The rumors are true: Microsoft is buying Minecraft developer Mojang for $2.5 billion . And as we discovered this morning, Mojang founder Markus "Notch" Persson is leaving the company. As you can imagine, the PC Gamer team has some strong feelings about the acquisition, and the impact of Minecraft.
Tom Senior: I remember Minecraft before it became the megalith it is today. The digital Lego concept seemed so beautifully simple. How had no-one done this before? It took off with astonishing speed, and we posted about it ceaselessly on PCgamer.com, fascinated partly by the game's expanding feature-set, but mostly for the creativity it enabled in its audience. One day: "Holy crap, they built the Starship Enterprise in Minecraft!" Another: "They built a goddamn working CPU using redstone!" The PC Gamer server stands as a testament to Minecraft as a platform, a canvas that allows for extraordinary collaboration between strangers.
Minecraft has flourished thanks to community creativity, but let's not underestimate the importance of Mojang's thoughtful curation in enabling that. Today Minecraft still only costs £17.95 / $30 with no microtransactions or subscription fees. You can buy plenty of merch, of course, but it's external to the Minecraft platform. No features are locked off. Imagine the same fledgling property in the hands of a greedier company; would Minecraft have become quite such sensation? I don't think so.
It's a great story. One guy makes an era-defining game in his bedroom, builds a small company, and grows into a global platform worth 2.5bn. Now Mojang's co-founders are choosing a quieter life, and no-one can begrudge them that. I can't see Microsoft doing a huge amount to disrupt Minecraft's current status quo, but I'd guess at cross-platform Minecraft 2 in a few years with a schedule of expansions and paid-for features that'll make squillions.
Andy Kelly: Am I surprised? Nah. Minecraft is basically Lego now, and has become far too massive and mainstream for a small studio like Mojang to be the caretakers of it. I see kids wearing Minecraft t-shirts on the street. I know people who only play Minecraft. There are Minecraft books in bookshops. Its reach is wider than you probably think.
So it makes sense that a mega-company like Microsoft would buy it. I can't speak for Notch, but it seems to me like he got into this business to make cool things, not bags of money. And now that he has the bags of money, he's free to devote his entire life to making cool things. Will he ever make another Minecraft? Probably not, but creating a $2.5 billion company from nothing is a pretty landmark achievement for someone who's just turned 35.
In the statement he released, he says he feels like he's become a 'symbol', which must be a massive hassle. If someone's playing Minecraft and the server they're on crashes, they'll probably tweet Notch and call him a jerk, even though it has nothing to do with him. Being a visible figure on the internet is like painting a target on your back and handing people a shotgun, so I don't blame him for wanting to slink back into the shadows.
Chris Thursten: I can understand and sympathise with not wanting to be a public figure of the type that Notch has become over the last couple of years. It makes total sense. When being a prominent indie developer makes you liable to be co-opted into other people's movements without your permission, it's understandable to want to go back to game jams. From his perspective, and I imagine that of most of Mojang's senior staff, this is a way of drawing a line under the project and moving on. There's something to be said for closure.
I'm not convinced that this is particularly good news for players or fans. Microsoft might have a good track record from Mojang's perspective, but they don't by almost any other measure. Games for Windows Live was and still is an awful piece of software. They've been famously bad at dealing with smaller indie studios in the past. The company seems set on chasing the dream of a closed platform when its success is grounded in the exact opposite. All of this is either directly or thematically opposed to the conditions that made Minecraft possible in the first place. Indeed, the Minecraft that most players enjoy isn't Notch's game—not entirely. It's the product of a huge amount of mods and addons working in aggregate, something that has emerged from the community Mojang enabled as much as the game they created.
Microsoft has never been good at looking after gaming communities. They've got a lot to prove now.
Phil Savage: There's a part of me that's surprised. There's a part of me that's not surprised. In some ways, Minecraft is the poster-child for open, collaborative, PC development. It's not so much a game, as a symbiotic relationship fed by the creativity of a community itself hungry for ways to express and create. That relationship has been bought by Microsoft. What?
But then, that relationship was far from simple. That was highlighted perfectly with the furore over changes being made to the EULA—setting out more clearly what server owners could and couldn't do. There are whole businesses built on the existence of the game, and—however legitimate their business practices—they were going to fight any possible restrictions. I'm not sure Mojang were fully prepared for how fierce that fight became.
To be blunt, Microsoft don't care. They've got the infrastructure to effectively manage and police an empire as vast and sprawling as Minecraft. At the same time, everything they do—especially in games—is defined by a preference for closed systems. I'm not sure they have the restraint to leave it alone; to let the game retain its openness and community focus. I hope I'm wrong.