Microsoft Acquires Minecraft
by Greg Rozen
It wasn’t so long ago that Microsoft took the gaming world by surprise with their $2 billion acquisition of Minecraft developer Mojang. What would one of the world’s largest tech conglomerates do with a studio, and a product, so synonymous with openness, flexibility, and the spirit of independent development? Minecraft had become the phenomenon it is now because of these notions, the idea that players and creators can do with it as they please. How could that be compatible with an organization of Microsoft’s scale?
Ever since, Microsoft has gone out of its way to try and prove to their audience that they have no intention of fixing what isn’t broken. No substantive changes were made to policies regarding content created using Minecraft, everyone was free to do as they did before. Minecon took place in London this past July 4th weekend, and, by all accounts, it was a massive success. During the convention, they continued to reinforce that their acquisition of Mojang was a hands-off affair. They showed what they can bring to the platform, showing off the mind-blowing Hololens, but, really, it was about Minecraft, and fans found little reason to be nervous or upset.
And yet, since the acquisition, Microsoft has also made clear that they intended to expand the Minecraft brand. The partnership with Telltale to create Minecraft: Story Mode was announced shortly thereafter, and, indeed, it made me nervous, using the IP to create something that felt very “un-minecraft.” But, once the trailer was released a few weeks ago, my fears were put to rest, because instead of something silly, boring, lazy, we have an interesting, strange-looking adventure with top-tier voice-acting. It won’t hurt Minecraft, it’ll legitimately expand it to new places, all without trivializing or exploiting it.
But, there was still that other thing.
What about “The Minecraft Movie?”
Mojang was looking into a cinematic adaptation of their game since before the deal with Microsoft. Some time ago, Night at the Museum director Shawn Levy was in line for the film, but when he pitched his concept to Mojang itself, they turned him down, saying they’d rather wait for something perfect. That’s the attitude you want, really. Wait for the right concept. But would Microsoft show that level of restraint? A Minecraft movie is a potential mega-hit, financially, with a potential audience that stretches from three years old to 40. Could we really expect one of the world’s largest companies to just sit on their hands and wait for something that not only would make money, but could also begood? The whole idea made me nervous.
Well, I’m not nervous anymore.
Just this week, Mojang announced that none other than Rob Mcelhenney, co-creator and star of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” would be directing the upcoming film, to the shock of, really, everyone. Not only has Mcelhenney never directed a feature film before- he has, however, one potential film currently in the pipe-line and has directed episodes of his television show- but the one thing he is known for is really as far from appropriate for children as you can get. Always Sunny is a vulgar, drug and booze filled sitcom focused on five of the worst human beings to ever live, and now one of its key creative forces is creating what is essentially a children’s movie… and I love it.
It would have been easy to select a director who’s focused on children’s movies in the past. People who’ve focused on animated hits like The Lego Movie directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord, or Spy Kids creator Robert Rodriguez. That would have been the safe, if somewhat boring choice. Instead, they’re taking a chance on something strange, something unexpected. Mcelhenney himself perfectly captured what excited me about this decision with his own tweet, saying “Hey @Mojang let’s do something strange and wonderful.”
Strange and wonderful. That’s what it’s going to take to make a Minecraft movie that not only fits into the incredible community and experience that encapsulates the world of Minecraft, but adds to it, has a voice of its own, and validates its own existence.
I was worried that Microsoft would come in and just take their money. Stop taking chances. Milk that cow. I continue to be pleasantly surprised as they go another way.