Microsoft is adding a new marketplace – and a brand new currency – within the video-game Minecraft, opening up the opportunity for businesses to sell their original content and creations to tens of millions of the game's players for the first time.
Set to go live in the next few months, nine businesses will be selling feature packs within Minecraft – such as new storylines, in-game activities or landscapes to explore – with prices ranging between about $1 and $10 per creation.
Other companies can apply to be allowed into the marketplace over subsequent months. Users wishing to purchase content will need to buy a form of new currency – Minecraft Coins.
“For the first time we are going to enable creators to come in and put content into our store alongside the same content that Minecraft makes,” said John Thornton, the game's executive producer at Microsoft.
“The real impetus is to let creators connect to players and help them make a living on top of Minecraft.”
A store within the game does already exist but is limited to only items created by the Minecraft development team. The change to allow third-party developers to sell their wares within the same ecosystem opens up an entirely new business model for independent creatives.
The Minecraft Marketplace will not be available on all platforms – a notable exclusion being Microsoft's own Xbox and Sony's PlayStation games consoles – but will be available on Windows, iOS, Android, as well as the Apple TV, the Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR virtual reality platforms, and even Amazon's Kindle Fire.
Developers are free to set prices for their creations. “We don't have a strong price cap,” said Thornton.
“If we have content that shows up that everybody agrees is of significant value that a consumer might want to pay more than that, we'll have that conversation. Ultimately it's up to the creator to decide.”
The new coins can be bought via any supported device that features an app store, such as iOS, Android or Windows.
These coins will live in a user's Microsoft Xbox Live virtual wallet and be accessible for marketplace purchases on any platform. Microsoft would not confirm the exact figure developers would receive from the revenue share after it and app stores took their cut, but Thornton said it would be over half.
“We have a model that allows us to give more than 50 per cent of revenue to the creators,” he said. “They're all happy with that revenue split and we're happy with that as well.”
There are restrictions, however, to protect Minecraft's large numbers of young players.
“Every piece of content in the store is reviewed by Minecraft,” said Thornton, so much like Apple's app store nothing is likely to hit virtual store shelves without it being vetted first.
By adopting an in-app payment model, Microsoft is moving into a territory well-trodden by so-called freemium mobile apps. Pokemon Go, which is free to download, generated almost a billion dollars of revenue in 2016 through in-app payments, according to data compiled by research group App Annie.