Founding fathers are important figures. They pave roads towards new lands and new ideas that weren’t possible without them. As an adult gamer, I have tremendous respect for the founder of Mojang and Minecraft, Markus Persson. When I examine my predilections towards gaming—arguably my favorite and most aged pastime—Minecraft has had one thing over all the games I’ve played in the last decade—staying power. I might get locked into a game (or game series for awhile, but I eventually lose interest). Minecraft must offer something that other games do not: creative expression, exploration, competition, community. Whatever it is, I always return to it. As a genre of gaming, the mixture is magic. With over 50 million purchases, Notch (as Markus is known), has done something very right.
Today, I saw the headline, “Microsoft Trying to Buy Mojang, Creators of Minecraft.” The transaction sounds legitimate, and would cost a cool couple of billion ($2 billion USD). After reading, I saw another article, “Notch “Unlikely” To Stay At Mojang After Microsoft Sale.” After my initial anxiety lapsed, I really thought about what could come out of all of this, and to be honest, I’m okay with it. I’m better than okay; heck, I’d encourage Notch in his decision either way. I want him to leave.
If history has taught us anything, it’s that pioneers make poor parents. Time and again, great leaders and visionaries create something bigger than themselves, to the point that they are at odds with the community they fostered into existence. The small thing they nurture, snowballs into a huge success! This is great; it’s the natural progression of things being done well. Sometimes this success leads to hubris. Sometimes it leads the creator to think they have a deeper understanding of his/her following and of what to do next. An idea sinks in being, “Trust me, I’ve gotten us this far.” I’m not saying this is indicative of Notch’s belief system as present. It’s just something that happens—sometimes!
There are a lot of different personalities in this world. Some of them are better equipped for certain types of work. Some of them love a blank canvas in which they can hash out all the outcropping of ideas bursting from their noggin. Others feel more comfortable in a zone of rules, regulation and of seeing things completed and organized. I know I love the beginnings of projects much more than the mundanity of logging the hours that gets them across the finish line. More often, I am morose by how limitations creep into the creation process and how things created aren’t what I dreamt they would be at their inception. As any artist will attest, the longer time period that has lapsed since you finished a piece of work, the more you dislike it. “This was a wonderful idea in the beginning, but now I hate it.” Maybe it’s the feeling that the thing you made reflects your talent and abilities, and you feel that you are so much better today. Sorry for that rabbit trail, I know I am digressing; back to Notch!
Notch’s personality obviously lent itself to creating something new, to bucking the system of traditional gaming and turning the industry on its ear. I’m sure he didn’t anticipate Minecraft becoming a household name when he began coding it, but nevertheless, we’re all here today. His opus is a worldwide phenomenon. But what comes next? Is his personality—his leadership—also required for further enhancement of the game’s experience? I humbly say, “not likely.”
The reason behind this frame of thought is simple. I mentioned that historically founders lose hold over their audience. Look at Walt Disney. He created the genre of the feature length animated film. He captured the imagination of throngs of fans, from children to adults, who were enamored by this new frontier. But with his successes, he failed to understand the needs of the animators who were churning out literally hundreds of feet of art every week. Disney thought he knew the business, because he was an animator himself, and knew—the way a father knows—what was best for his staff and how to prompt them to be better. Eventually, they unionized and went on strike. What’s interesting is that after that blow to his ego, Disney never seemed to center his life on animation again. He turned to his hobby of miniature trains, and when that combined with his affection for his daughters, he made theme parks. And from theme parks, he went onto urban planning and architecture. He started producing live action movies, and made Mary Poppins for his girls. Ultimately his priorities changed, and I think we can all agree, this opened him up to create even more amazing things—even though feature length animation and Mickey Mouse would have been enough for one man’s lifetime of achievement.
Steve Jobs is another example. You may be thinking, “but wait…he started Apple and finished his life and career there.” True, but he was also fired from his own company for a stint in his life. And it was during this time that he created Next, the brainchild of which would go on to be used at Apple once he returned to the company. He also saw the promise in a very young Pixar when he invested $10 million in the fledgling studio.
All this is to say that creator’s should do what they are geared to do—create! Be idealists and ideate. Abandon what doesn’t work; be visionaries. Realize at some point the current canvas in any innovator’s life becomes too convoluted or completed for their gifts to shine. In traditional 2D character animation, there are animators and tweeners. Each second of animation is typically 24 frames; that is 24 drawings to draw for each second of film. The animation lead creates the key poses for a character, and the tweeners do the frames that are well, in be-“tween.” Some people aren’t afraid of the blank frame and start drawing, and others take satisfaction in doing the leg work that gets something bigger than themselves across the finish line. When we all play towards our talents and abilities, great things can happen.
Where does that leave Markus Persson? Well, personally, I think he’s laid the track for other’s to maintain. The business isn’t on autopilot by any means, but I don’t think his talents are as critical to the continued success of Minecraft. The key poses are drawn so to speak, and I’m ready to see his next masterpiece. The animated films that followed after Walt Disney’s hands left the stern didn’t tank, they didn’t nosedive and kill his company. For decades, endearing films wove their way into my childhood, and in 1995 a Disney devotee by the name of John Lasseter and an unlikely duo of cowboy and space ranger revolutionized animation once more. I’m sure Microsoft isn’t interested in throwing $2 billion down the drain; they’ll put considerable resources into their investment. Somewhere Notch’s protege is dreaming up new unseen cubetopia’s for us to enjoy decades from now. Minecraft will be okay without Notch, and he can always consult with Microsoft on the game’s future. It is and will continue to be successful and fun.
Furthermore, prolonged exposure to success is a cautionary tale. It can cause pride, stagnation and tarnish your reputation. As Harvey Dent said in The Dark Knight, “You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” I remember earlier this summer when Minecraft went through its EULA debacle. Notch wanted to limit people from charging for core game play experiences on hosted servers, and a media-fueled craze commenced. Categorically, it sounded like the whole situation was a giant misunderstanding. Notch was protective of Minecraft’s core experience and the community, and took a paternal role towards safeguarding them. And in the frustration of dealing with the ignorant masses, he left a curt tweet reading, “Anyone want to buy my share of Mojang so I can move on with my life? Getting hate for trying to do the right thing is not my gig.” So this isn’t the first time he’s threatened to leave. Hah, now that I think about it, I can just imagine some Microsoft exec reading that tweet and taking it seriously. “Do you take bitcoin?”
Being prone to lash out from time to time, I hope that Notch is serious this time around. I hope this isn’t just him exuding an: it’s my way or the highway vibe. I genuinely hope he does leave Mojang, and he can do so with my blessing—not that he needed it anyways. Go “move on with your life,” Markus. Sometimes artists need a fresh start, a good reboot. To be honest, I feel a bit giddy with anticipation at the idea of him having his focus 100% on something new. Let’s just hope it’s truly original, and not a cover of his past success. “Cough! Destiny is just Halo all over again! Cough!”
P.S. I’ll still play Destiny because story reboot aside, the beta was fun!