Image from planetminecraft.com

I’ve been playing Minecraft on and off again for the better part of 7 years now. I’d never consider myself wholly invested in the game - I enjoy it immensely when I play it - I build some pretty nice things, and then I stop playing it for awhile until I get the itch. Microsoft, for those who are living under a rock, recently purchased Mojang, the creators of Minecraft to the tune of 2.5 billion dollars. That’s $2,500,000,000 or approximately more money than I’ll ever even think of making in over 30 lifetimes.

For the future of Minecraft this matters.

It’ll start, and has started, small. Microsoft released Microsoft Windows 10 Edition of Minecraft for 10$. This edition is nothing more than the Pocket Edition (and indeed win10 versions can connect to pocket edition servers) dressed up to run on Windows 10. Microsoft swears up and down they will not abandon the java version (what we’ll call Vanilla from here on out).

So far no big deal, right? There’s already a PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, XB1, Vita, phone, Raspberry pi version. What’s one more? (On a side note, I feel that lack of Minecraft on the Wii U hurt Nintendo almost as much as their total lack of commitment to online play)

Well the problem is Microsoft needs to recoup all of their losses and then some. Now, not all of this money has to be from Minecraft - they purchased the developer after all. So any future Mojang games are Microsoft’s to profit from. The problem then becomes that Mojang’s other games have failed to hit in any meaningful way. Beside a ridiculous trademark dispute over the name, does anyone remember Scrolls? Who is hyped for Cobalt? Hopefully, Mojang can make lightning strike twice and avert the future that I fear will come to pass.

What is That Future?

Again, it’s starting now. You can purchase skin packs to the tune of a few bucks. No problem right? I certainly can’t fault them for trying to make a buck off skin packs. Sure, you can download and install skins for free on Vanilla Minecraft, but if some rubes want to pay a few bucks here and there good for them. Maybe they’ll get lucky and find a few whales that spend thousands of dollars on skin packs.

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The problem is....2.5 billion dollars. It’s such a staggering amount that it’s almost incomprehensible to me. To get back that money they’re going to have to do more than sell Minecraft on Windows 10 at a discounted price with the promise of skin packs. So what do they do?

Reskinning other assets in the game

It’d be pretty harmless. Right? You pay 99 cents and now you have redstone that is blue. It’s just a customization for your game! Then you can turn your glowstone into a disco ball, again - just cosmetic. How about new dyes for the game then? For 2.00 you can purchase a one time use dye that you can create a color wool that no one else has. For 5.00$ you can purchase a dye with a color picker to create any color you want.

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The problem as I see it is that the whole point of Minecraft is that it’s a cosmetic game. Most of the fun of the game is just building stuff that you wouldn’t be able to see in the real world. To offer cosmetics as paid content alters the very essence of the game by creating a paywall for certain features.

Paid Mods

Here’s the doozy. Currently Pocket Minecraft, and by extension Win10 MC (PME for both from now on) do not offer mods or mod support. Vanilla does. For free. One way that MS can make MC financially viable for them is to offer up Mod Packs just as they offer skin packs. At first they’d have to reassure everyone, “we will continue to support Vanilla Minecraft and the Mod Scene there” but eventually they would start to sneak things into PME that wouldn’t be available on Vanilla. They could claim it is due to the limitations of coding in Javascript - they’re looking for a way to implement the feature! Don’t worry.

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Offering Up New Assets in the Game for a Price

Want to build stairs? You’re going to have to buy the blueprint first for 0.99 cents. Want to make your house out of tempered steel? Again, pay MS first.

I think no matter what, despite its higher price tag (that has been set in stone, you’ll never see it drop), Microsoft will eventually have to can the Vanilla Minecraft. This may be sooner rather than later as the PME version rapidly approaches parity with Vanilla. If they’re going to implement any sort of profitable monetary system they essentially have free competition in the form of Vanilla. It’d be like Coke coming out with a soda that was 1/2 the calories that cost 5 times as much, while also selling regular coke and diet coke at a discount.

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So what do you think? Is the future dire for our intrepid indie that sparked a generation of “BLOCK STORY, MINETRAPS, SURVIVAL MINE BLOCK, and everyone’s favorite, BLOCKCRAFT: A SURVIVAL TRAP STORY”? Or am I being too cynical, and MS is going to just maintain the status quo. I guess there is Holo Lens - that should push a few thousand copies of the game.