Pay To Play: Notch On Minecraft And Monetisation

By Adam Smith on June 23rd, 2014 at 5:00 pm.

You may have heard that changes are afoot in the world of Minecraft. You may also have heard that nothing much is changing at all. The story of monetisation, community and servers has led to plenty of discussion and rhetoric from various sides, and the issues at the heart of the situation haven’t always been clear. I spent some time last week looking into the rise of for-profit Minecraft servers, a development I hadn’t followed over the months. Armed with fresh knowledge and thoughts, I spoke to Markus ‘Notch’ Persson, the game’s creator and Mojang’s majority owner.

Before reading on, please note that Notch answered these questions to give his personal view and is not speaking from a legal perspective. He is not driving these decisions, having moved ‘into a cozy corner…to work on new smaller games in relative secrecy’, but I hoped that speaking with him would shed some light on the company’s stance toward creators, community and cashing-in.

RPS: The terms around server access and subscriptions have caused a lot of confusion and noise in the last couple of weeks. Is there a simple message in your mind as to the business or ethical policy behind the rules that will be enforced from August 1st?

Notch: The first thing I want people to understand is that the rules haven’t changed for the worse. Before you couldn’t charge for anything in the game (you could charge for access), but we’ve changed that to allow for charging for things purely cosmetic things. What constitutes cosmetic is difficult to nail down as it depends on what kind of server you’re running. In a creative server with no combat or mobs, swords are cosmetic, but in a server with pvp or enemies, they are not.

RPS: I use the word ‘ethical’ because I read this situation as being a defence of a certain way of playing together – on equal footing with no paid-for advantages. The rules seem designed to foster an inclusive environment – is that the case?

Notch: People at Mojang have different reasons behind these rules. For me personally is that Minecraft kind of became a strong symbol that “free to play” isn’t the only viable option these days. The top grossing list on ios, for example, is basically only free to play and Minecraft. It feels crummy to see other people change this aspect of the game, and we’re getting quite a lot of support mails from parents of children who bought virtual goods for hundreds of dollars.

RPS: When did you first notice, or become uncomfortable with, the types of monetization that you’re addressing?

Notch: It’s been growing steadily over the last year. I feel like the was more and more discomfort growing until it finally exploded when an employee got asked if the rules really said you couldn’t charge for these things. In retrospect, we should’ve dealt with it earlier.

RPS: It’s hard for me to look at this without taking in the wider industry picture because I spend far too much time looking at the wider industry picture. What do you think of the growth of free-to-play? Do you think it suits certain kinds of game, such as Scrolls potentially, while having no place in a game like Minecraft?

Notch: There’s a lot of aspects to this. The thing I mind, the thing I dislike, is when you sucker people into games and then progressively make them more and more annoying to play unless you pay. It’s kind of a bait-and-switch, which is perfectly illustrated by the term “free to play” and the fact that these games can make a LOT of money. Trials: Frontier is probably the most horrific example of this I’ve seen in recent times.

In game purchases doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Probably the most expensive example of this for me would probably be when I played a lot of Magic: The Gathering drafts. I’ve also spent quite a lot of money opening crates in Team Fortress 2, but I still use the stock weapons. A couple of them has kill counters, though… a purely cosmetic thing that I love having, but doesn’t give me any advantage in the game.

Another example of where mixing real money into a game can go wrong might be Diablo 3. Overall, a great game, and Blizzard tried to combat the insecure out-of-game trading by adding their own auction house. I don’t know if they were also tempted by the idea of making more money or not, but regardless it ended up killing the late and end game of Diablo 3. One of their most praised changes was to get rid of the auction house.

So yes, I think there’s room for all sorts of monetisation for different games. Some of them, I consider shady.

RPS: Did you ever consider that Minecraft would become a space for competitive play and are there any competitive modes that you’ve enjoyed?

Notch: I think for a game to excel at competitive play, it has to have extremely solid game balance. Great examples of this would be Quake 3 and Starcraft. Minecraft is not designed to be balanced, it’s designed to be fun, but there are mods that add new game modes within Minecraft that can be more competitive.

