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.