The news that Microsoft purchased Minecraft developer Mojang for a lazy $2.5 billion should really come as no surprise. The game found a home on PC before going on to become one of the most played games on Xbox Live. There’s absolutely no denying the game’s popularity on Microsoft platforms.
Microsoft has a storied history of game developer acquisitions, and while some of those developers are a shadow of their former selves from pre-Microsoft buyout, they’ve mostly turned out to be promising additions.
Let’s take a look back at Microsoft’s key acquisitions over the past few years.
The house that built Halo had moderate success leading up to the buyout, having developed popular Mac OS games Minotaur: The Labyrinths of Crete, Pathways into Darkness and Marathon, before making third-person action game Oni for PS2 and Mac.
Bungie would return to the FPS genre after Oni, announcing Halo: Combat Evolved at Macworld Expo 1999 in a keynote address by Apple’s then-interim-CEO, the late Steve Jobs.
Following Halo’s reveal at E3 2000, Microsoft confirmed that it had snatched Bungie away to release Halo exclusively on Xbox. The rest is history.
Halo went on to sell 6.5 million copies on its way to becoming the Xbox brand’s flagship franchise, an honour it still holds to this day. Halo 2 and Halo 3 would go on to make $125 million and $170 million respectively in their first 24 hours on sale.
Microsoft and Bungie would part ways in late 2007, but the developer would make two remaining Halo games: Halo: ODST in 2009 and Halo: Reach in 2010.
Rare needs no introduction. The developer helped define ‘90s gaming with the likes of Donkey Kong Country, GoldenEye and Banjo-Kazooie, to name a few. Put simply, Rare owned the ‘90s. They were part of the reason you owned a SNES and, to a lesser extent, an N64.
The company’s partnership with Nintendo came to an end in September 2002, however, when Microsoft bought 100% of the company for $375 million. The acquisition meant the upcoming game Donkey Kong Racing was never released, and many of Rare’s most cherished franchises would lay dormant for years.
It brought with it a strong portfolio, however, with the likes of Banjo-Kazooie and Conker.
Rare hasn’t quite reached the same levels of success as it did at Nintendo. Conker: Live and Reloaded and Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts didn’t sell as well as expected, so Microsoft restructured the studio and many key figures left. The studio shifted its focus to Kinect. However, following poor sales of Kinect Sports Rivals for Xbox One, and Microsoft’s shift away from Kinect, the studio’s future appears uncertain.
Has Microsoft gotten the best out of Rare? That is very much up for debate. There is a large portfolio of beloved characters and franchises waiting to be used, and the studio continuously teases us with the prospect of returning to them.
It seems, however, that Microsoft just isn’t interested.
Ensemble Studios was one of the industry’s most acclaimed developers of real-time strategy games up until its closure in 2009.
Before Microsoft acquired the studio in 2001, it had made two Age of Empires games, along with an expansion for each title. It also went on to develop Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds, Age of Mythology and Age of Empires III following the acquisition, all of which were met with critical acclaim upon release.
The studio’s final game would be Halo Wars, an Xbox 360 exclusive RTS that was always well received by critics and gamers alike.
Having sold more than 20 million games, and at one point having a value of more than $500 million, Ensemble Studios was once one of the industry’s most successful developers.
It had a number of games in planning stages at the time of its closure in 2009, including a Halo MMO codenamed “Titan”.
A leaked email from then-boss of Microsoft Game Studios Phil Spencer revealed that the studio was simply too expensive to run, and that Microsoft had decided to divide its assets across other internal agencies.
It was a shame, because Ensemble’s legacy is a strong one that will last the ages among fans of the RTS genre.
Lionhead Studios was well-known for its God game series on PC and Mac, Black & White, before being bought by Microsoft in 2006.
Since then, there have been six more Fable games, with another unannounced Fable game expected next year.
While it hasn’t quite reached the same level of quality with its games as it did with Black & White and its sequel since having been acquired by Microsoft, its work on the Fable franchise has helped establish it as one of the Xbox brand’s most successful, both critically and commercially, with more than 10 million units sold across all entries developed by Lionhead.
Easily the company’s most important and expensive acquisition, Mojang presents an interesting opportunity for Microsoft and Xbox moving forward.
The Xbox entries of Minecraft have been a phenomenal success, and for a whopping $4 billion, it appears that Microsoft is prepared to invest even more in the series’ evolution on the platform.
FASE Studios – Developer of MechCommander and MechWarrior games, as well as the critically panned reimagining of Shadowrun in 2007 for Xbox 360. The studio is now defunct.
Digital Anvil – Founded by Wing Commander creator Chris Roberts, it made popular Xbox game Brute Force and PC space trading and combat game Freelancer. Despite both games being relative critical and commercial successes, the studio folded in 2006.
BigPark – Now focusing on Xbox One entertainment apps, BigPark started at Microsoft as the developer of Kinect Joy Ride and Kinect Sports: Season Two.
Twisted Pixel – This small developer was bought by Microsoft in 2011 following the success of the likes of ’Splosion Man and Comic Jumper. It’s since made The Gunstringer, a surprisingly good Kinect game for Xbox 360, and LocoCycle, an Xbox One game that was critically panned. It’s now working on an unannounced project.