Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

The Indie World, Post-Minecraft

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 15, 2014

Unless we’re all victims of the most epic troll of gaming history – or the deal suddenly turns sour before the contracts are all signed (and it may be too late for that), it’s official – Minecraft and its studio Mojang are being sold to Microsoft for $2.5 billion. Which – is mind boggling. Utterly mind-boggling.

You can read some general information from Mojang here – Yes, We’re Being Sold to Microsoft.

And from Notch himself – I’m Leaving Mojang

I think Notch’s personal comments struck me the hardest. Here’s a small indie guy who made games for the love of games, and making them. And he found a role thrust upon him. Of course, for millions of dollars, one can deal with a great deal of additional pressures. But after a point – no. I get it. At least as far as someone who has never been rich can get it. But I have been poor enough to know that how some days it feels like money will solve everything, and then comfortably middle-class (and friends with some relatively wealthy folks) for long enough to know that it won’t.

But here’s the biggie. After so much money, Minecraft really wasn’t an “indie” game anymore. After this sale, it definitely won’t be an indie game anymore. And we’re living in a world where a game started in some guy’s apartment as a solo effort for a few months managed to make a truly obscene amount of money, to the point where it was sold for $2.5 billion dollars to one of the biggest companies in the world. And let’s get real here – it’s Minecraft that’s being bought / sold here. With a support team. The rest of Mojang is an afterthought – or, to be more charitable, icing on the cake.

Nobody believes this sort of thing is typical, but the fact that it’s proven to be achievable may drive some very strange thought. I remember several years ago when new people would constantly ask (and I was one of them, at first…), “how much money can you make with an indie game?” The answer was never satisfying, because it was like answering, “How long is a piece of string?”

Today, the answer to the question of what you can theoretically make with a single indie game is roughly $2.5 billion. Plus the millions made up to this point.

The thing is – and new game developers often don’t get this – it’s not a linear scale. You can’t make a game that’s half as good as Minecraft and expect half that kind of return. At this stage in the game, you can’t make a game that’s ten times as good as Minecraft and expect half that kind of return.  You can’t make a business plan out of these kinds of stories, any more than you can “invest” in a metal detector expecting to find millions in buried gold coins in your backyard. Sure, it’s been known to happen. But the odds are against you, and it’s not like there’s a prize for being a runner-up.

My feeling is that this is the climax of the so-called “indie bubble.” Maybe there’ll be a lot of johnny-come-latelies who finally figured out that there was a gold rush going on, and cluelessly believe they can achieve Minecraft success levels if only they spend enough money marketing.

But what it really does for me is put the final period on this chapter of game development history. Towards the end of the last decade, I would ask, “Is this the ‘Year of the Indie’?” – Whatever that meant. I couldn’t really tell until the year was over. I think around 2007 or 2008 marked when I thought indie gaming finally gained some real traction, beyond the “casual game” space.  And of course, with mobile – particularly the early success of the iPhone – things just exploded. But that’s died out now, and anybody piling on because of this Minecraft peak is probably going to experience disappointment.

I guess my new question is, “What now?” Of course, if I could answer that question, I’d probably be rich. Maybe we’ll get one more surge of Minecraft wannabes. Maybe – after this last surge, we’ll get something approaching maturity and sanity. I dunno.

Filed Under: Biz, Indie Evangelism - Comments: 7 Comments to Read

  • ogg said,

    Great post. Glad he’s going to be able to get away from being responsible for Mine craft and do what he enjoys.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Yeah, I totally get it. I mean, okay… I wouldn’t mind the “trouble” of riding the crest of a runaway success for a while, PERSONALLY. But I can see at a point it ends up defining you and taking control of your life.

  • Anon said,

    The dream is finally over.

    No, not the indie dream. That’s as alive as the “American Dream”(tm).

    It was the dream of Notch about his game becoming a big hit.
    Minecraft was a big hit long before Microsoft drowned him with shitloads of money (*who* can honestly resist to billions of dollars – and for how long?).

    But now his game (his baby) has grown up: It has become an adult and was sold as expensive as possible.
    The young adult has left the parental home and is now working and earning money in the corporate world.

    What does it mean for Notch?
    – He can now make a new baby!
    – He can dream again – even if it will probably a much smaller dream now…

    So the dream is alive!

  • McTeddy said,

    I’ve spoken to a number of designers who known for one specific money-making game, and many feel awful about it. It turns out us game dev types like creating new things and it’s not satisfying to maintain the old one.

    I’m happy to see Notch let it go because he seems like he wants to explore again. He’s done his duty by bringing this game into the world and letting it grow… but he can move on now.

    I just hope that the audience lets him move on… and that one day I can be in that position.

  • The Old Farmer said,

    We may only need to look to the past to predict the future. There once was a company called FASA who had created a game called Mechwarrior then along came the big fish called Microsoft and gobbled it down. There are some similarities though FASA sold for peanuts compaired to minecraft. There were a couple of good Mech games then it disapeared I guess it could not port to the console controler.

    Hope Notch can let his creative side out more now he is not the center of attention, and even if he never creats another game he can invest in others that could go on to be great in their own right.

  • Albert1 said,

    Good for Notch. However, Mojang can’t possibly be worth 2.5 billions, just like WhatsApp wasn’t really worth 19 billions…
    I guess it’s a sign of the times: if you’re printing money like there’s no tomorrow, desperately trying to reflate the real estate bubble, I guess you may as well reflate the almost-two-decades-old internet bubble.

  • Anon said,

    This is like the art business now:
    A company is worth exactly what is being paid for it.