I think I'm right in saying that we all often worry about how Minecraft could possibly make any money. The poor folks at Mojang must be starving, freezing and wearing each other's skin as thermal underwear by now. How many more developers must die before Notch comes up with a business model for his absurd, costly vanity project?
But what's this? Now there is a new way for Minecraft to earn a buck or two. Mojang are planning to introduce Minecraft Realms, a paid monthly subscription service which allows the easy creation of private, controlled servers. The main aim of this is apparently to help parents keep their kids safe when playing Minecraft together online. And for said parents to pay $10-15 a month, of course.
They're not making any bones about the latter, with Mojang biz-boss Carl Manneh telling GamesIndustry that he reckons Realms will be "Since we have about 10 million paying PC gamers and, soon, as many mobile gamers, there's definitely potential. And yes, if we look ahead, I do think [Realms will] the biggest source of income in the future, and bring in more money in total than the game itself". He's probably not wrong, presuming of course that parents - if that is indeed the main audience - have a clear understanding of what Realms is and how it works. Infamously, a great many parents don't seem to have a blind clue what their kids are and aren't doing online and in games, after all.
The idea is also that "Minecraft would become a huge MMO, a really vast universe consisting of very many small worlds. That's kind of a dream we've had for a while." Realms aren't planned to big massively multiplayer individually, instead containing just a handful of friends, or perhaps private worlds rented by schools.
Of course this does exist, in a fashion, already, as third-party Minecraft servers already abound. The idea is here is a) making it easier and b) making it profitable. The monthly fee isn't fixed as yet, with that $10-15 being an estimate, but Realms is in Alpha already, with a beta being targeted for May.
It's a bit scary, but it's also fascinating. If any game can resurrect the ailing subscription model, it's probably Minecraft. Much as I do currently have my doubts about whether this is wisest step for the game, the little building game that could is a big-business trendsetter these days. If this works, publishers will be looking at Mojang with even more open jealousy than they already do.
More on how Realms works and how much money it might make here.