With Minecraft, Microsoft Can Build Broader Horizons

Opinion: For $2.5bn, the Windows empire has found an ideal way to reach new audiences, writes Rob Crossley

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"It's internet LEGO!" was probably the most interesting quote overhead at the pub on Friday evening during one of my recurring trips to the gents.

It was bellowed by a middle-aged man, resplendent with a pin-stripe suit just like the professional décor of his associates, none of whom carried the stereotypical traits of a traditional "gamer."

"Seriously! It's LEGO on your computer," the old chap continued as I edged past on my way to the loo, by this point fairly tempted to jump in and share my enthusiasm for the concept he was so giddy about. But I didn't want to piss myself.

Sometimes it takes random encounters such as this--with people of a different generation, lifestyle, and background--to be reminded of the universal appeal of Minecraft.

The statistics alone are imponderably vast--more than 100 million downloads on PC alone, over 54 million sales worldwide, a constant presence in the charts--yet these numbers alone do not demonstrate Minecraft's unnatural power to reach beyond the traditional gamer demographic.

That's about to change, however. Microsoft's $2.5 billion purchase of Mojang may seem, certainly at face-value, to be a particularly exorbitant price for one IP and a handful of staff to manage it. But this is a killer-app with remarkable potential to synergize with each of Microsoft's key platforms; Windows, Windows Mobile, Surface, and Xbox.

Granted, Minecraft is already available on these, but not in the way they could be going forward. The obvious step for Microsoft now is to pre-install Minecraft across its entire suite of products and services. Not only that, but to sync them all via the cloud--making it a model demonstration of CEO Satya Nadella's vision for the company.

The genius of buying Minecraft is not necessarily about shifting more boxes of it (though that's undoubtedly still going to happen), but instead about promoting a suite of Windows and Xbox devices that, henceforth, will host the best versions of Markus Persson's iconic sandbox.

At the cost of $2.5 billion, Microsoft has purchased perhaps the best means to broaden the appeal of its devices, from youngsters who don't touch Microsoft Office to old gents in the pub who have never played Halo. Granted, Microsoft is placing a huge bet that Minecraft carries long-term, universal appeal. But, like an old man once said, "It's internet LEGO!" Who wouldn't want that?

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