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Minecraft and Microsoft: A Story of Hope

by TooMuchPete
Games and Gaming, Gaming Culture, News

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.

TooMuchPete

Pete Holiday has written 6 FGEC articles.

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3 thoughts on “Minecraft and Microsoft: A Story of Hope

  1. I dunno. I think you’re being a little bit harsh on ol’ Notch. I don’t argue that he may not be the world’s most canny businessman, and it’s clear that very suddenly becoming the head of a, what, $100 million dollar a year company? $200 million? was something he was utterly unprepared for, as most of use would be. I think he’s been pretty clear and level-headed and open about who he is and what he wants and all of that stuff all along, both positive and negative, as much as anybody might ask, and I respect him for it. Respect him, in fact, at how he’s handled things in general, a hell of a lot more that I might if some of the missteps in the past you list hadn’t been missteps at all.

    All that said, though, man, I’m ambivalent about this whole thing. I mean, good on Notch for realizing that being a moving target for the gaming-world asshole brigades and a Very Important Businessman was not what he wanted, and just getting out. It’s not often — to put it mildly — that someone offers you two thousand five hundred millions of dollars to take a massive pain in the ass off of your hands. Good for him, I say. I like the guy, and I applaud both his runaway lightning-strike success, his self-possession in keeping an even keel as the money-tsunami has washed over him, and the way in which, as all reports I’ve seen indicate, he is more than happy to spread the manna around a bit.

    On the other hand, Microsoft. Jesus. I mean, OK, not fucking Facebook at least, but still.

    And not just clueless, flailing Microsoft, but I am dismayed anew at the whole ongoing process of megacorp purchase-and-co-optation of Nearly Everything. It is not a good thing, this thing.

    But Mr Persson? He’s OK in my books.

  2. TooMuchPete says:

    On the contrary, I think this was a generous take. It’s possible to be far more cynical.

    For example, there are a lot of different things pointing toward Minecraft Realms being the thing that caused the most recent spate of anti-community measures. He made hundreds of millions of dollars on the backs of millions of hours of work by modders and server operators, fixing his bugs, his performance problems, his game design problems — basically making Minecraft the game the community deserved instead of the one Mojang gave it. Without those things, Minecraft is a neat toy that people stopped playing 4.5 years ago. Still, Notch and Mojang have done basically nothing to help (and several things to actively hurt) those folks.

    I, for one, home Microsoft cleans house and puts in some actual game designers and real engineers instead of the amateurs who work there now.

    • Your criticisms are fair and being critical is a good thing. With all the overheated rhetoric that flies around in the gaming world, and the unhelpful accusations of either ‘fanboyism’ or ‘hatering’ that get thrown at anybody who actually dares to either praise or criticize things too sincerely, it’s hard to walk a fair-minded line sometimes.

      I just reckon that this Minecrafty juggernaut that grew out of a tiny team of indie developers is a different beast than the latest AAA game that has dozens or hundreds of staff and support and business and marketing people right out of the gate, and the weight of a Major Corporation behind it, and it feels (a least to me) just the tiniest bit unfair to render judgement according to the same standards.

      Not that I deny that Notch and his team (and the hires he made to try to deal with the growth of the thing) made mistakes — they certainly did. But I both sympathize and empathize with how difficult it must have been and what a hockey-stick learning curve they must have been riding (but, in the end, been wildly-well-compensated for, of course).

      I just feel like Persson and his people did their level best. Which doesn’t mean that letting some people who have experience at the business scale Minecraft has reached get their hands on to it wouldn’t be a good thing. It also doesn’t mean that some bad and possibly limiting decisions they made couldn’t have been done in better ways. Hell, the way that Notch has been talking about it, he may have made those decisions in order to *deliberately* try and slow things down. I can imagine him (and the documentary movie I recently watched about him and the game makes it that much more vivid to me) being more anguished and bewildered by things spinning up into cloud coocoo land than thrilled at the massive revenue streams pouring into their pockets.

      It may end up being a good thing for the still-growing community of MC aficionados to have a Big Corporation take over and round off all the pointy edges. It may end up being a disaster. Hard to tell at this point. (I lean toward the latter, but that’s mostly just my anticorporate bias, I admit.)

      So even though we can fault Notch and his people for making some poor decisions, and measured criticism is valuable, I do think that while we should reserve complete scorn and cynicism and resentment towards, say, EA, with all their resources, for what they did to the latest SimCity, my reaction to the bad decisions made by Mojang is more along the lines of ‘well, you tried and occasionally failed as you got out of your comfort zone, and good on you for trying. You made a world-changing game, at least, and of that, at least, you should be proud.’

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