Edit #2: updated to include Microsoft's video statement.
Edit: updated to include Notch's statement regarding the sale and his own departure from Mojang.
Speculation occasionally has a basis in fact. A few minutes ago, Minecraft creators Mojang confirmed that Microsoft's purchase of the company is going ahead. The price? Two and a half billion dollars. The reason?
As you might already know, Notch is the creator of Minecraft and the majority shareholder at Mojang. He’s decided that he doesn’t want the responsibility of owning a company of such global significance. Over the past few years he’s made attempts to work on smaller projects, but the pressure of owning Minecraft became too much for him to handle. The only option was to sell Mojang.
The company founders will be leaving the company and Notch has released a statement (notch.net down, pastebin link supplied) regarding the sale and his own future - "It’s not about the money. It’s about my sanity".
Notch appears to have been craving an escape from scrutiny for some time and while this move won't immediately grant that to him (or the other founders, to a lesser extent), I'm pleased to see that the management (or perceived management) such a behemoth is out of his hands. The weight of public opinion, particularly in an age of instant and constant communication, can be destabilising and even destructive. In many cases, it pushes against creativity, causing doubt and applying pressure. Notch captures some of that when he talks about 'becoming a symbol'.
I was at home with a bad cold a couple of weeks ago when the internet exploded with hate against me over some kind of EULA situation that I had nothing to do with. I was confused. I didn’t understand. I tweeted this in frustration. Later on, I watched the This is Phil Fish video on YouTube and started to realize I didn’t have the connection to my fans I thought I had. I’ve become a symbol. I don’t want to be a symbol, responsible for something huge that I don’t understand, that I don’t want to work on, that keeps coming back to me. I’m not an entrepreneur. I’m not a CEO. I’m a nerdy computer programmer who likes to have opinions on Twitter.
The full statement is here.
Microsoft released their own video with XBox head Phil Spencer discussing the acquisition, along with some words designed to re-assure the community. It's low on specifics, though the company is keen to stress that they'll listen to the Minecraft community with anything they do.
Our relationship with Mojang began when we initially talked to the team about bringing Minecraft to the console. Minecraft quickly became the top online game on Xbox Live, with over two billion hours played on Xbox 360 in the last two years. That working relationship set the ground work for other opportunities. We’ve long seen the incredible potential of Minecraft.
Minecraft will always be important and whatever the acquisition means for the game's (franchise's?) future, years of lovely history are already burned into the collective memory of the world. For every giant penis tower that someone has constructed, there have been many moments of creative and communal brilliance. Even I, the most cackhanded of architects, once built a little house with proper windows and a chimney and everything. And I sometimes get a bit carried away and misty eyed when I'm sitting watching the rain at night and that one piece of music starts to play.
But what of the future?
There are only a handful of potential buyers with the resources to grow Minecraft on a scale that it deserves. We’ve worked closely with Microsoft since 2012, and have been impressed by their continued dedication to our game and its development. We’re confident that Minecraft will continue to grow in an awesome way.
I'm not Michael Soft and I don't even know the guy personally, but if I'd just bought something for two and a half billion dollars, I'd probably be quite keen to make my version of it the best possible version. By which I mean, the version that was most likely to provide some payback on the investment. By which I mean, the Vita version would never receive a patch again.
Good job I'm not in charge of things, eh? As the following quote clearly states, every version of the game will continue happily.
"There’s no reason for the development, sales, and support of the PC/Mac, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, Vita, iOS, and Android versions of Minecraft to stop"
Of course, Microsoft can’t make decisions for other companies or predict the choices that they might make in the future.
Suddenly I'm reminded of a scene from the version of Boardwalk Empire that I imagine exists instead of watching the actual show. In that scene, a gangster pounds his palm with a baseball bat and speaks out of the only side of his mouth that has ever smiled.
"Of course, you and your boys can carry on working the South Pier, that's none of our business and we ain't sticking our noses where they don't belong. But if youse do intend on selling that piss you call liquor, don't be surprised if accidents start to occur on a reg'lar basis. Lots of rotten boards on the boardwalk and plenty of shadows on the water. But you do what you need to do - me and my associates can't make your decisions for you, or predict the choices that you might make in the future."
My understanding of business is about as strong as my understanding of Boardwalk Empire (there's a South Pier, right? There are rotten boards on the boardwalk?) but, like I said, if I'd spent two and a half billion dollars, I'd want to keep at least one slice of the pie to myself.