Minecraft Spurs Interest in STEM Areas, Commands $2.5B from Microsoft


Minecraft, the popular “sandbox” game whose parent company Mojang was recently purchased by Microsoft for $2.5 billion, is increasing children’s interest in STEM subjects. 

The Verge spoke with numerous parents who see Minecraft as a good tool for bonding with their children, but also as an educational portal into computer science that could bring the Microsoft brand its next generation of fans.  Other factors that make Minecraft so popular with kids are that it is easy to learn and impossible to lose.  Parents love that it can teach children about architecture, computer programming, and even hacking.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said this week at an annual Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Seattle:

“To me what Minecraft represents is more than a hit game franchise,” he said. “It’s this open-world platform. If you think about it, it’s the one game parents want their kids to play.”

According to Taylor Soper of GeekWire, he continued by stating that games like Minecraft are the best way to get children interested in STEM because it gets their curiosity going.

Minecraft is what gamers call a “sandbox game”, a game that allows players to change the world around them in myriad ways.  It is a “platform for creative expression” which means players can do almost anything, even “modding” the game.  Kevin Roose, reporting for the Daily Intelligencer, says that the creator, Markus “Notch” Persson of Sweden, did no advertising and sold a million copies just by word of mouth.  Robin Sloan wrote on Medium, “The true Minecraft is the game plus the sprawling network of tutorials, wikis, galleries, videos.”

Minecraft fans are not so sure the acquisition was a good thing.  Some are even accusing Persson of selling out, but Mojang is trying to calm the storm, saying, “Change is scary, and this is a big change for all of us. It’s going to be good though. Everything is going to be OK.”  As for Persson, he tells his fans that he couldn’t handle the “big-ness” of what the game became.

Kyle Alspach of BetaBoston elaborates, writing that Persson didn’t want the responsibility of owning a company “of such global significance.”  On his own blog, Persson wrote:

“I’ve become a symbol. I don’t want to be a symbol, responsible for something huge that I don’t understand, that I don’t want to work on, that keeps coming back to me,” Persson wrote. “I’m not an entrepreneur. I’m not a CEO. I’m a nerdy computer programmer who likes to have opinions on Twitter.”

Microsoft is gaining a new type of customer: mobile gamers.  Minecraft is available on iPhones, Androids, Windows, Macs, Microsoft Xbox, and Sony’s PlayStation. Microsoft will continue to have Minecraft on all these platforms, according to Mae Anderson of the Associated Press. Owen Hill, Mojang’s “chief word officer”, explained more in a blog post this week:

“Minecraft will continue to evolve, just like it has since the start of development. We don’t know specific plans for Minecraft’s future yet, but we do know that everyone involved wants the community to grow and become even more amazing than it’s ever been,” he continued.

The three founders of Mojang are leaving the company.  Although there is a Silicon Valley philosophy that acquisitions should be about gaining great talent, not necessarily buying a company, Microsoft took another route. Mark Milian of Bloomberg says that though most of Mojang’s employees will stay with Microsoft, it is obvious that Microsoft was after Minecraft, not Mojang.

Billy Pidgeon, an independent consultant to the game industry says cultivating successful franchises is better than adding genius, but sometimes fickle, computer visionaries.  He adds:

“The thing with games is it can be more volatile, and you’re really dependent on the talent: You lose them, and you’re in a bad place,” says Pidgeon. “Franchises are always worthwhile. As long as you continue to keep the quality and continue to develop it in line with expectations, it can be really valuable. It’s guaranteed to sell. As long as there are millions of people playing it, they’ll continue to play it. The games business is very hit-driven.”