With the purchase, the company is hoping it can leverage the huge popularity of “Minecraft” into a bigger Microsoft presence in schools.
When Microsoft acquired the creator of the game “Minecraft” in 2014, the giant software company instantly got a cachet bump with children, picking up a blockbuster game app for a generation that didn’t depend on its products the way their parents did.
Now Microsoft hopes “Minecraft” can help it in classrooms, another area where its once-mighty grip has been shaken by Google and Apple.
On Tuesday, Microsoft announced that it had acquired “MinecraftEdu,” a modified version of “Minecraft” tailored for use in schools. Over the last several years, “MinecraftEdu” has attracted a strong following and is used in more than 7,000 classrooms in more than 40 countries.
The modifications to the game were created by a startup, TeacherGaming, that Microsoft is not acquiring. Microsoft declined to say how much it was paying for “MinecraftEdu.”
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While “Minecraft” is known as a game, it is more akin to a digital sandbox, inside which players can construct anything they want, much of it out of block-shaped materials. The creative, rather than destructive, possibilities of “Minecraft” have caught the eyes of educators, who see it as a supplemental learning tool for everything from anatomy and earth science to math and literature.
In the Santa Ana Unified School District in Orange County, Calif., for example, elementary-school students in social-science classes have met up inside the game and re-created the features of local historical sites they have studied, such as the Mission of San Juan Capistrano. Students in science classes there have used it to demonstrate their understanding of building circuits.
Most of “Minecraft’s” appeal is as entertainment, though. There are more than 100 million registered “Minecraft” players. It is the top paid app, years after the game was introduced, on the two dominant mobile-app stores from Apple and Google, and is the best-selling PC game of all time, according to Microsoft.
More than 160 million people have watched over 5 billion hours of “Minecraft” videos on YouTube.
In short, “Minecraft” continues to be a huge success a year-and-a-half after Microsoft bought Mojang, the Swedish creator of the game, for $2 billion. But it has not yet buttressed other Microsoft businesses the way company executives had hoped.
Some believed, for example, that making “Minecraft” available for Microsoft’s smartphones could give the struggling devices a lift. They are still struggling.
“Now that we’re a little way down the road from the acquisition, it still isn’t clear to me what the synergies are between Microsoft’s core business and “Minecraft,” said Jan Dawson, an analyst at Jackdaw Research.
Classrooms could be a test of whether Microsoft can use “Minecraft” to achieve broader company objectives.
Throughout school districts in the United States, computers running Microsoft’s Windows operating system are facing more competition than ever from competing devices, including iPads from Apple and Chromebooks running a Google operating system.
Microsoft offers productivity tools — like Office 365 Education, which includes PowerPoint and OneNote, a digital-notebook system — free to teachers and students. And some teachers say they are excited about using Microsoft apps like Skype, the video conferencing platform, as educational tools with their students.
But Google has made strong inroads in schools, reporting recently that its free software program for classrooms, called Google Apps for Education, was now used by more than 50 million students, teachers and administrators worldwide.
In such a competitive landscape, the positioning of “Minecraft” for the classroom as “Minecraft”: Education Edition may help Microsoft gain more visibility in schools.
“Obviously, we want to increase the connection Microsoft has to students and teachers,” said Anthony Salcito, vice president for worldwide education at Microsoft. Of products like Skype and OneNote, he added: “Many of these offerings are underused by education.”
Microsoft plans to charge schools $5 per student annually for access to the education edition of “Minecraft” — a fee that could limit how widely it is adopted. “MinecraftEdu” charged a server-license fee and a one-time fee based on the maximum number of students who would be using the service at any one time.
Microsoft executives said the company would offer volume discounts for districts that want to make the game available to all students. And they said the new edition would offer features that “MinecraftEdu” does not.