Microsoft buys Minecraft Creator Mojang for $2.5B

minecraft

In one of the biggest acquisitions in recent game industry history, Microsoft has officially purchased Mojang, the developer of the hit computer and console game Minecraft. This is an enormous deal that was previously hinted some weeks ago, and has now come to fruition. Minecraft has enjoyed tremendous success as a crowdfunding trailblazer when an early playable version was first released in 2009, and was made available for sale shortly thereafter. Since then, the game has appeared on Microsoft’s Xbox 360 console as well as on mobile platforms and has reportedly moved more than 50 million units in total.

While this seems like exciting news, for Mojang at least, it remains to be seen whether this acquisition will be a net positive for the developer in the future. It’s hard not to be reminded of another major game developer acquisition of Microsoft’s some 12 years ago: Rare, which the software giant acquired for $375M, after which the newly acquired developer struggled to make an impact. In addition, the original creator of Minecraft, Markus “Notch” Persson, has confirmed he will be leaving the company and will focus on smaller, independent projects. It’s not certain what the future holds for the newly-acquired Mojang, but it’s clear that Microsoft felt strongly that the studio will be a valuable asset to keep under lock and key.

What Does the Future Hold for the Once-Mighty Nintendo?

Japan-based Nintendo (NTDOY) has, in recent years, made huge strides in the game market, reaping huge rewards with not one, but two bestselling game hardware systems in the Nintendo Wii console system (which has shipped close to a million units worldwide since its 2006 launch) and the various versions of the Nintendo DS handheld system (which has shipped more than 150 million units worldwide since its launch in 2004).

The hardware was widely praised for its innovative control schemes–the Nintendo DS handheld not only came with a standard directional controller pad, but also with a stylus and touchpad, while the Wii shipped with a revolutionary wireless motion-sensing controller known as the Wii Remote. With these new hardware platforms, Nintendo strengthened its position as a company whose game products could be enjoyed by users of all ages, such as with the family-friendly Wii Sports (a Wii game that lets players play by swinging their Wii Remote controllers to simulate swinging a baseball bat or tossing a bowling ball).

Nintendo's Wii U console hardware

Is Nintendo's upcoming Wii U console the company's best future prospect?

But the company has lately been facing new challenges, including the problematic reception of its next-generation 3DS handheld, a higher-definition, glasses-free stereoscopic 3D version of the DS which launched in 2011–and which has struggled to meet sales expectations. While the DS enjoyed a shelf life of some seven years–with plenty of software support both from in-house Nintendo studios and third-party developers, the 3DS launched with a lackluster games library and features (such as an internal accelerometer and onboard cameras that can take 3D photos and capture 3D video) that have yet to distinguish themselves as anything other than gimmicks.

Last July, the company slashed the price of the hardware from its initial $250 US price point down to $170 US inNorth America. Yet in its most recent financial forecast, Nintendo went on to revise its hardware figures for the 3DS from 16 million shipped down to 14 million shipped; and the company also revised its estimates for 3DS software shipped from 50 million shipped down to 38 million shipped.

In the same report, Nintendo revised its estimated shipping numbers for its Wii console from 12 million down to 10 million (though the company didn’t change its initial estimate of 100 million shipped for Wii software). Based on these figures, the company expects an annual loss of 45 million yen (approximately $575 million)–its first annual loss in decades.

Later this year, Nintendo is rumored to release its next home console, the Wii U, whose unusual hardware includes both a console and a separate wireless controller that acts as a touchpad–a prototype version of the controller shown at 2011’s Electronic Entertainment Expo trade show resembled nothing so much as a tablet computer (think iPad or Samsung Galaxy) with onboard control pads and buttons–and two days after the new system’s unveiling at the event, the company’s stock plunged to new five-year lows. Most recently, the company has announced “Nintendo Network,” an online system that will presumably operate in a manner similar to Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, the online services run by rivals Microsoft and Sony for their Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles, respectively. With Wii U Network, Nintendo is apparently planning to allow for full online game purchases and has confirmed it will allow for the model of traditional for-pay downloadable content (“DLC,” additional game content that game developers often add to their existing games after releasing them).

