Yeah, they probably realise it’s not written in .Net
This September, Microsoft announced the acquisition of Mojang – the company behind Minecraft – and by proxy, the world’s third largest gaming fan base – for $2.5 billion. That’s roughly half the total worth of Star Wars, and more to the point a ridiculous amount of zeros for an entirely accidental hit.
Over the past five years or so, Minecraft has become a stalwart for introducing burgeoning coders into the world of Java, with many making their first visit to places like Eclipse to collect sweet new code to feed their hobby. It’s thanks to the crazy popularity of the game that a good deal of detractors and fans alike attribute Java’s persistence in community usage (although the haters generally put it in less polite terms). Unfortunately, it’s this “out of control” aspect to the uptake of Minecraft that led its creators at Swedish indie shop Mojang to put this monster child up for adoption.
In an emotional post to users, founder Markus “Notch” Persson, who will be stepping down from his role at Mojang, explained that, “It’s not about the money. It’s about my sanity.” Characterising himself as more of a hobbyist than a “real” games developer, he was ill equipped, and unwilling, to wrestle with the mimetic tornado that had built up around his creation.
Although Microsoft now owns the company, optimistically, Persson writes that, “In a much bigger sense, it’s belonged to all of you for a long time, and that will never change.” For the sake of the thousands of younglings waking up to Java thanks to this unexpectedly viral application of the platform, that’d be nice.
However, indies don’t usually get swallowed up by a mega-corp and come out unscathed, and a large swathe of the affection for Minecraft partially because to date it doesn’t conform to big-business gaming model norms. Will this audience still love the game now it’s under the auspices of a software giant? (See: why generation-X-ploitation sleeper hit Empire Records failed the first time round).
Some analysts are suggesting that Microsoft may have made the huge investment as a means of turning juvie programmers on to developing on to its own platform, much as Oracle has (very successfully) done with Java. Others are linking it to Microsoft’s mobile and cloud strategy, which would allow it to better address mobile on a cross platform basis. The game tops the charts in both Android and iOS stores, but has yet to arrive on the Windows phone. Going forward, it seems inevitable that at least some of that $37 per user will go towards addressing this discrepancy – and perhaps luring converts to the OS in the process. It also happens to be the most popular online game on Xbox 360 and Xbox One, so it certainly makes a lot of sense to bring it in-house.
For now, Microsoft is claiming that it will be keeping cross-platform editions of Minecraft open, and early indications are that it will be doing its best to appease the community around it. And for the Java community as a whole, the general vibe is optimistic. Arun Gupta, who along with his son, has led multiple Minecraft workshops, wrote in a blog post titled ‘Advise to Microsoft on Mojang and Minecraft‘ that, in spite of some initial FUD, he hopes that Microsoft will use their clout to “take the game to new heights, empower the community more, and truly help address the issues with your experience.” For the sake of all the potential little Java recruits out there, let’s hope they do just that.
Image by Arthur Janssen