Minecraft, the cultural object; Minecraft the video game
A few weeks ago I gave a copy of Minecraft to my nephew. Until that moment I had a somewhat blurred impression of the game, I knew that it had large numbers, that it was a genre on YouTube and that, although I had not stopped playing and flirting a bit, there was a legion of polygon devotees who played it daily.
It was, however, the effect it had on my nephew, added to the fact that the girl from the neighborhood recognizes me when I wear this shirt, which led me to realize that the purchase of Mojang cannot be parked like that of any other study with a successful game, that behind Minecraft there is much more and that all this is hidden by the low intergenerational visibility added to the low media prestige of video games.
The cultural object of the Minecraft generation
There's something of a "Minecraft generation" in how an increasingly important segment of kids ages 8-13 is embracing this universe as a place of encounter, creation, fun and interaction. And it is not just them, of course, there are older ones, there are adults and there is a certain crossing between them.
When we analyzed the anomaly that is Minecraft in the world of video games we wondered if it was that bad. My answer is yes, as a product it has brought together aspects that many others have but few concentrate: the Nintendo-type learning curve (in a few minutes you already know what is important and you're already having fun), collecting "explorer" players and players " builders alike (although their strength is in the latter), simple mechanics that allow the development of complex tasks and a "retro indie" aesthetic that allowed someone like Notch to launch it while fitting into a trend supported by nostalgia.
But above all Minecraft is the paradigmatic example of a video game that allows creating, sharing and playing at the same time, an expandable vision that we see in other titles (I think of LittleBigPlanet, also in the Project Spark of Microsoft itself) but that in the game of Mojang has had that zenith.Minecraft is not only the stage where teenagers spend a few hours of leisure to switch to another fun and forget it, it is partly the language in which they express their creativity
There is something that by repeated is true, Minecraft is the closest thing to Lego and construction games for this generation, only better: richer, more flexible, more interactive and social, much less limiting creativity. The basis of all this is its procedural nature, again it anticipated better than anyone the trend called to constitute one of the great innovations in the sector in the coming years.
All this has added so that we can say that Minecraft has a weight in this generation of preteens equal to or greater than movies, music, other games or comics or books. It is not only the stage where they spend some hours of leisure to change to another fun and forget it, it is partly the language in which they express their creativity, where they spend and spend hundreds of hours exploring, building, sharing, interacting.
Minecraft, the video game as a business
If Minecraft is all that we have said, with so many intangibles with strategic value (reaching a massive young audience, especially an active and creative one among them), it is difficult to make an analysis of the purchase based only on current financial results.
Because it happens since Mojang, the studio that Microsoft has bought, falls into the category of "one hit wonders" of video games that we especially see in the world of mobile phones. WSJ analyzed (in Spanish we did it here) and compared to the King or Supercell it was not very favored in income and profitability.
Part of the blame lies with the economic Minecraft model: you pay once and now. Each user can set up their server and support friends who want to play together, here it moves away from the typical model that made World of Wordcraft almost standard with its monthly payment (and which Microsoft also partly has with its Xbox Live).
What's more, in the cases of King with Candy Crush or also Rovio with Angry Birds, the pattern of a video game company is being created with great success - especially on mobile - which explode and over-exploit while the fashion lasts, to arrive later on. decline in income and popularity. King is getting out of that profile (40% of income is not from the Candy Crush, results), Rovio not so much. Saving the distances, the risk is to become a kind of milli Vanilli of music.What if Minecraft was just Mojang's SimCity and still had a 'The Sims' hit?
In front of them are the big established studios, linked to classic models of video game exploitation and with long-established consecrated IPs like EA or Activision.
Mojang is clearly not the latter, but does Minecraft fit into that highly successful video game profile for a time, which then goes out of style and leaves its creative studio as creator a single "hit"? It is impossible to know, but the price paid by Microsoft suggests that Redmond does not believe this at all (and server pointing to that aspect of a generational benchmark, either).
The player has yet to see if the purchase of Mojang does not make it a Bullfrog or a Westwood, a small studio full of playable wonders that is diluted when bought by a large one. Without going too far, in Microsoft itself we have the disappointing case of Rare. Of course it could also be a new Maxis: if that economic problems made him become the hen of EA's golden eggs, what would happen if Minecraft was only the SimCity of Mojang and still had a great success like 'Los Sims'?
Minecraft is the most delicate purchase in Microsoft history
For all these reasons, the purchase of Minecraft is possibly the most delicate in the history of Microsoft. There is a whole community of mod creators, of people who record and distribute tutorials, of users who share what they do in the game that is very delicate to manage. Notch's departure is not going to help this.
On the other hand, it remains to be seen what Microsoft's plans are. There is much to improve as a product, but the crucial thing is if they are going to touch the model: versions for each platform, own user servers and a business based on the sale of copies and not on subscription payment.
There is a tempting short-term strategy: push Minecraft to its own platforms and abandon those of others (Playstation, Android) and / or pass a subscription business model that, I have the impression, Microsoft itself understands would be a mistake. There is another less obvious and complicated one that is to grow Minecraft while maintaining its philosophy and looking for value where it is: to have in your hands the reference for a whole generation of active, digital and creative young people.
(Article written in collaboration with P. Roberto J.)