Given the somewhat recent deal between Notch and Microsoft, there’s a topic I’d like to discuss for this post, that being the idea of negativity in the game industry, and how it has driven some developers to sell off or abandon a franchise they created. Specifically, I want to respond to some statements made by Jesse Cox, a YouTube celebrity, regarding this issue. He harbors some opinions that I can’t say I agree with, and with which I’d like to discuss and contest.
Jesse Cox is currently most known for his role as co-host on the Co-optional Podcast, a regular podcast on YouTube. Totalbiscuit (John Bain), Dodger (Brooke Lawson), as well as a guest host alongside Jesse, and the group discuss various game-related topics, such as games they’ve been playing recently, new game releases, and news in the game industry. On the 50th episode of the podcast, they had a conversation about Markus “Notch” Persson in light of his then-recent deal with Microsoft wherein he sold his company, Mojang, for $2.5 billion. Notch stated that he never meant for Minecraft to become as big as it is. He had no intention of becoming a famous gaming icon, or for any of his games to change the industry, as people told him Minecraft had. Jesse had a difficult time understanding why Notch would walk away from his incredibly successful company instead of continuing to reap the rewards of Minecraft. He also seems to have this image of Notch as pompous and narcissistic for stating that the spotlight became “too much” for him to handle. This subject has actually come up before on the podcast. On episode 25, the latest news in gaming was that Dong Nguyen, creator of Flappy Bird, took his infamously addictive game off the app store. Again, Jesse couldn’t comprehend why Nguyen would take such action considering he was making large amounts of money every day from ad revenue. Regarding people like Notch and Nguyen, Jesse said that “to walk away from it you’re an idiot…and I have no sympathy for you…If you have an audience like that, embrace it don’t run from it. You are a lucky human being” (Cox, 2014). There’s one key reason both of these developers opted to leave their respective games. They left because of the negativity that crept into their lives from the internet.
Before I respond to Jesse’s comments, first I’d like to put the game industry into perspective a bit. As exciting and thrilling as the game industry can be, it also has a darker side, just like any other industry. For every positive influence the game industry has (a well-respected company, a specific developer, a strong community around a game, etc.), there is a negative influence to counter that. And given the heavy integration between this industry and the internet, I think it’s appropriate to say there’s a greater potential for negative influence in comparison to other industries. In the games industry, the audience is the internet, which is the largest audience in the entire world. When anyone, not even just a game developer, puts some form of content up on the internet, they’re setting it in front of the eyes of a massive audience who are not afraid to speak their opinion. Unfortunately, the internet has no filter. People are rude, hurtful, inconsiderate, and unrelenting, and their actions reflect that. Between video sites like YouTube where gaming-related videos are a staple, and countless video game forums and blog sites like GiantBomb, Destructoid, Gamasutra, or Polygon, plenty of opportunities are available to scrutinize games. The anonymity of the internet makes it so easy to make disrespectful comments. The internet allows people to hide behind faux identities and unleash their most blunt and destructive criticisms. This is why people will lash out at developers, even going as far as sending death threats. They feel protected by that anonymity, and feel entitled to bring others down for whatever reason. These are the harsh realities of being in the game industry. If by some chance you manage to develop a well-known game, chances are that you will come face to face with plenty of negativity.
With all of this mind, let’s consider what it may have been like for Notch as Minecraft grew into what it is today. According to his statements, he clearly had no intention of becoming a famous developer. He just enjoyed making little game projects and living a quiet, happy life. This changed drastically when Minecraft started to become big. Notch suddenly found himself flooded by messages, comments, feedback, and tweets, both positive and negative. It must have been jarring to go from a fairly private life to suddenly having the entire world trying to communicate with him, or in some cases insult and badger him just for making a game. Considering how famous Notch is, the amount of negative messages he got from people must have been overwhelming. So between this mass negativity and overall attention he was receiving in general, I think it’s totally reasonable Notch decided to sell Mojang. There’s only so much a person can take before they reach their breaking point. Notch made a good point in saying that, “It’s not about the money. It’s about my sanity”. He never wanted all of the attention in the first place, and when he saw the opportunity to escape from that and return to his roots, he had every right to take that opportunity. Though Nguyen’s case is slightly different, the same sort of principle can be applied. He had lived a quiet life prior to Flappy Bird. Sure, he had great financial success because of his game, but that success was interfering with his life, as it was with Notch’s. Nguyen expressed this on his Twitter account, where he posted, “I can call ‘Flappy Bird’ is a success of mine. But it also ruins my simple life. So now I hate it”.
Jesse just couldn’t understand why these Notch and Nguyen would want to leave their positions of success when they were making so much money. However I can completely understand the viewpoint that the overwhelming amount of negativity and attention was more than these two wanted from making games. The notoriety was interfering with their daily lives, and they had to decide whether or not their success was worth that.