What does Minecraft have to do with IT training?
Pop quiz: What do Hotmail, Nokia, Skype, and Mojang (the gaming company behind Minecraft) all have in common? If you guessed that they have all been bought out by Microsoft, congratulations. You're up on your stuff. (Back in the dawn of time — 1996 — Hotmail was an independent entity for about 17 months before its purchase by Microsoft for $400 million.)
The purchase of Mojang, the Swedish painfully-indie game developing company, has many people scratching their heads. The $2.5 billion acquisition certainly seems to be a break from Microsoft's typical MO; the software giant's acquisitions are typically no-nonsense hardware or software producers. But while Mojang may not produce typical Microsoft fare, there's no doubt that they're profitable. Boasting only a handful of employees (about forty), Mojang built and maintained what is arguably the most successful video game of all time, on any platform. And even though users pay only once for unlimited access, Minecraft still brought in a tidy $290 million last year.
For Minecraft players, the change in management is as worrying as it is unexpected. Minecraft is currently a cross-platform game that users can enjoy on the iPhone, PC (including Linux systems), Mac, Xbox One and both the PS3 and PS4, but players worry that Microsoft will make the game exclusive to their own Xbox system. "Enjoy playing Minecraft on your PS4?" Matt Kamen of WIRED wrote the day before the buyout was announced, "Relish the experience while you can, since Microsoft is rumoured to be buying Mojang."
Since Minecraft is the top game for the Xbox, the purchase would seem strategic, yet Phil Spencer (Microsoft's Xbox chief) has stated explicitly that Minecraft will continue to be available on multiple platforms. There also seems to be general approval among fans of the first development announcement — in a one-word tweet, Phil Spencer confirmed that Minecraft will soon be available on the Windows phone for the first time. Many speculate Microsoft will soon be building a Windows 8 compatible version as well.
There may be another reason for the Microsoft's purchase, though, and this has a tiny, yet potentially significant bearing on the certification world. Minecraft, some observers believe, could have potential as a teaching and training tool. Putting aside the innovative programming that has brought the game this far, there's an interesting, if somewhat far-fetched, IT training possibility: redstone.
Redstone is an in-game element that allows a player to build simple electrical circuits and wiring. While most players use this functionality for rather pedestrian purposes (opening and closing doors, simple skylights, etc.), many have built more elaborate music boxes, video games, and even simple computers using the element. With a few fairly minor modifications, Minecraft could be used to certify (or expand) a player's knowledge of basic circuitry. A few more simple modifications, and the game could do the same thing for complex hardware
While this may not ultimately be a very likely application of Minecraft, it is an intriguing possibility.If nothing else, the purchase remains an indicator that Microsoft is working hard not to be buried by the new vanguard of products and services. It should be interesting to watch and see how Microsoft will handle their unorthodox acquisition.