Microsoft needs Minecraft to boost mobile ambitions

Fri Sep 12, 2014 4:48pm EDT
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By Bill Rigby

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Microsoft’s impending purchase of Mojang, the Swedish developer with 100 million players of its open world Minecraft game, is more aimed at pulling users onto the software company's obscure mobile platform than its better known PC system or Xbox game console.

The software company's Windows Phone system has only 2.5 percent of the world's smartphone market, and its Surface tablet barely more, according to tech research firm IDC. Growth is hampered because many app and game developers ignore it.

Enter Minecraft, which is the top paid app both on Apple Inc's (AAPL.O: Quote) iOS and Google Inc's (GOOGL.O: Quote) Android systems. Microsoft will unveil a $2.5 billion deal to buy its owner on Monday, according to a source briefed on the matter.

“It seems like Microsoft is looking at Mojang and Minecraft as a way to tap into  this enormous cultural phenomenon," said Dave Bisceglia, Chief Executive of independent game studio Tap Lab. "If you look at iOS, Minecraft has been a top-grossing game for quite some time, if Microsoft could on Windows phones give players a unique and compelling experience that you can't get on the other platforms, that could be a driver to sell devices to existing Minecraft fans.”

Microsoft does not disclose numbers of users of Windows Phones, and declined comment on the deal.

Minecraft was launched five years ago as a PC game, but 54 million sales later, about 40 percent of copies are downloaded onto phones and tablets. Left to their own devices, it does not seem likely that Mojang's 40-strong team would ever get round to designing a Windows Phone version of Minecraft.

Markus Persson, the game's creator and co-founder of Mojang, said last year that Windows phones are so insignificant in terms of market share that they are not worth developing for.

"Because it's tiny," Persson wrote in an email to Reuters last June, when asked why his company only made mobile versions of its games for iOS and Android, but not Windows Phone.   Continued...

A employee stands in the Microsoft booth during the 2014 Computex exhibition at the TWTC Nangang exhibition hall in Taipei June 3, 2014.  REUTERS/Pichi Chuang