During one scene in the documentary “The Story of Mojang” the team gather on a lounge to await the launch of Minecraft Xbox Edition. They celebrate as Scottish developer 4JStudios port what was at the time — a very buggy game — to the Xbox Arcade and the rest becomes history as Mojang is bought for $2.5billion dollars. [the link has some interesting Notch comments to Microsoft via Twitter].
What is therefore interesting is that the success of Minecraft is clearly down to a range of people who are involved in its internal and external development as well as a cultural explosion of media at the time. As of last year, 50 million copies have been sold, and it’s clearly popular with parents who largely base their mediation of games by what they perceive than first hand experience.
Minecraft is seen, especially among parents of under 10s as ‘educational’ to some degree. Having said that, this group of parents tend to value games at this age anyway. Combine that with the legos aesthetic and distant childhood pleasures of making spaceships from plastic bricks … and Minecraft was an easy one time purchase.
Minecraft was never owned by the community anymore than Herobrine hid in the mines. The social construction of Mojang, its Twittering-creator and the vast modding community creating remarkable objects owes much of it’s success to the phenomenal communications explosion at the time (2010-2013) which saw the emergence of highly lucrative and prolific media ‘shows’ on YouTube. Minecraft gave YouTubers something new to talk about — and most importantly — to a new (younger) audience.
That audience is now mashed up with numerous other games. In fact kids often enjoy the comedic theatricals of super-stars such as PewDiePie or StampyLongHead as much as the reviews of the games on display. It remains to be seen how Microsoft attempt to engage with this form of cultural production and Mojang seem to have given little or no consideration to ‘the community’ which, like the company, is highly profitable. Will they love the game enough to keep producing? Will they produce when, inevitably, Minecraft is surpassed?. $2.5bn is a lot of money to recoup, so we are left to assume that lawyers and licencing will be a major feature of Microjang in the future …
Perhaps Mojang will move on to improve the game — or perhaps it will become yet another skinner box of DLC (Activision style) or lock-in user IP (Linden style). The recent history of MUVEs is one of dramatic issues in scale and sustainability — especially when the creativity of the user-base is diminished over policy and profit.
Minecraft has done one significant thing. It has trained players to expect to build, and this means games in the future will include building as part of their game-play. This isn’t something Microsoft can own or claim legal dominion over. For me, this is the lasting contribution of Mojang (RIP), it taught the world that players are creative agents that respond to toolsets that allow them to do so. It simplified the ‘sandbox’ and made it platform agnostic. Whether it will continue to focus on the creative expression of the end-user remains to be seen.
On disappointment for research is that the larger the corporation, the harder it is to conduct many forms of research. Microsoft is generally interested in ‘academic’ when it means ‘academic sales and training’ rather than investing in some of the contributions Minecraft might make towards better theories of play and games. I’m sure people will research it, but history shows how hard that can be. We might never know why ‘she won’t get of Minecraft’ without some inside access.
So long Minecraft, it was fun. Hello Microjang, where do I insert coin?