Well, it is over. With the 2.5 BILLION (yes, BILLION) sale of Mojang to Microsoft, Markus “Notch” Persson’s five-year relationship with his independent game phenomenon, Minecraft, has come to an end. This essentially means that, without Notch, Microsoft paid a couple billion dollars to own Minecraft. Oh, and Scrolls too. That is insane. It showcases just how essential Microsoft believes Minecraft is to the future of gaming. Many gamers have had mixed-to-negative reactions to the purchase. Indeed, Minecraft is the most successful ‘indie’ (independently-made) video game in history. To have it swallowed up by a mammoth corporation like Microsoft is… well, we’ll see what happens. There is one person, however, who is very happy that Minecraft is now in Microsoft hands, and that is Notch:
That is from a letter written by the Swedish programmer on his departure (the rest can be found here). It highlights the unrealistic expectation of Minecraft, and why we, as gamers, should try not to have ‘the Minecraft Expectation’ when it comes to games – especially indie ones. When I say the Minecraft Expectation, I refer to the supported belief that Notch was expected to keep working on Minecraft, without ever charging gamers for this additional content. This game has changed dramatically since its unveiling as a PC alpha test (earliest playable version – not technically a finished product) back in 2009. Minecraft was not even available for profit until 2011. And then it costs roughly twenty bucks to purchase. In the three years since there has been patch after patch of new and rebalanced content added to the game. And it has all been free.
On the face of it, this is awesome for gamers. Nearly everyone hates paid dlc (downloadable content), especially when it feels like the retail game would be incomplete without it. What happened with Minecraft, I believe, is the opposite end of that dlc spectrum. Yes, there are games that withhold content and appear to delight in charging for every last dollar they can get from the consumer. But Notch was too nice. He had become bound to game he didn’t want to keep adding content to, and people treated him as a traitor if he even thought about doing something else.
Independent developers do not have much money to finance their projects. Some use Kickstarters and paid early access to supplement funding. The only way that Minecraft has been able to continue this level of content and support is because, well… it’s worth around 2.5 billion dollars. Is it reasonable to expect a quality, finished product for the investment – absolutely. Is it reasonable to expect continued support and patching without ever needing to pay more for said content – not really. Not unless the game is a cultural event like Minecraft. How many of those come along?
There is a good balance and I believe companies like Blizzard Entertainment do it well. They provide continued free support for their games, while at the same time releasing the occasional paid expansion pack. Their retail games never feel incomplete, like the expansion is needed. It is just a way for devoted fans to explore new content, while paying the developer’s salary.
Yeah, games are fun. They are art, they are expression, they are a sublime form of escapism. That said, they are also part of someone’s job. As gamers, there is a responsibility to fiscally support the products we want and to reject those we don’t. At this point, no one “owes” anyone any continued support of Minecraft. If Microsoft never releases additional content and goes straight for Minecraft II, who can blame them? So long as that game is a quality experience like the first – Microsoft has held up their end of the deal as a developer.