Microsoft is buying Minecraft and Mojang, the game’s developer, for $2.5 billion, the company announced today. If you haven’t been paying attention, that might seem like a lot of money for a game that looks like it came out in 1996, but since its first public release (in 2009), Minecraft has become a cultural phenomenon. More than 50 million copies have been sold across computers, game consoles, and smartphones. The game is used for educational purposes in schools the world over. Official Minecraft Lego sets and foam pickaxes line toy-department shelves everywhere. Warner Bros. is even working on a Minecraft movie. (And besides, Microsoft expects the deal to pay for itself by 2015, according to The Wall Street Journal.)
Mojang explained the reasoning for the sale (beyond the fact that Microsoft offered what might be a literal boatload of money) in an official blog post. It’s clear Mojang’s developers felt Minecraft had grown into something that its creators neither imagined nor were prepared to handle, and putting it into the care of a company with the resources to manage such a humongous global brand was the best way to ensure it continues to flourish. For its part, Microsoft has said it will not be removing Minecraft from its competitors’ platforms, such as iOS, Android, and PlayStation systems, but as the Mojang post notes, “Microsoft can’t make decisions for other companies or predict the choices that they might make in the future.”
Mojang predicts “the vast majority (if not all)” of its staff will stay on with the company after the transition. Three staff members who most definitely won’t are the company’s founders, Carl Manneh, Jakob Porsér, and Minecraft creator Markus “Notch” Persson. They will be leaving the company after the deal is complete. Persson, who stepped away from Minecraft development while staying with the company in 2011 and has made enough money to never work another day in his life anyway, is using this as an opportunity to step out of the spotlight and get back to working on smaller projects without being a figurehead for disgruntled players to scream at and harass over the Internet. “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,” Persson wrote on his personal website. “As soon as this deal is finalized, I will leave Mojang and go back to doing Ludum Dares and small web experiments. If I ever accidentally make something that seems to gain traction, I’ll probably abandon it immediately.”
One big question that remains is: What will happen to Scrolls, Mojang’s digital card game? All the Mojang announcement can offer on that front is, “We don’t know yet. We’ll share any news as soon as we do.” The fate of Mojang’s other non-Minecraft project, a game called Cobalt that the company has been collaborating on and was set to publish for Oxeye Games, is clearer. According to Oxeye, Cobalt’s development and release plans will be unaffected by the change of ownership.