Playing the “Why is Microsoft buying Mojang (Minecraft)?” game

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Microsoft was in talks to buy Mojang, a Stockholm, Sweden based game company and the makers of the ultra-popular Minecraft. Late Friday afternoon, Reuters reported that the deal is set to be finalized as early as Monday:

Microsoft will unveil a $2.5 billion deal to buy its owner on Monday, according to a source briefed on the matter.

Mojang was recently restructured and is now wholly owned by Notch Development, which in turn is controlled by Minecraft creator and Mojang founder Markus Persson. For Microsoft, acquiring Mojang will be another opportunity to put to use some of its reported $60 Billion in offshore cash, much like it did with the acquisitions of Skype and Nokia’s phones businesses. It will also make Persson a very rich man, but according to Forbes he would be getting just as rich anyway:

Even if the company’s reported deal with Microsoft does not transpire, FORBES estimates that Mojang, packaged with the rights to license “Minecraft,” would still be worth at least $2 billion–and Persson would still be a billionaire.

But aside from the ability to spend offshore cash to buy a company with good value, speculation is running rampant about just why Microsoft wants Minecraft. In his open letter to employees when he was announced as CEO, Satya Nadella made it clear that Microsoft considers games and gaming to be important to the company, saying “The single biggest digital life category, measured in both time and money spent, in a mobile-first world is gaming”. Both Reuters and The Verge see the Mojang acquisition as a play to bolster gaming on Windows Phones. The Verge noted:

Minecraft is incredibly popular on iOS and Android, and the game has around 100 million players across all platforms. Minecraft isn’t currently available on Windows Phone, and Microsoft’s potential acquisition would undoubtedly mean the game would make its way to the platform. “We don’t view this acquisition as a signal of Microsoft’s intent to double down on Xbox but consider it an attempt to better address mobile on a cross-platform basis,” says Nomura analyst Rick Sherlund. That won’t be the sole reason Microsoft is interested in Minecraft, but the company could opt to create a version for Windows and Windows Phone that has additional features and benefits over those on iOS and Android.

A Mojang acquisition would also bolster Microsoft’s abilities to produce cross platform games, with Mojang largely focused on Android and iOS development (and thinking that Windows Phone is “too tiny” to bother with, but whatever). It also opens up opportunities to develop games that aren’t simply shooters, based on blood and gore. While granted these types of games are very popular with a segment of the population that’s more than willing to spend lots of disposable income on shooting, killing, and maiming, there is potential for reaching consumers who are turned off by the violence.

Simon Bisson, writing at CITEWorld, noted another potential reason for Microsoft’s interest, the notion that Minecraft players are the programmers of tomorrow, and a Mojang acquisition would bolster Microsoft’s other efforts, like Kodu and Project Spark, to harness these young programmers to be and get them excited about Microsoft. Bisson says:

There’s an army of K12 students out there building worlds in Minecraft, and it’s time to bring them into the rest of the computing world. Buying Mojang and Minecraft gives Microsoft a fascinating cross-platform route into tapping that skill base, from $25 Raspberry Pi devices to gaming consoles to the billions of PCs. Providing a link from the visual programming tools that power Minecraft and Project Spark to the code-driven world of Visual Studio will help bring that new generation of programmers on-board, and at the same time give them tools to build bigger and better games.

Whatever the reason, it looks like we’ll soon find out just what Microsoft has in its plans for Mojang and Minecraft. Do you think it’s a good acquisition?