The history of bizarre corporate non-synergies has a new entry: Microsoft this morning confirmed it will purchased Minecraft maker Mojang for $2.5 billion. The purchase gives Microsoft one of the most popular gaming franchises of all time, sure, but it's one that runs on rival platforms as well as its own. Why would Microsoft buy this game?
To find out, let's go to the tape, so to speak.
"Three years ago we started working with [Mojang] and announced at E3 that we'd be bringing Minecraft to the Xbox 360," Microsoft "head of Xbox" Phil Spencer says in a video. "At the time, we didn't really know what we were getting into ... it became the best-selling online game of all time, for us on Xbox 360."
Minecraft's cross platform appeal may in fact be a major factor in Microsoft's decision to buy the firm. Spencer notes that the game has found an audience on "touch devices, on phones, on iPads, on console, and obviously its true home on PC." The firm's new "mobile first, cloud first" uber-strategy means that such a game actually makes more sense than a "Halo"-like franchise that never moves past the Xbox.
To that end, Spencer—and Microsoft, more generally, in a press release—confirms that the company intends to continue to innovate with Minecraft on all of the platforms on which it runs. That is, it will not make the title an Xbox- or Microsoft-only game. Which would of course kill it instantly. (The press release specifically mentions PC, iOS, Android, Xbox and PlayStation.)
Too, when one looks at the biggest growth potential, games are in a bit of a sweet spot. Microsoft may be getting out of the content business, but that's just traditional content. Games are very much content, and a successful game franchise that can run on all popular platforms is inherently interesting, especially one that has such broad appeal. It's not a shooter, which attracts only a certain audience. This is a game with a huge and vibrant community, not one that is always just waiting on the next year's release.
Some have speculated that reaching up and coming game developers is part of the rationale as well. Minecraft is at heart a construction set of sorts for virtual worlds, and you can make the argument that people who enjoy such things may naturally move forward to software development. I see no hint of that in Microsoft's announcement, however. (And they arguably have a ways to go before budding programmers can easily write Xbox One games, for example.)
Whatever the reason, it's happening. A game with ColecoVision-level graphics just sold for $2.5 billion. Amazing.