With few high-profile game products on the horizon and seemingly no clear answer to its challenging circumstances beyond a traditional online content model similar to its competitors, Nintendo’s future is uncertain, to say the least.

Who Owns Your Twitter Account?

Tech writer and blogger Noah Kravitz used to work for mobile phone review site Phonedog.com, and during his time there, Kravitz wrote numerous articles and started a Twitter account, @PhoneDog_Noah. Twitter continues to be a popular social media application used for “microblogging”–sharing personal and professional updates to a limit of 140 characters. Celebrities, writers, and ordinary people all use Twitter to post their thoughts to their “followers”–other users who subscribe to an individual’s Twitter feed to automatically, and immediately, receive any and all updates from that followed user.

Tech writer Noah Kravitz garnered thousands of Twitter followers as a blogger for PhoneDog.com, and now faces a lawsuit from his former employer.

Tech writer Noah Kravitz garnered thousands of Twitter followers as a blogger for PhoneDog.com.

Writers like Kravitz in the tech space tend to use Twitter to post lightning-fast, relevant updates on highly-sought after tech products, even before penning full articles or filming video reports. Since Kravitz’s position got him early access to exciting new smartphones and other in-demand tech gadgets for which he’d provide quick-hit coverage by “tweeting,” the blogger was able to garner ┬ásome 17,000 Twitter followers. But like many reporters who use Twitter, Kravitz also used the account to post personal notes alongside the work-related stuff. What he had for breakfast and what the weather was like were just as likely to appear in his Twitter feed as thing like his professional opinions on telecom news developments, and direct links to phone- and tech-related blogs he’d written.

In 2010, Kravitz parted ways with PhoneDog.com, and was told by the company he’d be allowed to keep the Twitter account, so long as he would “tweet on their behalf from time to time.” The writer agreed, and also changed his Twitter account name to simply “@NoahKravitz.” However, PhoneDog.com filed suit against its former employee the following year, demanding a total of $340,000 in damages on the grounds that Kravitz’s thousands of followers comprised a customer list that the company intended to aggressively protect in the interests of its growing social media efforts. (As it turns out, there’s potentially more to the lawsuit story, since Kravitz had previously laid claim to both backpay and a portion of the site’s ad revenue–and the blogger feels the lawsuit is little more than retaliation.)

The details behind the lawsuit aside, the actual dispute raises what could be an important precedent for Twitter and future social media use. In contrast to the world’s most popular social media service, Facebook–which does not allow any business to have a personal account and instead requires the use of a separate account known as a “fan page”–Twitter was built around the idea of a one-person, one-account correlation. While Twitter does let businesses have official Twitter accounts (and has instituted a “verified” status for celebrities and recognizable businesses), the service is really about person-to-person communication rather than simply being a news feed. As such, public figures like Kravitz, who are associated with a company but also frequently tweet about non-work-related topics, are extremely common on the service.

As such, while the legal details may end up getting sorted out in court, it seems increasingly important for Twitter users who represent one or more companies to work directly with their employers to figure out a policy up-front that both parties can live with. Because waters can get muddy quickly once bloggers on Twitter start amassing what could be argued as either an important business contact list, or a growing cult of personality, it seems best for companies to make arrangements and set boundaries prior to ever setting up the accounts. In cases like Kravitz’s, in which a company is already working with an established Twitter user who has garnered many followers, it’s likely best for companies to consider the possibility of a similar occurrence and prepare in advance.

