Microsoft Pays $2.5 Billion for 'Minecraft' Maker Mojang

Minecraft Screengrab - H 2014
Courtesy of Michael Jianu

Minecraft Screengrab - H 2014

The Swedish firm is behind the popular video game, which boasts 100 million users worldwide

Microsoft has bought Mojang, the Swedish firm behind popular video game Minecraft, for $2.5 billion.

The deal, announced by Xbox boss Phil Spencer and expected to close by the end of 2014, will see Microsoft take over Minecraft's massive user base, estimated at some 100 million worldwide. Mojang brought in more than $100 million in profit last year.

The Mojang team, which numbers around 40 employees, will join Microsoft's game studio, which is responsible for titles such as Halo and Fable.

Minecraft is more than a great game franchise — it is an open world platform, driven by a vibrant community we care deeply about, and rich with new opportunities for that community and for Microsoft,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in a statement.

Minecraft features retro, Lego-style graphics and allows users to build structures and explore an vast online world while doing battle with other players. The game's massive success has already got Hollywood's attention. Warner Bros. has picked up the movie rights to Minecraft and Roy Lee, one of the producers of mega-hit The Lego Movie, is on board to produce a live-action adaptation.

The Minecraft deal comes just a year after Microsoft acquired Finnish mobile phone maker Nokia for $7.2 billion. Microsoft could try to leverage Minecraft's massive fan base to try to attract more users to its mobile phone business. The game is one of the top-selling apps for both Apple and Android devices and was recently released for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles.

Ironically, Mojang's founder and Minecraft creator Markus "Notch" Persson has criticized Microsoft in the past, telling Reuters the market for Windows Phone devices was “tiny” and not worth developing apps for. He went a step further today, announcing in a blog post that he would be leaving Mojang altogether once the Microsoft deal was finalized. Stating that he doesn't consider himself a "real" game developer and never had any interest in creating a global phenomenon, Persson says he will be turning his attention to "small web experiments" instead. "It’s not about the money," he writes. "It’s about my sanity."

Selling out to a corporate giant like Microsoft could hurt Mojang's scrappy independent image and may alienate some of Minecraft's fan base.

Another issue could be copyright concerns. The game attracted unwanted attention in 2010 after a Minecraft user constructed an impressive replica of Star Trek's USS Enterprise spaceship and posted a video of the result on YouTube without asking for permission from broadcaster CBS, who holds the rights to Star Trek. Many Minecraft fans post videos of the game online, something that could be restricted in the future if Microsoft decides to enforce its own copyright.

In a statement, Microsoft said it would maintain Minecraft across all its existing platforms, with a "commitment to nurture and grow it long into the future.”

Sept. 15, 9:41 a.m. Updated with Markus Persson's comments about leaving Mojang.

Twitter: @sroxborough