Fans voice dismay as iconoclastic Swedish developer prepares to cash out.

By Geoffrey Smith
September 10, 2014

Anyway, my price is two billion dollars. Give me two billion dollars, and I’ll endorse your crap.”

Thus spake the founder of Mojang, the company that developed video game sensation Minecraft to Microsoft Corp. MSFT less than two years ago, according to his Twitter feed.

Fast-forward to today, and the dream (or, depending on your point of view, nightmare) is coming true, according to the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg: Microsoft is in talks to Mojang for as much as $2 billion (WSJ) or even more (Bloomberg).

The deal would be the biggest to date under the leadership of chief executive Satya Nadella, who told Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference in July that he didn’t really see entertainment (in the shape of the Xbox) as a core business for the company.

The logic, according to the reports, is that Microsoft would be able to swell the already formidable ranks of Minecraft players by virtue of its position in computer and console market, and increase revenue from licensing for merchandise and other spin-offs.

At the same time, a foreign acquisition will be a tax-efficient use of the mountain of cash that the Redmond-based giant has accumulated from its overseas sales (thankfully, there’s no talk of relocating the company’s base to Stockholm for tax purposes).

For those who have never played it, or who have no social interaction with teenagers, Minecraft is an intensely addictive game with quirky, faux retro pixilated graphics, in which players try to survive in virtual worlds populated by monsters, zombies and various other challenges.

In the four years since Persson launched it, it’s sold over 50 million copies, and it’s consistently in the top-five paid apps in Apple Inc and Google Inc’s app stores.

Persson has made a point in the past of refusing outside investment and rebuffing approaches from bigger companies, in a spiky way that has been a big hit with the game’s mainly young fan base. He’s been routinely rude about big tech companies such as Facebook (“creeps me out”) and Electronic Arts “bunch of cynical b*st*rds”), and championed free-spirited indie game developers like himself.

However, there had already been hints that his relationship with Microsoft was warmer than with others.

“Hey, Microsoft! You might be a big and scary American company that likes secrets and meetings and such, but I love working with you! <3” was another tweet from 2012.
News of the deal has predictably prompted dismay from those who bought into Persson’s anti-establishment persona.
Social media Wednesday gave a lot of space to the fear that a new owner would start charging for in-app add-ons, a form of revenue-generation that Mojang has conspicuously avoided.
“Sorry, to use the diamond pickaxe, you have to pay 99ct per month. Thanks, your #microsoft Team.” #minecraft #sellout” was one typical Tweet.
Last month, Mojang cracked down on users who were trying to get round its ban on monetizing add-ons–a move that in retrospect looks like an effort, among other things, to ensure copyright integrity for a future buyer.
Mojang has only one other game in production, called Scrolls.

 

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