Microsoft press release today: "Microsoft today announced that Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition, the console adaptation of the hugely popular PC game developed by Mojang, has broken all previous digital sales records, selling more than any other title in the first 24 hours on Xbox LIVE Arcade." [That's an excerpt.]
Kotaku e-mail to Xbox public relations: "How many copies did Minecraft sell? Without a number, it's hard to tell if this is actually impressive."
Xbox PR response: "We aren't disclosing sales numbers, but can confirm 'Minecraft' sold very well."
Presumably un-related Tweet from Minecraft creator Markus "Notch" Person, minutes later : "...the number of sales I got is based on leaderboard participation, so might be off.. But it seems it sold over 400k copies in 24h."
Earlier in the day, the folks at Polytron who made recent Xbox 360 downloadable darling Fez had noticed Notch say on Twitter that Minecraft on Xbox 360 had turned a profit in 24 hours and wondered how he could know that. Polytron's Tweet: "how did you get those stats from MS? we still dont know exactly how much fez sold almost a month later. you get stats in 24 hours?" Notch's partial reply: " so the sales numbers were based on leaderboard participation."... which may have crossed wires with Polytron saying they'd tried the leaderboard-counting trick: "we did that. but that's a really inaccurate way to track sales. it's insane that we have to hack it like that."
Add it all up, people. Xbox 360 PR didn't come up with this strategy. Microsoft isn't the only video game publisher that wants to brag about sales without offering any real numbers. Perhaps they don't want their competition to know, even, strangely, when they're bragging. But they don't even seem to give the people making their games the best numbers.
Indie developers like Notch will often tell you how well their game has sold, when they have access to the numbers (5.2 million as of last March for the computer version of Minecraft). Big gaming publishers? Generally, they'd rather not.
UPDATE: Here's one more wrinkle. Official Microsoft Xbox Live booster Major Nelson noted on his blog that the game has at least 400,000 people on its leaderboards So some people at Microsoft do want us to know something!