Spencer wanted it, (probably) Mattrick didn’t
In 2014, Microsoft bought Mojang and Minecraft for a cool $2.5 billion. It was a monumental acquisition, one spurred on by Minecraft creator Markus Persson ultimately growing tired of navigating a company that had grown to that size. It was extra notable because Persson had previously made a point of hoping to stay independent forever.
However, details have come to light that indicate maybe Minecraft was on the negotiating table sometime before the September 2014 sale. In his new book Hit Refresh, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says that Microsoft passed on seriously pursuing Mojang before he was appointed CEO (which happened on February 4, 2014). And it was current Xbox leader Phil Spencer who wanted to make the deal.
“Early in Microsoft’s relationship with Mojang, before I was CEO, [Spencer] presented an opportunity to purchase Minecraft, but [Spencer’s] boss at the time chose not to move forward,” Nadella wrote. He continued “For some, such a visible, high-level rejection could have been withering, but [Spencer] didn’t give up.”
It’s nearly impossible to definitively suss out who’s to blame for passing on Minecraft, but the timeline of events points toward one person: Don Mattrick. Before Nadella became CEO, Mattrick was head of Xbox until his resignation in mid-2013. It’s most likely that Spencer reported directly to Mattrick, meaning that Mattrick was probably the one who axed this before it was ever seriously considered. If Microsoft could’ve struck a deal earlier in Minecraft‘s life, it’s possible that an acquisition could’ve been made for far less than the astronomical $2.5 billion that it was eventually sold for.
However, just because Microsoft passed doesn’t necessarily mean that Persson would’ve been ready to sell. When asked about Nadella’s account, Persson said “I’m probably the wrong person to ask about specifics, but I do remember us getting a ridiculously low offer from some company at some point fairly early on. We said no. Just to be clear, we weren’t actively looking to sell, but would with some frequency get asked. It wasn’t until my tweet we decided to pursue it.”
Persson’s account seems hazy and you would think someone would remember if Microsoft tried buying their company — especially if it were for a “ridiculously low” price. It’s very possible that Microsoft’s intentions to buy Minecraft before 2014 never amounted to anything more than internal conversations. But, it’s still worth noting that Spencer thought an acquisition would be a good decision and that he was likely shut down by Mattrick. If it’s true, that’s just one more bad decision for Mattrick, a man whose legacy with Xbox is not much more than a series of bad decisions.