Microsoft buying Minecraft means nothing much... yet

With the rather startling news that Microsoft has bought Mojang, for the developer of massively-popular world-building sim Minecraft for $2.5 billion. At the same time, creator of the indie smash hit and head of Mojang, Markus "Notch" Persson, has left with immediate effect, claiming that the sale was for his peace of mind, rather than the cash.

One rather suspects that the cash factored into the decision making a little.

This is an extraordinary story from several angles. First of all is the cash Microsoft forked over. Not only is it a tremendous amount for a game conceived and created in Notch's bedroom in Sweden in a single weekend in 2009, it also suggests that Microsoft believes the Minecraft property is set only to grow.

Growing from the value of $2.5 billion. Kingdoms have been founded on that kind of money. Blimey.

Naturally, with all acquisitions of massively successful Indie studios bought out by an industry behemoth, there has been a huge amount of displeasure from consumers. A comparison might be made to the recent Facebook acquisition of Oculus, the independent VR headset developer, to the tune of $2 billion. The reaction to this event was, to put it lightly, not overly positive.

It it were possible, the fallout from Microsoft buying Mojang could grow even worse, since in this case it might directly interfere in competition. Whereas Facebook is, as of yet, merely an online platform for games (in the loosest definition), Minecraft has been an enormous hit on  multiple platforms, including Sony's Playstation, Apple's iOS and Android.

And, of course, Microsoft's Xbox.

So, what does all this mean for Minecraft on Microsoft's competitors' systems? Well, nothing yet, apparently. Mojang have promised that updates and support for for Minecraft for all platforms will continue, as Microsoft have promised not to push Minecraft into exclusivity for their own platforms.

The problem is that Microsoft have also stated that they have "no control" over what Mojang might decide to do regarding the future releases of Minecraft, giving themselves a nice escape hatch if, for some sudden reason, Mojang decide only to release future Minecraft iterations only on Microsoft platforms. It's a worry position to be in, especially since Microsoft are extremely fond of buying out companies to force exclusive releases on their consoles.

Examples of this date back to their infamous purchase of previously Nintendo-owned Rare. This occurred in 2002 for $375 million, and it has widely been described as the "death of Rare", a once venerated and respected games developer turned into a mediocre shell as all the talent jumped ship, blanching at the thought of being owned and directed by the controlling Microsoft.

Promises from all sides is that this won't be the case for Mojang, but many aren't convinced.

The more emotive side of the objectors to this acquisition claim that Notch, once a symbol of resistance for indie developers and artistic creativity against relentless corporate take-overs, has given in to a company he has previously been critically vocal about - he claimed that Microsoft had been aggressively pushing Mojang to certify their game for Windows 8.

Notch's own blog entry explaining his motivation behind the sale sheds light on sale that goes beyond the economics of the deal:

"I’ve become a symbol. I don’t want to be a symbol, responsible for something huge that I don’t understand, that I don’t want to work on, that keeps coming back to me. I’m not an entrepreneur. I’m not a CEO. I’m a nerdy computer programmer who likes to have opinions on Twitter."

That does colour the move in a different light. We wish you the best, Notch. Go create to your heart's content - you've got the financial backing for anything you want, now.

I suspect that wild accusations that Microsoft will make Minecraft a Windows/Xbox exclusive game might be proven wrong. Yes, Microsoft will now be supplying sales to their direct competitors, but considering those sales will probably continue to be gargantuan, it makes no sense to limit Minecraft's availability. People are just not going to go out of their way to switch to a Microsoft platform in large enough numbers to justify the move, no matter how much they love Minecraft.

We can only hope that Microsoft will realise that creativity is best left alone, and leaves Mojang to bubble away quietly to continue improving the game that has, at this point, sold 54 million copies with zero advertising.