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Minecraft's immense popularity, broken down by platform

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With Microsoft's announcement this morning that it's acquired Swedish developer Mojang, there's been no shortage of numbers thrown around. First is the princely sum of $2.5 billion, which might seem like an awful lot of money for a studio with really just one game to its name. But that game just so happens to be Minecraft, something of a cultural phenomenon.

The second number being thrown around is 100 million, which is the number of downloads "on PC alone" the game has enjoyed since its 2009 launch, according to Microsoft's announcement. But Minecraft is available on no fewer than nine platforms, encompassing nearly every major software ecosystem from Google to Apple, from Sony to Microsoft.

Keeping up with the breakneck pace of Minecraft's sales is no easy feat. The game exceeded 1 million purchases on January 12, 2011, just a few weeks after entering its beta phase. For an unfinished PC game with no major brand, no publisher or marketing support, being sold outside of the major PC gaming storefronts like Steam, this was ... unusual, to put it mildly. And while there have been 100 million downloads "on PC alone," the most recent data we have puts total number of copies sold across all platforms at roughly 54 million copies, as of late June.

Figuring out which sales occurred on which platform is a messy task, so steel yourself for a certain amount of imprecision as we continue. Let's start with the most precise data we have: copies sold on PC. Mojang maintains a stats page on its website that lists overall sales of the game. Today, that number is 16,705,719; however, thanks to the magic of the Internet Archive, we know that that number was 15,933,049 on July 3, just over a week after Geuder's tweet. Not perfect, but pretty close.

At the time, the point of Geuder's tweet was to announce that sales of the console editions had surpassed sales of the PC/Mac release. If the PC/Mac release was sitting at (or slightly below) 15,933,049 on June 25, then we could estimate that the combined console sales would be equal to or greater than that number. For the sake of simplicity, let's estimate console sales at the time at 16 million units across both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

Determining the split across those two consoles is difficult. We know that the Xbox 360 release reached 12 million sales in April, nearly two years after launching on that platform. Meanwhile the PlayStation 3 release reached 1 million sales in January, just over a month after its launch on that platform, and then 1.5 million by mid-April. Since we can't figure out the actual numbers using this data, we'll have to settle for an estimate based on the ratio of sales relative to the length of time that version was available. We arrive at an admittedly rough estimate of 13.5 million units for Xbox 360 and 2.5 million for PlayStation 3. (I warned you about imprecision!).

Finally, simple math says that the Android and iOS-based Pocket Editions make up the remaining 22 million or so units. To gut check that general figure, here's Mojang's Jens Bergensten announcing total sales of over 21 million units as of April.

So roughly 22 million two months later sounds about right, if not a little low. It may not be possible to extract the platform breakdown between iOS and Android — Mojang never seemed to share that kind of granularity on the mobile platforms — so we'll have to settle for the general knowledge that the largest paid install base for Minecraft is on smartphone platforms overall. (Minecraft, notably, has yet to be released on Microsoft's struggling Windows Phone platform). And finally, we arrive at a chart:

Of course, this chart doesn't include the additional console sales on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 since June. It doesn't include the additional 772,000 sales that we know occurred on the PC/Mac release. It doesn't include this month's Xbox One and PlayStation 4 releases, and it definitely doesn't include the upcoming PlayStaton Vita release.

This is all to say that regardless of how you parse the numbers, Minecraft is nothing short of a phenomenon and, while pundits will argue over whether that status and its related profit opportunities was worth the $2.5 billion sticker price, Microsoft is getting what is now its game in front of a historically massive audience regardless of whether that audience is using a Microsoft platform or not.