Beginning as a somewhat buggy alpha for PC in 2009, Markus “Notch” Persson’s survival sandbox Minecraft has quickly become a global success. Developed and published by Mojang (a company co-founded by Persson) the game has been released on almost every platform including mobile, PlayStation and Xbox, experiencing success on every single one. With a procedurally generated world and a seemingly endless amount of things to build (including fully working computers), it’s no wonder that Minecraft is now one of the best-selling games of all time.
It’s also no wonder then, that last year Mojang (and Minecraft along with it) were purchased by Microsoft for the price of $2.5 billion. The purchase was significant for newly appointed Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella as it’s the biggest purchase under his leadership so far, but there were also suggestions that perhaps exclusive Minecraft content was in the works for Xbox. Now, in a new report from Forbes, we know just who Microsoft was up against to win ownership of one of the hottest game properties around.
According to the publication, who spoke to Persson, Mojang co-founder Jakob Porsér, and Mojang CEO Carl Manneh, game publishers Electronic Arts and Activision pursued a Mojang purchase too. They say that talks with Activision “petered out” whilst Notch kept quiet as to why they didn’t go with EA. What he did reveal, though, is that Mojang crossed off buyers “who did game play in a way we didn’t like.” Given that Notch has been quite outspoken in the past, even saying that EA is “destroying” the games industry, it wouldn’t be a surprise if this is why the publisher was shown the door.
Microsoft, though, were actually the first company to inquire. A Microsoft executive rang Manneh shortly after Persson sent out a tweet asking who wanted to buy out his shares of Mojang. The tweet was a result of all the hate that he was getting for having enforced their End User License Agreement which forbade users from selling their Minecraft-created content to other players. His discomfort at being such a public figure was echoed in later posts that explained that he had to sell the company for his sanity.
It makes sense then, that a break from Mojang was one of the sales terms of the deal. All three founders, Manneh, Persson and Porsér were to have no involvement in Mojang moving forward while the rest of the 47 employees had to be kept on. That last bit was especially important, they said, as Microsoft had just announced plans to cut a massive 14% of its workforce as their purchase of Nokia the year before had seen them take on over 20,000 extra employees. Though, not all of those 47 employees were particularly thrilled by the multi-billion dollar sale, with one anonymous employee saying that they felt “disappointed” and “empty” when they found out about the deal. The fact that Persson, Porsér, Manneh and Manneh’s twin brother went on a “sellout trip” to Miami and St. Barts once the deal closed probably didn’t help matters either.
Also interesting about the deal is Microsoft’s motivation behind it. While it won’t soothe Minecraft fans’ fears that Microsoft will drastically change the game or ruin its charm, Microsoft’s motivation was apparently the fact that they wanted to avoid being taxed by the United States government. It’s a well documented fact that Microsoft is insanely rich (they actually have more money on hand than the US government) and with $93 billion in their war chest, they need a way to repatriate it without paying a lot of taxes. The solution was to buy Mojang.
Furthermore, we also know that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella wasn’t really involved in the sale at all. It was Xbox Chief Phil Spencer who spoke to Manneh and facilitated the entire thing. At one point Spencer and the three co-founders even drank “herb-flavored Swedish liquor at an old town Stockholm restaurant” and argued about the games industry. Nadella, meanwhile, only spoke to Manneh on the phone twice as the deal was being hashed out.
Whatever the motivations behind the sale, the sale was finalized in September, 2014 as we all know and with the popular game offering so much potential (such as a Telltale made story spin-off), we’ll have to wait to see where else Minecraft goes next.