I’ve been playing Minecraft since before multi-player existed. I’ve spent thousands of hours hunting for diamonds, building make-shift dirt huts, and shouting expletives at creepers. Some of my best gaming memories happened in Minecraft’s voxelated environments. I appreciate the vital role Notch played in all of that.
That’s why I couldn’t be happier to hear that Notch has sold Mojang.
Minecraft’s success has come (and stayed) in spite of the work Notch and Mojang have done recently, not because of it. Minecraft and its community have been badly mismanaged for years; the sale to Microsoft is an opportunity to change directions and make things better.
Let Me Count The Ways
Notch has demonstrated that managing a billion-dollar company is not his strong suit. Examples are easy to come by and started early. Despite the fact that the earliest versions of Minecraft were inefficient and filled with bugs, one of his first hires for Mojang was a pixel artist. The lack of focus on quality infrastructure results in unreliable login servers.
The recent EULA enforcement changes are another classic example. One could write a book about them, but they likely came about as a way to try to control (and acquire) all Minecraft-related money. It was either that or an example of a giant company trying to make their own lives easier at the expense of their customers’ experiences. Neither is a ringing endorsement of Notch’s business acumen.
But the most crystalized example of his inability to lead comes from his own ‘Dear John’ letter. It includes this comment on the EULA fiasco: “the internet exploded with hate against me over some kind of EULA situation that I had nothing to do with”. Not recognizing that, as the company’s owner, he’s responsible for everything the company does is tremendously myopic. Saying as much publicly is confounding.
An accidental celebrity being unprepared to run a company with Mojang’s revenue and user-base is unsurprising. What’s worse is how poorly he’s managed the game and community side.
He’s hired away some of the best minds from the modding community, scuttling their projects, and shipped them off to work on critical gameplay features like . . . adding rabbits to the game. His promise of a modding API is years old and we’re no closer to it. By some measures, we’re farther away. The JAR files are still obfuscated and Mojang is supporting DMCA takedown notices against the tools that make modding against the obfuscated code easier.
A Roadmap for Microsoft
For Microsoft, the job is easy. They can win community support in three easy steps:
1. Squash Wes Wolfe’s DMCA takedown notices. It’s unlikely that his copyright claims are legitimate without copyright to the underlying code. Microsoft/Mojang pressing that issue in a court of law could open up modding again.
2. Deobfuscate the Minecraft’s binaries. Adding a modding API is probably not necessary so long as the game is easier to decompile. For bonus points, they can make the modding API a priority.
3. Promise to support server operators and mod creators, even when they profit from their servers and mods. Promise not to impose philosophical rules about how Minecraft “should be.” Let the players decide what kind of game they want and what kind of servers they want to play on.
If Microsoft does those three things, even if they do nothing else, Minecraft will pointed back in the right direction. The community will do the rest.
As a community, we should be grateful for what Notch has done, but him getting out of the way may be the best thing to happen to Minecraft in its history.
Thank you, Notch . . . but don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.