On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Microsoft is in discussions to buy Mojang AB, the studio behind Minecraft, for more than $2 billion.
According to the report, the deal “could be signed as early as this week.”
Now, I’m not going to use this piece to talk about the pros and cons of a purchase. That should be apparent (Sony getting the boot and Mojang getting money for projects).
Instead, I’m going to warn Microsoft to learn from past mistakes and successes with Rare, the purchase the company made in 2002.
A bit of backstory about Rare for the uninformed. The company released 40 NES games, including Battletoads, before forming a partnership with Nintendo in 1994. During this partnership, the company shined.
Top titles such as Donkey Kong Country, GoldenEye 007, Killer Instinct, Perfect Dark, Banjo Kazooie, Conker’s Bad Fur Day and more graced the Super NES and Nintendo 64.
Even after the 2002 purchase, they still did a few more releases for Nintendo, but nothing that ever had the success of earlier titles.
Then, Rare released Grabbed by the Ghoulies in 2003, to decent reviews but lackluster sales. The same happened with Conker: Live & Reloaded in 2005, a remake of their N64 game.
On the 360, both Kameo and Perfect Dark: Zero were just average, and Viva Pinata, while a great game, was ignored by many for it’s kidding feel.
The biggest slap in the face for Rare fans came when, instead of getting Banjo-Threeie, they got Banjo: Nuts and Bolts, a game that, while fun, didn’t keep any of the platforming the series was known for. Instead, it was a vehicle building game that could easily be exploited, allowing for overpowered vehicles that made the game a joke.
In recent years, Rare started focusing on the Kinect Sports series, which ended up being an overall bust for Microsoft, and a free-to-play version of Killer Instinct. While it’s enjoyable, many didn’t want to shell out money for characters since they got a different free one every month or so.
Today, with the combination of Kinect Sports Rivals sales doing poorly and Microsoft backing away from the Kinect, layoffs were reported in May at the company.
So, what can Microsoft take away from all this? First off: let them make their own games. Sure, Microsoft may own them, but the company needs to make sure not to shelter them too much and let them take risks. It seemed like Minecraft was a risk when it first launched, but look at the critical success that has had.
Mojang has some great people over there that are creative. Take ideas like Scrolls and 0x10c and support them and build them, and listen to their other ideas and let them at least make them to see if they could potentially be hits. What Microsoft doesn’t need to do is sit them down, tell them what they’re going to make and how to make it and let them get to it. That really can hamper creative flow.
Next, Microsoft needs to never bring up the Kinect to the team. Pretend it doesn’t exist. When Rare was changed to developing Kinect games, it basically killed the company for the time being. Let Mojang stick with the controllers and keyboards, it’s what they’re best at.
When it comes to sequels, stay true to previous entries. Don’t announce Minecraft 2 and say it’s a shooter. If Scrolls gets a sequel, don’t tell me the card game is now a racing title featuring the creatures from the scrolls. Focus on what fans love and has sold millions of copies with, and add to it.
Finally, Microsoft needs to market, market, market. Everyone knows Minecraft, there’s no problem there. But, what if Mojang was to put a new IP out on the Xbox One and PC? Sure, gamers would know it, but would casual fans.
Everything Microsoft markets for Mojang needs to start out, “From the creators of Minecraft.” They have one of the best-selling games in the last decade, why not capitalize to increase sales? At the very least, it should introduce some casual gamers to new games from the developer by name recognition alone.
Overall, the Mojang purchase could easily be a blessing for Microsoft, but could quickly become a curse for gamers. As long as Microsoft learns from past errors, though, and builds a great brand with Mojang, everyone could come away as winners.