AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
It'll cost you $6.99 to download and play the video game "Minecraft" on your phone. It'll cost Microsoft $2.5 billion to buy the Swedish company that created it. Microsoft has its eye on "Minecraft's" legions of fans. As Steve Henn from our Planet Money team reports, one of the things that helped make "Minecraft" so beloved by both parents and kids is its business model.
STEVE HENN, BYLINE: "Minecraft" is deceptively simple. It's kind of like digital Legos. You're dropped down into a virtual world, and you get to build things. Will Davison built a replica of the Santa Cruz Mission.
WILL: For my mission report in fourth grade.
HENN: The real Santa Cruz Mission was built by Franciscans in 1791. Will built his digital replica last year.
WILL: So I made a chapel over here. I also have a bell tower.
HENN: After Will turned in this digital file to his fourth grade teacher, he added a few things...
WILL: Yeah, I'm being shot at by a skeleton archer.
HENN: ...Like skeleton archers.
WILL: And zombies and exploding things and spiders.
HENN: One of the reasons kids love this game is they're free to create almost anything.
RAMIN SHOKRIZADE: "Minecraft" is a great game.
HENN: Ramin Shokrizade is a game designer. And he says he likes how kids are not being manipulated into clicking buttons to buy stuff within this game itself. Lots of other popular games are designed to encourage in-game purchases. Those games will take away a special power and then offer to sell it back. Zynga, the creators of "Farmville," came up with a name for this - fun pain.
SHOKRIZADE: That's the idea that if you make the consumer uncomfortable enough and then tell them that for money we'll make you less uncomfortable, then you will give us money.
HENN: Shokrizade says kids are especially susceptible. And many games are designed to manipulate them.
SHOKRIZADE: I think both children and parents understand this.
HENN: Shokrizade says "Minecraft" doesn't play that game. And he thinks that is a big reason it has such a loyal following. But if you go into an app store on your phone and take a look at the top-grossing apps, most of them will be these so-called free-to-play video games, like "Clash Of Clans" or "Candy Crush." These games can make millions of dollars a day. Susan Linn, at the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, says "Minecraft" is one of the few games she likes. A big reason is that when you want to play "Minecraft," you actually have to purchase the game up front - it cost $6.99 for an iPhone version - but then you're done. The game doesn't try to sell you anything else. And Linn says that is kind of awesome.
SUSAN LINN: Parents don't have to worry that their kids are going to be targeted for more marketing or there's going to be upgrades or things like that.
SHOKRIZADE: It's kind of a crazy idea. You pay for something, you get it and that's it.
LINN: How revolutionary; how forward-thinking; how odd. How sad that it's so odd.
HENN: Now Linn's worried. She says anytime a company as large as Microsoft spends $2.5 billion on something, executives are going to start looking around for new ways of making even more money. Still, she hopes Microsoft will just leave kids alone inside "Minecraft" and let them create. Steve Henn, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.