The survival games (or “hunger games” as they are sometimes called, but for some reason Lionsgate didn’t like that) are a great example, and I’ve always been a big fan of Spleefing. Some people even do fixed seed speed runs of either the vanilla game, or of custom made levels.

RPS: Do you think there’s any way in which the enforcement of these rules risks harming the diversity of Minecraft and are you happy to do so in order to protect the community from certain aspects of monetization?

Notch: Diversity is not a goal in and of itself. These rules definitely remove the option to sell powerups for your character, which is a limitation of diversity, but I consider that a very good thing. I feel bad for the people who have built businesses around this, though.

RPS: There’s a sense to me that a line was crossed between community ownership and certain people abusing the power of that ownership. How difficult is it to balance community involvement and creativity, while making sure that content or means of monetization are curated?

Notch: This is so complicated and confusing that I try to stay as far away from it as I can. Back in the old days when people just made things because it was fun to make mods or play with your friends and people didn’t try to start businesses around it, things were so much easier. Now what do we do? Do we hire people to work full time trying to work these things out? I have no good answer to this question at this time.

RPS: Following from that previous question, why are the rules being enforced now? Is it a case of making sure the legal processes are in place or having discussions within Mojang about what is the right thing to do?

Notch: It’s being “enforced” now because people with businesses want to make sure they’re doing things legally, so we’re trying to give them options to do so without sacrificing what we think is important about Minecraft. Honestly, I think we should’ve done something earlier, so I’m kinda happy people brought it up so we didn’t keep ignoring this for another six months.

RPS: Is this a case where prevention would have been better than cure and did the rise of the kind of monetization processes we’re seeing take you by surprise?

Notch: When I saw it rise, I assumed it was just small servers being mean. When I realized it was much bigger than that and people weren’t trying to be bad but really thought they were doing things legitimately, I got scared and surprised.

I completely understand their reaction, but it’s definitely gotten out of hand with misinformation. I keep asking myself if we should just let people monetize Minecraft in any way they want, and I keep coming to the same conclusion…no. We should’ve stopped it earlier, but it’s better to stop it now than in six months.

RPS: When I first got in touch, you mentioned a ‘silly little dungeon crawler’ that you may nor may not be working on. Want to say anything more about that?

Notch: oh god please no why did i mention that help

So once upon a time I used to make games, and I talked about them in public and got feedback and learned things. A few of these got completed, most did not. One of them became a cultural phenomenon and all of the sudden a lot of people started listening to me and paying attention to me. This felt great.

After I stopped working on Minecraft, I started making a space game called 0x10c, and talked about it in public. It, not very surprisingly, made news, and I realized I was in way deeper than I had expected. Once I realized the game wasn’t very fun, I scrapped it like I’ve scapped countless prototypes before, and I still get snide remarks about it to this day.

So yeah, I’m not working on anything at the moment. If I were, I’d be happy to tell small crowds about it, but not RPS.

Anyway, it started out as my VR test prototype when I was playing with that, became my WebGL test thing when I played with that, and transitioned into a test project for designing for touch screens. The game is starting to become a little bit fun, though, and I haven’t had this much fun programming since the early days of Minecraft.

Will it get released? I have no idea.

RPS: Thanks for your time!

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37 Comments »

  1. Dozer says:

    Notch is such a boss.

  2. blind_boy_grunt says:

    Nathan and Adam would make a great good-cop/bad-cop interview team.

  3. prumpa says:

    “Once I realized the game wasn’t very fun, I scrapped it like I’ve scapped countless prototypes before, and I still get snide remarks about it to this day.”

    This is sad and I hate everyone.

    • arccos says:

      I couldn’t agree more. On the bright side, it seems like Notch is handling his wild success and subsequent scrutiny better than almost anyone could.

      The public seems to hammer out any sort of honesty and forthrightness in public figures. That’s why we end up with marketing drones and sports stars that have nothing to say ever.

