You know, when I first heard this rumor yesterday – that Microsoft was in talks to buy Mojang Specifications for a cool $2.5 billion – I just rolled my eyes. Sure, I could see Microsoft wanting to do so, and anyone would like to have two and a half billion… but the Minecraft developer isn’t exactly low on funds. And, frankly, given Markus “Notch” Persson’s evident dislike of large-scale corporate buyouts, it seemed against character even if they were nearly bankrupt. And yet, it’s true. Even Mojang says so, and says also that Notch is leaving the company, along with its two other founders.
My feelings on this aren’t white-hot rage, like some of the internet. Nor are they dejection and despair, like some of the internet. I don’t feel Notch “betrayed” me, either me personally or me in general. And frankly, as I’ve mentioned before, I have no real problem with Microsoft. I have specific complaints about the company, but people who are married fight sometimes. An organization as huge and as deeply enmeshed in my daily life as Microsoft is bound to have some blemishes. I’ve been through seven Xbox 360s. GFWL was a shameful abomination. Their operating systems miss from time to time. That sort of thing.
But I just don’t hate Microsoft. I don’t even dislike it – quite the opposite, in fact. Microsoft has been pretty benevolent, all told, and I try to remember that whenever I do get frustrated with one of its blunders. I’d take a world ruled by Microsoft any day over one ruled by Adobe. Or Facebook. Or Google, for that matter; a company that pivoted to evil faster than any other enterprise in history.
As for Minecraft, my feelings are mixed. I’m fascinated by it; I recognize and appreciate the immense technical achievement it represents. I think it’s arguably the most important educational tool developed in the past thirty years, and a fun game to boot. I have not sunk the hundreds of hours into Minecraft that some of my peers have, but that’s not to say I’m not impressed by it. Every six months or so I’ll have a brief Minecraft flare up and play nonstop for a few days, then lose interest. That’s what it does for me. I think it does something else for others… and, I guess, nothing at all for some others. But still, I have nothing against Minecraft, or Mojang, and certainly nothing against Markus Persson, either for selling the company to Microsoft or anything he’s done before.
Why, though? Why sell? As usual the internet ragers are overlooking that fact in the race to be most entitled. Mojang explains it right in the press release:
Though we’re massively proud of what Minecraft has become, it was never Notch’s intention for it to get this big.
…Notch is the creator of Minecraft and the majority shareholder at Mojang. He’s decided that he doesn’t want the responsibility of owning a company of such global significance. Over the past few years…the pressure of owning Minecraft became too much for him to handle.
I find this admission both touchingly honest and completely understandable. Notch never did intend for Minecraft to become a global phenomenon, and he’s rolled with those punches amazingly well. There was payoff for him, of course; he’s one of the richest men in Sweden, he’s been named one of Time Magazine’s most influential, he’s a household name – in gaming households, at least. Yeah, he got something in return for what he gave. And I doubt he’d say he regretted it. But witness the candor in his farewell letter to fans. I don’t know, I could just be a softie, but it touches a chord in me. It makes me feel for him. Yes, he got plenty of adulation, fame, and money for being the man who created Minecraft. He also, it would seem, got a bunch of stuff he didn’t want and never sought.
He’s a human being, perhaps one who realizes that howevermuch he may want to be part of Minecraft’s future, he doesn’t want to be part of all that future entails. Maybe he’s endured more than he bargained for, for longer than he wished to. In that instance, why not sell? And as to “why Microsoft,” well, there are only a few companies out there capable of meeting the $2.5B pricetag that Mojang (quite reasonably) commands.
The real question is what Microsoft intends to do with the property. Are they going to integrate Minecraft into Windows? Make it an Xbone exclusive? Require users to sign in with a Microsoft account?
I doubt it.
While predicting what Microsoft might do is always a risky endeavor, to me the purchase of Mojang seems a bit like securing a gem block in Dungeon Keeper. It’s basically an endless fountain of money that will run until it dries up, and that might take a long time. I guess they could break even through Minecraft sales alone, but I suspect it’s the brand they’re interested in, not the game, and not the company. The truth of the matter is that as remarkable a technical and design achievement as Minecraft is, I’ve never been convinced that Notch – and, by extension, Mojang – have another such blockbuster in them. Even if they do, the vagaries of public perception may well prevent such an opus from being seen as a repeat triumph. Either way, Minecraft is still printing money – it’s the best selling game in history, bringing in as much as $20 million a month – while nothing else Mojang has done really aroused much interest.
Personally, I’m guessing Microsoft won’t do anything much with Mojang or with Minecraft, aside from having its lawyers go over the EULA and make sure all the legalese is watertight. Beyond that, you might see a new logo on your Minecraft launcher… but in the short term, if not the long, I’d say that’s about it.
Lots of people are furious with him, and I guess I see why they’d feel angry, but please remember Markus Persson never owed us anything, and has already given more than most of us would be willing to give. It was his company, and his game, to do with as he pleased.