Earlier this week, Microsoft confirmed that it had bought Mojang, the Swedish video game developer behind the wildly popular Minecraft. While plans for advertising still seem questionable, marketers are divided on whether they believe the game will be used for marketing purposes or not.
Minecraft, which started as a builder game for PCs in 2009, was the most-downloaded of all paid apps (Minecraft – Pocket Edition costs $6.99) on both iOS and Android last year. Nearly three-quarters of the way through 2014, Minecraft has sold more than 54 million copies across its various platforms, and is second only to horror game Five Nights at Freddy’s on iOS App Store’s current top downloads chart. The game is also by far the most-reviewed app on the chart, with an average rating of four-and-a-half stars.
The game has no advertising, but could the Seattle software giant’s $2.5 billion acquisition change that?
It is very likely, according to Azher Ahmed, senior vice president of digital operations at DDB Chicago. While he doesn’t expect to see advertising inside the game, he does believe that it could become available around it.
“Microsoft will use Minecraft for marketing. I think there’s a demographic play here. [Microsoft sees] a younger audience they can market to, advertise to and provide services to,” he says.
Ahmed believes that through content marketing and branding initiatives, the company will integrate Minecraft into Windows, boosting the operating system’s appeal among a well-established legion of loyal fans.
But not everyone agrees. Tim Dunn, director of strategy and mobile at Isobar, thinks that the acquisition will not impact advertising at all. Minecraft has too much of a good thing going for Microsoft to start tinkering with it, he says.
“Minecraft has a unique space in kids’ lives: it’s like a digital version of Lego, a space where kids go to play and create in safety. And this is a priceless commodity for those who pay the bills: the parents,” Dunn says.
“Releasing any kind of ad model into this environment would be an instant turn-off for both kids and the gatekeepers who let them in. Brands who try too hard to interfere in the hallowed space between a child, their parents and their learning might find Minecraft turning into a minefield rather quickly,” he continues.
Minecraft players have the ability to change the ‘skins’ on their game should they want to, in order to change the design of background. Justin Burnham, director of operations and businesses development at Devolver Digital, thinks it’s more likely that Microsoft will compromise the openness of Minecraft’s community and start monetizing these skins, something that’s already happening on Xbox.
“Is Microsoft going to start charging 99 cents for a texture pack or $4 for a level?” asks Burnham, who also serves as the gaming project manager at SXSW Interactive. “I would be more concerned with what nickel and diming will go on. Not ads so much, because that’ll irritate the fans more than charging for add-on content.”
Whatever Microsoft’s plans for Minecraft are it certainly seems that the company is up to something bigger. As Burnham puts it, “It now has one of the biggest gaming communities plugged into it and it has a bigger plan in mind, but nobody knows what it is”.
Minecraft image via Shutterstock
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