    • Mordaedil says:

      I’ve worked on a million prototypes before as well and like Notch have scrapped pretty much all of them. It’s not unusual and really not worth belaboring as a “lost game that could have been awesome”. Prototypes are often more about mechanics than gameplay.

    • Universal Quitter says:

      If that makes you sad, you should check Dean Hall’s twitter feed sometime. The guy can’t ask for the name of a decent restaurant without someone giving him shit about DayZ.

  4. Lemming says:

    How many times is everyone involved going to keep saying ‘complicated and confusing’, when they actually mean “harsh, but fair and clear as day, but we’re going to feign empathy by doing lots of frowning and nodding”

    It’s very patronising.

  5. SquareWheel says:

    Glad to see some good information on this subject, including original reporting. RPS really botched the last few articles on it. Well done, and good interview.

  6. Cvnk says:

    Holy shit!!! notch is making a new game someone make a speculation website where we can gather every morsel of info about it, PLEEEEEASE.

    I too feel bad that he gets shit for canceling 0x10c even though there was not much there other than some vague ideas and a few rudimentary graphics.

  7. Niko says:

    A good interview, and it tackles another problem: children and F2P mobile games. I suppose there are a lot of kids playing on their own (or their parents’) devices and spending, as Notch mentioned, hundreds of dollars, and what do they get in exchange for their time and (their parents’) money, except some Skinner box fun? I guess that’s something for game designers to ponder.

    • Geebs says:

      They’re already pondering, all the way to the bank.

    • ludicrous_pedagogy says:

      Yeah, the day this news broke, one of the boys at my school came up to me in the library and told me Minecraft was ‘over’ and all the servers were going to shut down. On further ready, I just starting thinking, how much money must he have spent on magic-swords? I had no idea these rather insidious ‘F2P’ mechanisms existed in Minecraft. I’ve been telling parents to not worry about them playing Minecraft, just to keep them off COD Theft Auto Creed / iOS Pay to Tap games. Should have remembered, there are always caveats…

  8. Tei says:

    I don’t agree with Notch, because I think the freedom to use software is fundamental.

    If somebody come, and tell me that he has a say how I manage or monetice my server. I am not going to like it.

    • pepperfez says:

      In general, I’d prefer a world where developers can’t tell users what to do with their software. We don’t live in that world, though, so I’d rather let well-intentioned devs like Notch avail themselves of the same tools EA/Ubi/MSoft have.

    • Asdfreak says:

      Such a world would be equally bad as the other extreme. I would rather want to live in a world with a more sane approach, say actual copyright law that protects the creator, just as the original Urheberrecht was intended to protect the Urheber/Conten Creator. I do NOT think everyone can do whatever they please with your creation, you should get a fair chance to govern your creation, but after 20, maybe 5 or 10 for software, it should become a common good. Also, you should own your software and not have a license for it. That is probably the greatest evil there is out there in the realm of technology, the license-syndrom.

      • BlueTemplar says:

        No, you should not be able to “own” software. Property laws have been established to solve the problem of how to delimit control over scarce goods. Software, being able to be replicated endlessly (ultimately, it’s just a number), is not something scarce, therefore property laws shouldn’t be applied to it.

        Note that licensing isn’t ethical either.

        • iucounu says:

          Can you explain a method by which anyone could get paid for writing code, in that case? In the age of digital media, doesn’t this imply that nobody should be able to ‘own’ their creative efforts?

          In appealing to the origins of property rights, you’re committing the Genetic Fallacy, not addressing the economics of the real world.

          • BlueTemplar says:

            There are plenty of ways and means, especially in the recent years :
            Patronage, Global Licence, Donations, Flattr, Bitcoin…

            Why would the concepts of scarcity / plenty not apply to the current world economics anymore?

            Also, Copyright isn’t Ownership.

    • Wisq says:

      I appreciate Notch’s efforts to curb Minecraft monetisation for the same reason that I appreciate when governments do a good job of regulating an industry. Without some “rules from above”, it’s highly likely that shady business practices would prevail (since they tend to out-compete honest practices), which punishes both the consumers and the honest competitors.

