Microsoft and Mojang have confirmed this morning a rumour that had been floating around for about a week: Microsoft have purchased Mojang, the studio behind Most Successful Indie Game Ever (and Third Highest-Selling Video Game Ever Behind Only Tetris And Wii Sports) Minecraft, for $2.5 billion. That figure is reportedly one of the top three highest ever to be spent on virtual blocks in entertainment history.
The attraction for Microsoft is obvious. Minecraft has an enormous installed base, with over fifty million copies sold, and people love that game. Its various exploration, crafting, and survival mechanics are fun, deep, and addictive. One of my best friends has a five year old who plays it as obsessively as he does. Hell, the Minecraft merchandising empire alone is surely worth many millions. Meanwhile, Microsoft has platforms to promote, and what better way to get people onboard with their distant-third-place Windows Phone OS than to make it the naturalised home of everyone's favourite game?
The upside is that this will be a huge weight off creator and founder Marcus "Notch" Persson's shoulders, leaving him - hopefully - free to pursue the other projects from which Minecraft's rampant success has been holding him back.* His cut of the almost unimaginable sum Microsoft has shelled out will certainly help there, too. Notch has been vocally critical of Microsoft's attitudes to developers in the past, but success can bring exhaustion as well as elation, so it's understandable he's capitulating to capitalism a couple years later. It's got to be bizarre and stressful to create a quirky indie game essentially by yourself and see it turn into a global media empire. I don't judge him one bit. Enjoy your riches and freedom, Notch. You earned them.
The downside, obviously, is that Microsoft - one of the biggest companies in the world - has just swallowed up one of the great indie success stories, further contributing to our inevitable dystopian Buy-N-Large future. The practice of building software catalogues and expertise through business deals, rather than through innovation or development, is something that only titans like Microsoft can engage in**, and it's part of why the current console war is such a fundamentally broken, anti-consumer system. But that's a different article for a different day.
* Just like George Lucas!
** See also: Bungie, Rare, Lionhead Studios, and Gears of War, to name only game-related Microsoft acquisitions.