Microsoft’s ownership of “Minecraft” has made for some decidedly strange situations.
There was none more bizarre than this week, when company executive Phil Spencer celebrated the launch of “Minecraft” for Nintendo’s hot new game console, the Switch. As of May 11, you can buy and play “Minecraft: Nintendo Switch Edition,” a fact Spencer touted on Twitter:
What makes this so weird is Spencer is the guy in charge of Microsoft’s gaming division. That makes him responsible for sales of Microsoft’s Xbox One game console. And the Switch is Nintendo’s latest rival to the Xbox One.
In the game business, great games drive hardware sales. Consumers often buy particular consoles because they want to play a hit new game.
With that in mind, console makers have tried to develop blockbuster games that they have exclusive rights too. And they typically reserve those games for their own platforms. For example, “Halo,” “Forza Motorsport,” “Gears of War” and other game franchises that Microsoft owns are only available for its Xbox consoles or PCs running its Windows operating system.
The idea is that those franchises will drive people to buy Microsoft hardware (in the case of the Xbox One) or software (in the case of Windows 10).
Spencer is in charge of overseeing Microsoft’s games in addition to its consoles. So you might think he’d want to use “Minecraft” to help boost the Xbox One, not one of its chief rivals. After all, “Minecraft” is one of the most popular games in the world. Instead, here he was not only green lighting a game that could boost the Switch, he was celebrating its launch!
But such weird situations are nothing new. Microsoft has been placed in them repeatedly ever since it purchased “Minecraft” back in 2014. That’s because Microsoft has continued to support the game on a whole slew of platforms it doesn’t control. You can play it on your phone (iPhone and Android), on your tablet, on your computer (PC or Mac), and even on Sony’s PlayStation 4.
Heck, the Switch isn’t even the first Nintendo console for “Minecraft” to appear on. Microsoft previously released a version of the game for the Wii U, Nintendo’s last home console.
Which isn’t to say there’s something wrong with Microsoft preserving the legacy of “Minecraft” as a game you can play on pretty much anything.It might be a smart business move! And from a consumer’s perspective, it’s mighty nice to be able to play the game on any platform you want. But that situation is a tremendous outlier in terms of typical game industry strategy, and it sticks out as a result.
It’s outright fantastic that “Minecraft” just launched on the Nintendo Switch, a platform that makes perfect sense for it. It’s also outright bizarre that Microsoft is responsible for making that happen.