Earlier this week, Microsoft (MSFT) decided to acquire Minecraft by purchasing its parent company, Mojang Games, for $2.5 billion. Despite additional enticing offers, Minecraft founder Markus Persson and other top Mojang executives will not join Microsoft to oversee a flawless transition. When asked why, Persson took to his blog and wrote "thank you for turning 'Minecraft' into what it has become, but there are too many of you, and I can't be responsible for something this big."
Minecraft is a virtual reality game that allows players to construct unconstrained structures and landscapes; there is literally no storyline or tangible objectives. Instead, members use pixelated blocks to obsessively build whatever sparks their interest. While this may not sound all that exciting, the game has proven incredibly popular. Minecraft has sold 54 million copies across Xbox, PlayStation, iOS, Android, and online platforms. The franchise has a cult following, similar to World of Warcraft, which has steadily grown over time.
While $2.5 billion may seem like an egregious amount to pay for a simple video game, this move by Microsoft could pay massive dividends. Currently, Microsoft is failing to appeal to younger generations, and is thus forfeiting valuable market share to competitors like Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOG), Amazon (AMZN), and Sony. Although the Xbox product line has proven extremely popular amongst teenagers, the Windows Phone has performed quite poorly. The device lacks a differentiating “it” factor, and remains hugely lackluster. However, Microsoft's Minecraft acquisition could change this. Microsoft has already integrated its Xbox platform with mobile devices (Xbox SmartGlass), including the Windows Phone, and will now be able to do the same with Minecraft. Such a move could prove trendy, and profitable, if Microsoft correctly incentivizes Minecraft users to buy its smartphone.
Another benefit of the Minecraft acquisition, believe it or not, relates to Microsoft's educational market share. Right now, both Google and Apple are working to develop educational apps and technology that encourage, and facilitate, the learning process. While these two companies are succeeding, Microsoft is flailing. Minecraft, however, could fix this. Unlike most popular video games, Minecraft excludes shooting, explosions, profanity, sexuality, nudity, drug/alcohol abuse, and graphic violence in general. In other words, the video game is an adult's best friend, which is why parents and teachers support Minecraft. Not only is the game free of suggestive material, but it also encourages creative thinking. If Microsoft markets Minecraft as an educational tool, preloaded on its Surface Tablets and phones, it could create an entirely new revenue stream (similar to GameStop’s turnaround).
Although the Minecraft acquisition is expensive, the game and its members are vital for Microsoft's future mobile growth. By purchasing Minecraft, Microsoft has effectively bought 50 million new customers. Additionally, the company has also laid the foundation for a potentially massive revenue stream. Microsoft has long had money to spare on unconventional ventures, many of which proved disastrous, but what it desperately needs is top-down rebranding. In order for Microsoft to be successful in the long-term, it must be "cool," and the Minecraft purchase appears to be the first step of Microsoft's much-needed makeover.