Microjang (or Alternatively, Minesoft)

Sorry, those are the best punny names I could come up with.

Well, another thing that was rumoured came true, Microsoft bought Mojang for 2.5 billion dollars. They have purchased the whole company but as the title of Patrick Klepek’s article rightly implies, they didn’t buy Mojang, they bought Minecraft which is the main thing they care about. None of the founders of the company are sticking around so it will be other people maintaining Minecraft (as it apparently has been for a while) and it will no longer be owned by or have the involvement of its creator, Markus “Notch” Persson. In Notch’s statement, he implies he’s gotten very weary of being in such a public spotlight and being largely the sole face of a product that he created for fun and never expected to see become such a stratospheric success and cultural phenomena. He’s undoubtedly had to deal with a lot of the Internet Reality the last few years and while Minecraft may have made him very wealthy (which this buyout will now turn into obscenely wealthy), wealth can’t save your sanity. It looks like he largely plans to just enjoy life with his money and that he never wants to make anything huge again. In today’s world, that’s a bold stance.

I respect the Hell out of Minecraft but I’ve never gotten into it. I just don’t see the appeal of just building stuff but I’m clearly in the minority and I have no problem with the insane cultural icon it’s become. Any game that can teach you critical thinking and even a little bit of engineering while having fun is a game worthy of praise. It’s also great to see something with this level of success come from a small developer that didn’t have the soulless marketing arm of a AAA publisher to deal with. Notch’s success is well earned.

I’m frankly not surprised he sold Mojang. I’ve followed Notch on Twitter for some time and it’s clear that he didn’t handle the spotlight well. Unlike Phil Fish, he handled it without becoming a colossal asshole and then acting like he was a victim for it but it’s been clear in the last year that the pressure was getting to him, especially since Mojang’s other project, Scrolls, appears to have landed with a big thud and was quickly eclipsed by Hearthstore, despite apparently being a pretty good game in its own right. Minecraft fans are among some of the most vicious out there too and even though Mojang had a number of employees, everyone thought Notch was still the guy who wrote the code and blamed him for everything. That’s got to get to you after a while.

What does surprise me is who he sold it to. He’s undoubtedly had just about every large company banging on his door with offers (including I guarantee you, Apple, Google, Facebook, EA, Ubisoft and Rovio), yet he chose Microsoft. I find this perplexing for several reasons. Firstly, Notch has been very (and in my opinion, ignorantly and hypocritically) critical of Microsoft and some of their recent decisions. As far as I know, his opinion on those things hasn’t changed so I’m surprised he would hand Minecraft to one of his perceived devils.

Secondly, Notch has been famously opinionated on scrappy startups selling out to big companies, famously demonstrated when he petulantly cancelled a deal to bring Minecraft to the Oculus Rift because they were bought by Facebook. Yet somehow, he publicly got over that a mere couple of weeks before selling to Microsoft. Odd that.

Thirdly, Mojang works because it’s a super small team with complete autonomy that reports to no one and is allowed to incubate their own ideas. This is the polar opposite of how Microsoft has traditionally worked. They love their overmanagement and the company is famous for having siloed teams who are known for infighting, even to the detriment of their products. Look at what happened with Rare and Lionhead for prime examples of how Microsoft has messed up many of its gaming acquisitions. Sure, they also had Bungie but what did Bungie do? They bought themselves out of Microsoft and became independent again. Hell, the Xbox One still has a lot of messy elements to them, all of which were the result of Microsoft’s adversarial culture.

A recent leadership change is apparently undoing a lot of this culture but it’s far from done yet and many things could change. They claim that Mojang will be left to do its own thing but lots of companies promise that, until another management shakeup happens and some suit who thinks they know better starts meddling with the magic formula. Microsoft owns them outright, there’s nothing stopping this from happening. Yet again, this is who Notch chose to sell to.

We obviously don’t know all the details and maybe there are checks and balances in place to ensure this doesn’t happen. Or maybe Notch is just so tired and fed up, he really didn’t care and just wanted to get the most money he could and get out. Sure, he already had more money than he could ever spend and holding onto Mojang would keep that coming in but this way, he also gets to greatly enrich his staff (which he’s known to be very generous to), gets the company all the resources it could ever need (even though they represent a drop in the ocean for Microsoft) and I would tend to agree with him that the only way he can eventually sever himself from being the face of Minecraft is to exit the company entirely, which would require him to sell.  He’s not a stupid guy so clearly, a strong case was made for this being the best home for Mojang and he believes it’s the best home for it and for Minecraft.

What the future holds for it is a very interesting question. Microsoft has publicly stated that they have no plans to mess with anything right now. Minecraft will continue to be on all the platforms it’s currently on, including the competing ones (a strategy Microsoft has already embraced in the mobile world) and nothing is changing with regards to what it costs or how open to community development it is. If there is a Minecraft 2, that could change quite a bit but I bet that hasn’t even been discussed yet. Were I to guess, I’d say Microsoft bought them not for what they are now but for the potential of what they could do later, especially with the incredible appeal Minecraft has among kids. This feels like a long play to me, one even Microsoft might not have fully planned out yet. They are a company that does many things with a long-term plan.

As expected, a lot of fans are very upset at Mojang selling to anyone but especially to Microsoft. That name still has a lot of historical baggage attached to it and a lot of people don’t realise that compared to who Mojang could have sold to, Microsoft is probably among its best bets for long-term success. Can you imagine what an EA, a Ubisoft or terrifyingly, an Apple would have done to Minecraft? Yet, Notch is receiving probably boatloads of anger and hate right now. I wondered aloud on Twitter over the weekend if this could be a big enough deal to finally supplant GamerGate as the new Dumb Internet Drama du jour. It certainly has a fighting chance.

The thing is, I don’t blame him for this at all. I’ve only dealt with a tiny amount of the Internet Reality in my life that he probably deals with every day and while Notch is an opinionated guy, he also strikes me as incredibly humble and it must have been a hard few years for him, especially since he seems to have never expected this to happen. Anything he makes in the future would probably be an automatic hit just because his name is on it, yet that’s the opposite of what he wants. I suspect the money isn’t even a big deal to him at this point, he just wanted to make sure his staff got the riches they deserved and that he can get out without sacrificing them. That’s very noble and very not modern business. He should be admired for knowing where his limit was and not trying to push past it to the detriment of himself, his game and his fans. Of course, the people screaming at him don’t have the means to think about it that way so he’ll have to take this last large barrage before hopefully riding into the sunset. Despite my past criticisms of him, I wish him the best and I hope he gets to live happy for the rest of his life. He may not have meant to change the world but he has and he should always receive praise first for that. I really hope he made the best choice of who to hand his legacy off to.

Microsoft, you guys bought yourself something magical. Don’t fuck it up.

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