The “Minecraft” effect

By Carter Glace

via SoftPedia
via SoftPedia

Mojang, the Swedish developer of the video game phenomenon “Minecraft,” was officially bought by Microsoft on September 15. Granted, the $2.5 billion deal should have been more than enough of a confirmation, but many held out hope that something would fall through and turn things back to normal. Card violently flung onto the table, I think this is a bad move, not necessarily for company founder Markus “Notch” Persson (it is mathematically impossible for this to be a bad move at $2.5 billion), but for the industry as a whole. Some might disregard these thoughts as a Playstation/Nintendo fan’s biased ramblings. But regardless of what side you’re on of the continually ruinous console war, Mojang picking a side is bad for everyone.

One big reason is that it represents a huge change in the industry, as Mojang had become the face of the ever-growing independent game industry. As “mainstream” games become bigger and bigger and further spaced out, developers working outside the corporate system were filling the void with unique, entertaining, and engaging experiences. But seeing the kings of this exciting new field becoming a part of not only a major console company but one of the biggest companies on the planet is an upsetting reality check. It was nice knowing how big a company outside the system can rise, but to what end? Just to succumb to corporate domination?

Again, Mojang’s founders can’t really be faulted for taking the money and leaving the company. Notch’s explanation, that “Minecraft” had simply become too big for him to handle, is perfectly understandable. He couldn’t have possibly known how big his creation would become, he couldn’t have known how big is name would be. He didn’t choose this. But the fact that we didn’t make it easy for him is what hurts.

During his explanation, he cited the harassment he received for defending fellow independent developer Phil Fish—who seems to have retired after having his banking information leaked online. Notch was yet another victim of “Gamergate”. Short version: a coalition of misogynists and hackers have begun a campaign of digitally bullying, harassing and leaking personal information of ideologically progressive game developers and critics under the guise of “weeding out corruption” in gaming journalism. The fallout has already caused many to have to go into hiding and scared an untold of number out or away from the industry. And it seems like Notch is yet another casualty, which would make sense considering his previous criticism of Facebook’s acquisition of the virtual reality device Oculus Rift. It is a grim reminder of the crossroads the industry finds itself at; an vile ideology continues to fight for control of gaming, and until it is defeated, the industry is poisoned.

But yes, there are specific, anti-Microsoft reasons as well. It’s hard to deny that Playstation has created an environment in which the studios they own can thrive. Microsoft… doesn’t, simply put. For example, in 2005, Microsoft bought the developer Rare. Under Nintendo, they became one of the most beloved game creators on the planet, creating the iconic “Donkey Kong Country,” “Banjo-Kazooie” and “Golden Eye.” Since their purchase by Microsoft in 2003, they have yet to reestablish themselves, and have spent the last four years working almost exclusively Kinect games (may I remind you that Microsoft has announced that the Kinect no longer needs to be bought with the Xbox One, meaning nearly half a decade of work has been for a product that has been abandoned). Microsoft’s other major owned studio, Lionhead, has exclusively made Fable games since 2008. A lot of people like the series, but Lionhead has proven they can make so much more than one series, so why can’t they?

Not to mention, they are the most corrupt of the three major console makers. Again, all three are guilty of shady practices, but Microsoft’s violations are egregious. Lest we forget, the company’s Xbox One originally required constant online connection, refused to play used games and was an extra $100 from the PS4 for the Kinect, which they insisted was needed. All of those policies have been reversed, only after vicious back-lash, and that didn’t stop them from celebrating providing “choice” while denouncing those “afraid of change”. If you’re keeping track, that means they lied about the necessity of anti-consumer policies, and acted like heroes after changing them. Even after all of this, they still have placed micro-transactions in $60 games and eliminated their largely hyped television department after two productions. What happens then when they get their paws on “Minecraft,” one of the biggest games on the planet?

Look, these are all just opinions. Take them for what you will. But if history is ready to repeat itself—as it so often does—we are facing the end of an era. “Minecraft” was something almost unprecedented, one man’s creative spark erupting into a national wild fire over less than a few years. A game that stood up to the bloated giants of AAA gaming and became something that transcended its industry to become a cultural phenomenon. Can that spark survive in the world of focus groups, of demographics and big budgets? Can such wonders still be made when a $2.5 billion investment is on the line? We can only hope.

Carter Glace is a contributing writer.  Email him at entertainment@nyunews.com.

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