Microsoft have bought Minecraft. Well, they've bought Mojang, but given that three of the studio's founders are leaving, I reckon we can tell it how it is. For Notch, his creation has grown too big. He is now a man with nearly two million followers on Twitter, an industry figure whose musings on social media have become newsworthy headlines.
And it's all become a little too much.
"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."
It reminds me of the departure of the two Doctors from BioWare in some ways -- a situation that's understandable and yet tinged with sadness -- but at least Notch is saying that he wants to keep making games. They'll be smaller, much smaller, but there'll be something freeing about developing without a million eyes or so looking over his shoulder (eventually).
"As soon as this deal is finalized, I will leave Mojang and go back to doing Ludum Dares and small web experiments. If I ever accidentally make something that seems to gain traction, I’ll probably abandon it immediately.
"Considering the public image of me already is a bit skewed, I don’t expect to get away from negative comments by doing this, but at least now I won’t feel a responsibility to read them."
The point of the This Is Phil Fish video is that being internet-famous is something that simply happens and then feeds itself. But in Notch's case, the hope from his perspective is that the Minecraft brand is bigger than his personal brand, and that the limelight will fade on him once the two are separated. The bit about abandoning something that threatens to be popular probably has its tongue hovering somewhere about the cheek area, but the message is clear: the searing heat of the spotlight is unwanted.
"I love you. All of you. Thank you for turning Minecraft into what it has become, but there are too many of you, and I can’t be responsible for something this big. In one sense, it belongs to Microsoft now. In a much bigger sense, it’s belonged to all of you for a long time, and that will never change.
"It’s not about the money. It’s about my sanity."
The trouble is, this is an age where professional tastemakers have less and less clout, where the media gatekeepers are waning in influence. Anyone can start a blog, anyone can post a Tweet, anyone can create a YouTube channel and join the conversation. That's a wonderful thing in a great many ways, but it makes diving out of the spotlight difficult once you're in it. Once the hype train starts rolling, it's difficult to derail that attention, even and especially if things take a sour turn.
There'll still be a great deal of interest in whatever Notch does next. But, as he says, he won't feel obligated to worry about it, and I quite like that. Good for him.
The nature of internet fame is such that it feels to me as if we're somewhat culpable for the creator of the most famous game in the world wanting to distance himself as much as possible from said game. There've been several occasions over the past few years (not to mention the last few weeks) where pockets of the gaming community have resembled angry raving mobs, where empathy and reason have been abandoned, where accusations and demands have replaced discussion. It strikes me that as gamers we occasionally take things for granted a little.
With that in mind, cheers Notch. We're looking forward to the results of your unbridled creativity.
Now, if we could just find some awesome middle ground between scrounging pennies to make the art you want to make, and life-ruining internet fame and visibility that'd be nice.