So, apparently Microsoft has bought Mojang, the creators of Minecraft. I’ll let that sink in for a bit.
Back? Good. Now, I’m just as surprised as everyone else, and while I’m sure I won’t have too much new to add to things, I want to take a minute to sort through my thoughts.
For those of you who don’t know what Minecraft is, you’re really missing out. It’s like a world made out of virtual LEGO that has taken the Internet by storm over the last few years. It started out as a small project by a single developer, and has since managed to sell over 16 billion copies on the PC alone (it’s also been ported to consoles and smartphones). It’s the ultimate indie gaming success story. And the company founded by the creator of Minecraft just got purchased for $2.5 billion.
That’s a lot of Sagans.
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you who Microsoft is. If you use Windows, then you know. If you use Mac or Linux, you still know. Chances are if you grew up even remotely techy around the turn of the century, you may even think of Microsoft as the Great Satan, defiler of all that is pure and holy on the digital frontier. You may think that Microsoft’s purchase signals the death knell of a wondrous ecosystem of creativity and community that has sprung up around one man’s labor of love.
I’ll admit it, my knee-jerk reaction to the news was much the same. I even went so far as to dismiss the rumors that started to surface last week, as something out of a bad dream. And when I saw those rumors confirmed today, my heart sank. “Great,” I thought. “Another unique gem of the Internet subsumed into the monolithic gray mass of Microsoft. A light has gone out in the universe.”
And while a part of me is still worried, my opinion started to change the more I read about the deal. While it can be hard to parse through the inevitable marketing gobbledygook, it may be possible that this Microsoft is not the same one that we had in the 90’s and 00’s. After all, Microsoft Office is available on a wide variety of platforms, including Mac OS X, iOS, and Android (sure, you need a subscription for the last few, but let’s leave that aside for now).
But what really made me stop and reconsider was the letter from Notch, Minecraft’s original creator. I’d urge you to go read the note. It’s the words of an individual who only wanted to make games, and found himself thrust onto a world stage he didn’t expect, let alone want. Add to the unwanted limelight the fact that the Internet is not the kindest of places on the best of days, and you’ve got a recipe for disillusionment and burnout. As an introvert myself, that’s something I can relate to all too well. I hate being the center of attention at something as small as a local birthday party; I can’t imagine being an actual celebrity.
And while I may feel leery of the change a large corporation may bring to the indiest of indie games, I can really relate on a personal level to Notch’s feelings. I don’t begrudge him his decision; in fact, if this sale lets him pursue his passions (as I’m sure Minecraft has made him fairly wealthy), then I can only be happy for him. It’s sad that it’s come to this, and while I fear change as much as the rest of you, it is an inescapable part of life.
So while you may worry, don’t despair. Maybe I’m being overly naive; maybe I’m letting my optimism get the better of me. But if the only alternative is throwing a tantrum and burning the proverbial house down around me, I’ll take hope any day.
Good luck, Mr. Persson. May you find the quiet, happy life you so desire. And thank you.
I think the problem that many people have is how vocal Notch has been in the past about large corporations like Microsoft, particularly when it comes to gaming. Remember, Notch turned down an offer from Valve to buy out Mojang as well, and I’d argue that Valve would be a much better place for Mojang to be all things considered. Yet here we are, with Mojang sold to one of the largest computer corporations on the planet, and no one knows what they intend to do with it.
Minecraft has already been a marketing success. It’s sold millions of copies, spawned a metric ton of merchandise, and has led to countless people making entire jobs based solely on making video of the game, whether it be single player or server-based. The question becomes what does Microsoft bring to the table? Mojang has the money it needs, so it can’t be that. More staff? Possible, but Mojang hasn’t been entirely hurting on that department, and there’s concern over what the original staff is going to do as a result of their company being sold in the first place. And considering the price tag that the deal had, it’s a wonder whether Microsoft can really count on making a turnaround at this point. What are they going to have to do? Yes, Minecraft still sells lots of copies. Not $2.5 billions worth. Nor is the merchandise they’re making going to make up for it entirely either. So what does Microsoft think they’ll be able to get out of Mojang that makes it worth the acquisition?
The biggest fears I see are twofold: One, updates will no longer be free. In a world of DLC, Minecraft will just be another game added to the heap, and there will be an ever present worry about just how much the next patch is going to cost. Two, a crackdown on the modding community, which is tremendous. Will Microsoft allow that to continue to exist in the way it has thus far? And if so, also remember that a lot of features Minecraft now has have come from mods; horses, for example. Will we continue to see that kind of acceptance of what the modding community has done, to the point where it’s allowed to be integrated into the core game itself?
It’s a lot of worry over what Microsoft is going to do, with no clear answers as to what they’re going to get out of it. And that leaves me a little unsettled.
Well said. I’m unsettled too; like you said, there are a LOT of unanswered questions. I guess my post was more in response to the people who are reflexively screaming “OH NOES TEH WORLD IS D00M3D!!!1!” or “NOTCH HAS BETRAYED US!!!1!” Clearly, there are valid concerns. And maybe I’m just in a lighter mood right now, which accounts for the general lack of cynicism.
Regarding Notch’s decision: I had forgotten about the previous potential sale to Valve, and I agree that on the surface that may have been a better fit. After all, it’s not like Valve Time could make Minecraft versions come out any slower, right? But people’s opinions change. Reading Notch’s post, it feels to me like he was getting desperate to get out. Did he make a rash decision? Only time will tell. But to metaphorically tar and feather him for his decision is not a constructive response
(please note that I am NOT saying that’s what you’re doing, just that it’s an inevitable response on the Internet)
Hopefully time will tell what Microsoft plans to do with Mojang. I have to hope it’s something good, if only because the alternative is too depressing to contemplate.