H&R Block opens a virtual tax centre in Minecraft

With marketers focusing so much of their attention these days on hot gaming properties like Animal Crossing and Fortnite, there’s not a whole lot of attention being paid to one of the “OGs” of the gaming world: Minecraft.

But the 11-year-old world-building game is still a major cultural force, with Helen Chiang, studio head for the game’s developer Mojang Studios noting in a blog post earlier this year that 200 million copies of the game have been sold to date, with 126 million people playing the game every month.

One of the hallmarks of Minecraft is its blocky appearance. In an era where photorealistic video game graphics have become the norm, the game more closely resembles Pong than its 21st Century contemporaries.

It was that blockiness that appealed to H&R Block Canada and its agency partner Sid Lee, which on Tuesday opened an in-game tax centre in Minecraft where players could ask questions and get tax advice from H&R Block professionals. H&R Block also broadcast the five-hour event on the live stream service Twitch.

Sid Lee Toronto creative director Matt Fraracci says the one day “Tax Craft” program was a natural extension of “Blockify,” an Instagram initiative introduced earlier this year in which the tax preparation service creates “blockified” versions of everything from babies to bagpipes.

“The obvious idea of blocks-H&R Block-Minecraft just kind of fell out of that,” says Fraracci. “The idea of extending that fandom into Minecraft is where we started making connections. It was a perfect alignment with Blockify.”

Fraracci says they’re a deliberate attempt by H&R Block to reach younger Canadians. “The people we want to get on board are in their 20s, you make those relationships and they last a long time,” he says.

Minecraft has a steady following, and even if not’s the flavour of the day, it’s a cultural touchstone that continues to be ubiquitous in the lives of gamers.”

Consumer reaction to the initiative was mixed. Someone on a Facebook post announcing the program posted the popular Steve Buscemi meme of “How do you do, fellow kids?” while others described it “God-tier marketing.”

On a Reddit thread, meanwhile, someone claimed that the virtual office had already been burned down twice (Fraracci says it was just once), proof that it’s hard to have nice things on the internet.

“There was a little bit of goofery, but I think that’s to be expected when you’re putting yourself out there for gamers,” he says. “You can always rebuild in Minecraft—that’s the beauty of it. Plus they’re interacting with a tax brand: when does that ever happen?”

Chris Powell