To this end, companies can and should create separate, official business Twitter accounts that shadow their most established users by repeating (or re-Tweeting) particularly newsworthy Twitter updates such as product announcements, important blog posts and photo or video galleries, and special offers, such that they can start to build their own Twitter following, without having to rely on the followers of employees who may later leave for greener pastures.
Companies would also do well to consider the potential public relations black eye they might suffer by attempting to forcibly take back a previously unspoken-for Twitter account. Regardless of whether companies have the legal right to seize a former employee’s account and its followers, the incident involving Kravitz has become a matter of public record that hasn’t reflected well on PhoneDog.com. While more and more companies discover the importance of using social media to connect with their customers, they should also keep in mind the power of social media to instantly spread information widely–particularly when those social media users aren’t speaking highly of them.

Comedian Louis CK Skips TV and Digital Piracy to Make a Million

Divorced, forty-something, father-of-two comedian Louis CK has been in the game for 27 years, and his brand of angry, profane, and unflinchingly honest material has earned him thousands of fans, as well as comparisons to such comedy greats as Richard Pryor and George Carlin. While he’s had a rocky relationship with Hollywood (his first major motion picture, Pootie Tang, was re-cut into an unrecognizable mess by film studio MGM, and his first major TV series, Lucky Louie, was canceled after a single season), the comic’s career has flourished in recent years, due in no small part to the power of online distribution.

Comedian Louis CK

While comedian Louis CK has done traditional TV specials, his latest online-only project has raised more than a few eyebrows--and more than a million bucks.

CK (whose real surname is the similarly-pronounced Hungarian “Szekely”) became an Internet sensation with an angry rant commonly referred to as “Everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy” on a 2009 episode of Late Night with Conan O’Brien,, in which he observed that despite great advances in technology, modern Americans seem unhappier than ever. The fact that CK’s remarks happened to air shortly after the 2008 stock market crash made them incredibly timely and the video went viral–the original post on YouTube has since exceeded four million views.

But he hasn’t stopped there. Aside from creating his own TV series for FX, Louie, the comic has relentlessly continued to work on new material, including the onstage special Live at the Beacon Theater, which CK has made available for download exclusively on his Web site, LouisCK.net. As the comic stated on his site, “The experiment was: if I put out a brand new standup special at a drastically low price ($5) and make it as easy as possible to buy, download and enjoy, free of any restrictions, will everyone just go and steal it? Will they pay for it? And how much money can be made by an individual in this manner?”

As soon as you pay the $5 price for the stand-up comedy show, it’s unlocked as a downloadable video. And aside from limiting the number of times the video can be downloaded per purchase (presumably to avoid excessive bandwidth costs), the show has relatively few legal strings attached–no lengthy terms of service to read, no ongoing subscription, and no sale of your personal information to some enormous corporate entity. CK has released the video more or less on good faith, asking only that fans consider buying the special, rather than downloading a pirated version for free.

Digital content continues to be a bone of contention between consumers–many of whom download pirated music, movies, and software for free without compensating the creators–and content providers, who either attempt to use restrictive digital rights management software to prevent illegal distribution, or are exploring alternate distribution methods that can still turn a profit, such as ad-supported video sites like Hulu. Given CK’s popularity, it seemed like his latest special might very well have ended up being yet another piece of content to be pirated rather than paid for; yet on December 21, the comic issued a statement on his Web site stating that the sales of the special had exceeded a million dollars.

“So it’s been about 12 days since the thing started and yesterday we hit the crazy number,” says the Web site update. “People are paying attention to what’s going on with this thing. So I guess I want to set an example of what you can do if you all of a sudden have a million dollars that people just gave to you directly because you told jokes.” Specifically, the comic plans to split the pot into four parts: one to be used to cover the special’s original production costs; one to paid out to his staff as a holiday bonus; one to be paid out to various charities; and the remainder to stay in the comedian’s pocket to cover his own living expenses.

Of course, CK’s special is by no means the first example of digital content for sale exclusively on the Web, nor is his business model particularly original–for instance, the New York-based startup company Kickstarter has made a business out of letting would-be entrepreneurs openly seek funding online. But the huge success of CK’s special does represent an intersection of in-demand content and inexpensive, customer-friendly digital distribution that actually works–without TV executives and without copy-protection software–and in a way that may very well be a sign of things to come for broadcast media in the future.