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The Unlikely Story of Microsoft's Surprise Minecraft Buyout

The Unlikely Story of Microsoft s Surprise Minecraft Buyout WIRED


Microsoft’s $2.5 billion purchase of Mojang and Minecraft last September, one of the biggest acquisitions in gaming history, stunned the game’s millions of fans. It also was a big, though not entirely pleasant, surprise for Mojang’s employees.

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Money, like everything else, is relative. 

At the time, Jens was not alone in being dissatisfied with his paycheck from Mojang. In fact, a shared feeling had for some time been spreading amongst the staff that they were not really seeing their fair share of Minecraft’s astounding success. Sure, Mojang employees received more perks than most. The regular trips that were arranged for employees would have made most people jealous. In May 2013, for example, Minecraftpassed two important milestones as sales of both the PC and mobile versions passed ten million. To celebrate, Markus took his whole staff, with partners, to Monaco. Arriving by private jet, they had spent a few days driving sports cars, riding helicopters, drinking champagne, and partying on luxury yachts, all at the company’s expense.

And yet, some couldn’t shake the feeling that their hard work mainly benefited Markus, Jakob, and Carl. The three founders were yet to make anyone else a shareholder in the company, not even those who had been with Mojang from the start. This meant that the massive profits generated by Minecraft still went straight into their pockets, even though Markus himself hadn’t done any actual work on Minecraft for over two years now. Everyone else had to do with a normal salary, plus whatever perks or bonuses Markus decided to throw their way when he felt generous.

At any other company this would have been perfectly normal. But Mojang was different, or at least it gave the impression of being different. The company projected an image of itself as a closely knit, easygoing group of friends. There were constant parties and nonstop fun, a culture of honesty and openness where nobody cared much about who was in charge. In the first few years this had, by all accounts, been true. But as the company had grown the atmosphere had changed, and Mojang’s self-image was by now squarely at odds with the reality. The distance between staff and management had increased. Many no longer regarded Markus, Carl, and Jakob as their equals, as part of the team, but simply as management. Mojang had long since ceased to be anything but a workplace.

“Management has been really good at keeping wages down. Instead, we’ve been told that Mojang is a nice place to work, that we get free trips to the Game Developers Conference and that we all receive a Christmas bonus,” one Mojang employee told us during summer 2014.

Even so, people stayed on. Almost without exception.

News of the sale changed things at Mojang. Some felt betrayed by Markus’s decision. Morale plummeted. “People felt like the world was coming to an end,” one longtime Mojang employee told us shortly after the news broke.

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