful product be worth so much money? This overlooks the fact that "Minecrafts" value can no longer be determined solely on the basis of sales figures.

The fascination of "Minecraft" is not only based on the almost infinite design possibilities of the creative mode, but also on being able to dive into these worlds generated by users alone or collaboratively using a survival mode. In it you go with your block hero in search of minerals with which you can create objects and weapons and face monsters, zombies and giant spiders in all seasons. Exploration and construction are reserved for the day, as soon as it gets dark, it is better to find shelter again in the specially built hut.

In June 2014, Mojang celebrated more than 54 million Minecraft games sold worldwide. At the beginning of the year, more than 100 million players were announced - including the limited free version. It inspires more people today than the recent blockbusters of the series "GTA", "FIFA" and "Super Mario" put together. 54 million people around whom an entire ecosystem has developed. On Youtube you can find Let's players who record their Minecraft experiences, which have as many subscribers as new episodes of the TV series Game of Thrones viewers.

According to the publisher Egmont, which acquired the licensing rights for official literature on "Minecraft" in 2013, books on the building game are selling up to a million times in Great Britain alone. In February it was revealed that Mojang was negotiating a film with Warner Bros. Every year, thousands of like-minded people meet at the MineCon in-house exhibition to share their passion.

In short: Microsoft is not only acquiring a game for $ 2.5 billion, which brings in $ 100 million in profits annually, but also a piece of pop culture. And with good reason: The Windows manufacturer has repeatedly tried to achieve a cooler image in the past and has often failed. With the Xbox game console, the first significant step could be taken and above all made a name for itself with the scifi shooter Halo. A universal hit that also appeals to people outside of the core players never succeeded.

Potential gold mine

"We see great potential to drive the growth of the 'Minecraft' community and to further expand the brand," announced Xbox boss Phil Spencer on the announcement of the acquisition. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to guess what is possible with Microsoft's resources. The universe of the pixel blocks could be home to numerous sequels and releases as well as to the merchandising cash cow. "Minecraft" could become a source for toys, TV series and other games. By July 2015, the expenses for the takeover should have been brought in again, according to Spencer.

"'Minecraft' is currently perhaps the best-positioned independent game brand in the entire games sector," says Piers Harding-Rolls, an analyst at the market research firm IHS, in an assessment of the deal to the Gamesindustry site. "It's another strong franchise for them with a desirable user base among young people," added Wedbush-Morgan analyst Michael Pachter. "I think we can expect Master Chief and Gears of War characters in upcoming releases."

Currently, "Minecraft" is distributed on a variety of systems including iOS, Android and PlayStation. Pachter points out, however, that Mojang's world hit, as an exclusive title, could one day also help differentiate its own platforms such as Windows, Xbox and Windows Phone from competing products.

Other market observers believe it is more likely that the team around CEO Satya Nadella will use the newly acquired franchise to increase its influence beyond its own platforms. "We don't see the takeover as a sign of Microsoft's increasing focus on Xbox, but rather as an attempt to better serve mobile users and cross-platform customers," Nomura analyst Rick Sherlund told Reuters.

An assessment that can be derived from Spencer's statement. "Gaming is the top activity across all devices, so we plan to continue making Minecraft available on all platforms - including iOS, Android and PlayStation."

A game that can be played from anywhere with a multi-million dollar and highly committed community fits the company that Microsoft wants to be in the future with its massive investments in cloud services. With ubiquitous networking, the relevance of specific end devices and operating systems is gradually decreasing, while the possibilities for disseminating individual services and digital media content such as games are increasing.

New era

The biggest stumbling block in Redmond's Minecraft plans could actually be Microsoft itself. Intensive efforts will be required to hold together the core community, which was in part very angry as a result of the takeover. For many, Persson and Mojang were considered figureheads of the independent developer scene - far removed from corporate influences.

The inventor, who had given up his everyday job for his play dream, became an icon for indie fans and other aspiring designers within a few years. Since the first published version of "Minecraft" in 2009, he has stood for openness and close involvement of the community in the development process. Outside ideas were listened to and feedback was gratefully accepted. At the same time, Persson didn't mince his words and was happy to share his thoughts on industry topics via social media and forums. Microsoft was repeatedly criticized. The Swede publicly warned that the software company would threaten the free market by setting up its own Windows store in Windows 8.

The peaceful rapprochement with Microsoft happened with the release of "Minecraft" for Xbox 360 in 2012. As on all systems, the demand for the title exploded and is still one of the best-selling titles in the Xbox Live online store to this day. The sales talks were initiated in early 2014 by Persson and Xbox boss Spencer. In retrospect, it was a long prepared, crowning farewell to the world hit that Persson - according to the creator himself - had grown over his head. As early as 2011, he gradually retired from project management. With the announcement of the takeover, he finally announced his departure from the company together with the two other co-founders Jakob Porsér and Carl Manneh.

"I became a symbol. I don't want to be a symbol, to be responsible for something huge that I don't understand," said Persson's farewell letter to the fans. "I'm not an entrepreneur. I'm not a CEO. I'm a nerdy programmer who likes to speak up on Twitter." He is aware that the takeover speaks against much of what he has said in the past about large corporations. At the same time, however, he never wanted to be the symbol of a movement that many have made him. "Minecraft" has become bigger than he ever dreamed of and this is not all thanks to him. "On the one hand, it is now owned by Microsoft. On the other hand, it has been yours for a long time and that will never change," said Persson. "It's not about the money. It's about my mind."

With a 70 percent stake in Mojang, the sale of his life's work will bring him around $ 1.75 billion. The virtual construction kit of unlimited possibilities will give its creator complete freedom in the real world at the end of a long journey. It's hard to blame a person who has brought joy to so many people. "I love you. Each of you. Thank you for making Minecraft what it is today."

Stumbling block Microsoft

In addition to the cohesion of the fan base, Microsoft will have to show sensitivity in integrating Mojangs and "Mincrafts" into the company. In the past, corporate interests and creative freedom kept getting in each other's way in Redmond. The best example is the career of the British game studio Rare, which achieved world fame in the 1990s with classics such as "Donkey Kong Country", "Goldeneye 007" or "Banjo Kazooie", but did not bring out any major hits after the takeover in 2002. Microsoft also failed to continue Ensemble Studios' much-acclaimed Age of Empires series for a long time. Eight years after the takeover, the closure of the games forge was announced.

However, it would be short-sighted to infer "Minecraft's" possible course from the mishaps of the past. Under Phil Spencer, who took over the Xbox department from Don Mattrick in 2014 after the more than bumpy market launch of the Xbox One, Microsoft's video game division has been reorganized. And Microsoft itself is a different company under CEO Satya Nadella than it was in the hands of long-term boss Steve Ballmer, who resigned in 2014.

Finally, "Minecraft" itself is the best reason why, in the hustle and bustle of one of the most expensive acquisitions in the history of video games, one should not infer the future from the past.Because none of this has been comparable to a virtual Lego so far. (Zsolt Wilhelm, derStandard.at, September 21, 2014)