UPDATE: So the rumors were true: Microsoft bought Minecraft for $2.5 billion. However, the good news, at least for now, is that the Vita version appears to be safe. A rep for Mojang said:
There's no reason for the development, sales, and support of the PC/Mac, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, Vita, iOS, and Android versions of Minecraft to stop.
That's encouraging! I'd love to hear a more official confirmation, and there are still lots of questions to be answered, but I'll keep hope alive for now.
Original story follows:
Reports and rumors have been flying this week that Microsoft is in talks to acquire Minecraft studio Mojang to the tune of $2.5 billion. That's a lot of money, and Minecraft is an enormous property in the gaming world. If this acquisition happens, it will be really interesting for a variety of reasons, but mostly because it may impact the availability of this currently platform-agnostic title.
The most concerning thing, though, is that it may impact the fate of the yet-to-be-released PlayStation Vita port of Minecraft, which many have looked to as the perfect portable version of the game.
The Vita is a system powerful enough to run a PS3-compatible version of the game (the PS4 version, for example, supports larger worlds that can't be transferred back to the PS3 edition). Additionally, the Vita has a leg up on the mobile version of the game, since those devices lack the thumbsticks and buttons that make the Vita such an attractive piece of portable gaming hardware.
Let's back up a moment and remember Microsoft's most recent exclusivity deal: at Gamescom, Microsoft announced that Rise of the Tomb Raider, sequel to the very popular–and multiplatform–Tomb Raider reboot, would be an Xbox exclusive title (at least for holiday 2014). A lot of gamers, myself included, didn't take kindly to the news. And that deal didn't involve owning the studio that makes the game.
So what happens if Microsoft does buy Mojang? Will they gradually stop supporting non-Xbox/non-PC versions of the title? Or will they, as with Skype, allow competitive platforms to continue playing host to the game?
Mojang just released Minecraft on PlayStation 4 this week (to great reviews), but I've really been waiting for the portable Vita version to dive into this game. It just seems like the perfect way to experience the game as I settle in for bed at night or while I'm in airport or hotel. Yes, remote play, blah blah blah, but I want a really portable version of the game.
It seems that, although it got delayed, the Vita port is still trucking along and may be sent soon to certification–both good reports that it may still see the light of day. But, although there are hopefully contracts in place that would assure a release no matter what, it's still frightening to think that Microsoft could swoop in and pull the plug on this version before it breathes first life on the PlayStation Network.
Of course, it's possible that Microsoft has no intentions of shaking things up with the current version of Minecraft. It's already out in the wild, and cutting off potential sources of revenue seems like a bad business move. However, a sequel to the game could be an entirely different story.
Just like the Tomb Raider exclusivity deal, it seems pretty clear that Microsoft is not happy about being unseated as the top-selling console in North America, with Forbes reporting that Sony is outselling Microsoft's consoles 3:1. They've already created a Kinect-less, $399 Xbox One bundle, they've got Tomb Raider, and you can bet they'd love to have Xbox as the place to play the next iteration of Minecraft (I'm just assuming that this is inevitable).
What about the mobile front? Windows Phone has been leveraging a pretty nasty set of attack ads against the iPhone, contrasting the voice commands between Cortana and Siri. It's no secret that the iOS version of Minecraft has done gangbusters numbers; could Microsoft sway Apple devotees to join the Windows Phone world with Minecraft: Pocket Edition exclusive to Windows Phone? Hard to say, but it would certainly be one of the few games out there to even have a shot at it.
Ultimately, it's hard to say what changes this acquisition, should it come to fruition, will have on the wildly-popular franchise. And there's also the question of longevity: is it worth the huge price tag to buy the rights to a game that may not last forever? Sure, it's a major force in gaming now, but it's not like Mojang has a slew of other titles as part of a proven track record.
What do you think? Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments!