Microsoft had the vision for a cross-platform empire for Minecraft. For a couple years they did little on the surface but behind the scenes, they were busy re-building the game from scratch. They replaced the ancient Java setup with C#. C# is very low weight and allowed Minecraft to run on devices with limited processor power. This code re-write was named Bedrock. Once completed, they launched the new Bedrock-based Minecraft to all the devices they could. Xbox One Edition, PlayStation Edition, Pocket Edition and Windows 10 Edition. All versions of Minecraft now ran on one highly-optimized codebase.
Phase two was feature parity. Bedrock lacked some of the features the Java version contained. Microsoft began the grind toward bringing Bedrock feature parity up to the original Java client.
Phase three was the unification of the various editions. Now that they all shared a code base and had feature parity, Microsoft dropped the “Edition” from the names and opened the metaphorical gate to allow these platforms to play cross-platform online. PC, mobile and Nintendo Switch could now all play online together. Just this last month, the last console was added to the cross-platform empire. Sony finally opened the cross-platform door after holding the gate for years. PS4 now could join friends on other consoles.
At the same time the bedrock transition was being made, Microsoft was undergoing another challenge. They were busy building a clone of the old Realm service offered by Mojang. Think of Realms as a multiplayer server. A Minecraft world would be uploaded online. This took the burden for the world off of being hosted on a local machine. The server was always on and friends of the Realm could join at any time without requiring the host to be online. Mojang’s Realms were limited to the Java client due to the technology. Microsoft had spent years developing it’s Azure Cloud however so it was a quick job for them to build a modern stack for the new Realms service. All devices running the new Bedrock edition could now join in on a Realm server. The notable exception was PS4 as Sony still has some multiplayer limitations in place. The door is open on Microsoft’s side if Sony decides to walk through.
This brings us to today. You can run a Minecraft server on Realms and have people playing on PC, Xbox, Switch, Mobile and hopefully soon PS4. The only problem with this setup is that if you want to chat with the others you probably default to Discord. This is great if you’re on PC or mobile as you can use headphones and hear both the game and the chat. But if you’re on console, you have to choose if you want game volume or voice chat as Discord doesn’t work on any console to date. The cross-platform dream accomplished by Minecraft does not extend to the surrounding services required for a great social experience.
This gets to where a Microsoft acquisition of Discord would further that dream. They could leave all the apps as they are as they did when the purchased Minecraft from Mojang. Microsoft already has arguably the best online service with Xbox Live. They’ve built The Xbox app on mobile and PC that allows other platforms to join voice chat. This app is fantastic but let’s be honest, non-Xbox players are unlikely to download this app. They already use Discord. Frankly, Discord is the right fit for those on other platforms not in the Xbox ecosystem. With a purchase of Discord, they could build in greater integration into the Xbox Live voice and party chat allowing you to join Discord voice channels as if they were and Xbox Live Parties and visa-versa. They could use Discord as a Trojan horse to introduce Xbox Live to other platforms.
This would be very similar to what they did when the aquired Beam (now re-branded as Mixer). Microsoft worked on rebuilding the tech stack to allow Mixer to run on more devices and started a deep integration into the Xbox Dashboard. From Xbox you literally have a stream tab that streams your game right into Mixer where you can be joined on almost any other platform. Mixer did to streaming what I purpose Discord could do for audio. A deep integration into the Xbox ecosystem while still maintaining it’s cross-platform appeal and user base. With a unified chat system in place. Minecraft would finally have a worthy cross-platform social counterpart.
Another aquisition that would be interesting is Spotify. Back in the day, Microsoft had it’s Groove service which allowed music on the Xbox one in a similar fasion that Spotify allows today. Spotify however has mastered the cross-platform reach that Groove never did before it’s eventual termination in a new partnership with Spotify. Spotify has already done the heavy lifting on this one but the cross-platform vision is so in line with Microsoft’s goals that it seems like Spotify would fit right in with Microsoft’s garden. Microsoft could take it further however. They could deeper integrate music streaming into Xbox Live. Perhaps offering them together, offering greater value to their subscription.
With so many big-tech companies’ poor relationships with aquisitions, Microsoft's aquisition strategy is a breath of fresh air. Microsoft has proven time and again that they can be a gardener that truely wants their aquisitions to thrive as part of their garden with a greater vision of platform unity. It’s an exciting time to watch Microsoft as they move past their reliance on Windows and into a new era of cross-platform services. Xbox and gaming is a huge part of this new direction. XCloud is also in early beta offering Xbox game streaming to any mobile device. It’s also rumored that Microsoft is in talks with Nintendo to offer Xbox Live on Switch. Microsoft’s vision is one that plays well with others and offers a truly fun environment for the users of it’s services. I hope to see other aquisitions join Microsoft’s garden.