      The truth of the matter is, by playing or hosting Minecraft, you’re already giving up the notion of using free software. The source may be available via decompilation, but you can’t redistribute it. And if you play on someone else’s server, you’ve additionally given up control over your data, since the world you’re participating in and your own character file are hosted on the server and not freely downloadable.

      If you could download the world and the players at any time, there would be no problem with monetisation — if you didn’t like how a server admin handled things, you could just slurp up the world and host it somewhere else, and let the userbase decide which host they prefer. But given that you can’t do that, and I’m being asked to invest my time to help build a world controlled by some server admin, I’d rather see some ethical limits placed on what that server admin is allowed to do. That, to me, is more important than the freedom of letting the admin do whatever they want.

    • GSGregory says:

      Tei. Lets compare minecraft to movies. Yes movies. You buy a movie. You start hosting events and charging friends to watch it on your big screen. Is that legal? No. And for good reason. You don’t own the movie, but a copy of it for viewing. You don’t own minecraft. You own the ability to play it. Do you own the server? Yes. Do you own the code, mods and graphics and everything else the server runs? No. Even if you were allowed to charge for mod content if the mods you are charging for aren’t yours all you are really doing is profiting off of someone else’s hard work. And that is what this is about partly. Lazy ass people who make a business off of profiting from everyone else’s creations.

      • Artist says:

        I would love to see how you do this with a software like Photoshop, Maya or Ableton!
        Go on – try it!

      • Josh W says:

        Here’s an argument from the exact opposite side:

        One of the brilliant things about the open source movement is their attempt to say that you cannot develop the software in a way that impinges on other people’s ability to develop the software. It gives you freedoms that still allow freedoms.

        So what about your idea Tei? If someone is running a server and you are running a character on the server, should you be able to hack your client of the game to bypass all the paying stuff? If the server starts taking measures to resist that, are they limiting your use of the software?

        You could see the minecraft stack as a similar set of ideas to open source; you pay, and in return, you aren’t required or expected to compete with others in payments or otherwise complete your activity with paid for mini-unlocks. You can also get access to the code and mod it, within certain limits. It defines a certain kind of equality between players, which is meant to be preserved all the way down to the endmost of end users.

    • Mordaedil says:

      You are an idiot. You may own your own server, but you don’t own the software you are running on the server, so you actually have a joint agreement with the person who owns the software. In this case, the owner of the software is saying please don’t monetize running my software, then you simply have to monetize some other software you write yourself.

      That is just how it goes.

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      Just so we’re all on the same page, here’s a handy link to Tei’s previous contribution to this topic -> http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2014/06/17/minecraft-not-worse-than-ea/comment-page-1/#comment-1598719

  9. Lionmaruu says:

    IMHO they did the fucking game so they have control on how people profit of their damned games… that’s it, if some asshole is charging players to get advantages in their stupid servers they shouldn’t be able to…

    If minecraft was my game I would even forbid charging for server…

    • max_parks300 says:

      Dude fyi. Most servers, use them to pay for the server. Think about it, the best server host that is cheap cost 3 dollars per gig a month. That should I’m theory hold 10-15 on vanilla minecraft. Then there is craftbukket, you need about another gig for the same amount of people. Then there is forge servers which depending on the mod adds a little amount of ram to major ram amount, still for the same amount of people. Then if you want bukket and minecraft forge, another gig. But what happens if you are running this and want more people? You need more ram, so that’s more money. In all for 10-15 players on mcpc you might look at around 4 gigs of ram. 24 dollars a month. Now what about the servers that are a network like minecade? They have 100+ servers, they have a major bill for servers a month. They run on those ” pay to win ” ranks. Which really aren’t pay to win. If you can figure it out you can beat them.

  10. max_parks300 says:

    None of these comments are from server network owners. If you look at servers like minecade, the short bow network, ect. They are running MANY servers at a time and that’s not cheap. Their servers literally require the money from rank donations each month. Even then no one is going to pay the amount it takes to keep the one hundred plus servers that runs minecade. Therefore this should be removed from the EULA.

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