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Minecraft Purchase Gives Microsoft New Foothold

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Microsoft is laying out $2.5 billion to purchase the popular videogame Minecraft. It's a game enjoyed by many age groups. And the purchase will give Microsoft a foothold outside of its Xbox hardware and Windows phones. As NPR's Laura Sydell reports, the move displays a shift in strategy under Microsoft's new CEO.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Ask Marlene Saritzky how often her 10-year-old Jake likes to play Minecraft...

MARLENE SARITZKY: How often does he play or how often would he like to play?

SYDELL: The answer is that he'd like to play a lot more than he's allowed to play. Minecraft lets players make worlds and objects, cities, ships, animals, chimerical creatures from block-like objects. Instead of the sound of shooting, Minecraft sounds like this...

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO GAME, MINECRAFT)

SYDELL: ...Digging and building.

SARITZKY: Because of its free-form structure, I really think kids learn thinking and reasoning and creativity and logic and even some collaboration.

SYDELL: Saritzky says Jake's friends come over and they play the game together. The ability to unleash this kind of creativity in virtual space has garnered Minecraft a lot of praise. And it sold 50 million copies since it hit the market in 2009, says Chelsea Stark, a game critic for the online tech site Mashable.

CHELSEA STARK: It's a game that can be many things to many people. And that's a good thing. It can be a game that's accessible to children and parents. They could play together. I've even heard of Minecraft being used for projects for developing countries to kind of allow people to build their own neighborhoods with these blocks.

SYDELL: For Microsoft, this is the first big purchase under its new CEO, Satya Nadella. Nadella took the helm from Steve Ballmer in February. P.J. McNealy, an analyst and founder of Digital World Research, says with this purchase, Nadella is trying to reach a broader audience for Microsoft -beyond the people who own an Xbox, a Windows phone or a PC.

P.J. MCNEALY: They have much broader vision about where consumers are, which is everywhere. They're no longer deadlocked to just one device and one location. And having access to consumers, no matter where they are, no matter what device they're on and over any network, is really the new Microsoft.

SYDELL: Microsoft's other big game franchise is Halo, which is a first-person shooter and one of the top-selling military science-fiction game franchises. But the demographic of gamers is changing, too. While it used to be dominated by the hard-core who loved a game like Halo, much more of the general public is playing games.

MCNEALY: You're seeing a lot of people who play games like Farmville, who would never consider themselves to be gamers. People who've played on Minecraft may not consider themselves to be gamers. But the definition is broadening. And I think this is a great example of it.

SYDELL: With this purchase, Microsoft is not buying the games, 35-year-old creator Markus Persson, or its top executives. Persson has often been on social media, railing against big game companies. But he also said he hasn't really been involved with Minecraft since it got really big. And now he can walk away and have plenty of money to make a lot of other small games. Laura Sydell, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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