On Monday, Microsoft announced that it was buying Mojang, the developer of block-tastic indie-game turned phenomenon Minecraft for $2.5bn (£1.5bn). The same day, Markus "Notch" Persson, Minecraft's designer and the owner of Mojang, announced that he was leaving the company, ending a heartfelt note with two very telling sentences: "It's not about the money. It's about my sanity."
Gaming, like many subcultures, is prone to cults of personality. But the online intensity of the gaming community can magnify the personal relationship individuals feel with the creators of the content they care about – sometimes to the detriment of the personal and professional lives of those creators, and in turn the industry at large.
In a moment that foreshadowed the Mojang sale, Notch vented on Twitter in June after being the subject of fan vitriol over an end license user agreement (or EULA): "Anyone want to buy my share of Mojang so I can move on with my life? Getting hate for trying to do the right thing is not my gig."
Notch writes in his farewell post that he was burnt out from being the subject of such intense scrutiny, referencing the EULA as a sort of turning point that made him realise his role at Mojang had morphed into one he didn't enjoy.
"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."
1/5 Taj Mahal
The original Taj Mahal may have taken almost two decades to complete, but this is a worthy tribute
Minecraft players have taken inspiration from some of Europe’s most beautiful cities, complete with canals and elaborate architecture.
3/5 Ancient Metropolis
Users have created “The Golden City”, with extremely ornate architecture, similar to Cambodia’s Angkor Wat complex
4/5 Desert island
An ornate island created by one user
5/5 Rocket launch pad
Prepare for take off with this Minecraft rocket
And Notch isn't alone. In fact, he linked to a sweary video explaining how fandom backlash and the gaming press had helped drive Phil Fish, developer of indie game Fez, out of the industry. Others, too, have felt the need to escape when their work faces sudden scrutiny. Dong Nguyen, creator of viral mobile hit Flappy Bird, went so far as to remove his game from digital marketplaces after the flood of feedback became too much to bear.
Sometimes the gaming community's attention can extend far beyond concerns with the creative output of game developers. Zoe Quinn, creator of an online text adventure game which explores living with mental illness, recently became the focus of a misogyny-tainted whirlwind known as "gamergate" over allegations involving her personal life.
But even when the vast majority of feedback is positive, it can still be uncomfortable. Gabe Newell, or "Gaben", as the founder of popular gaming company Valve is popularly known, is beloved by many gamers. There are websites devoted to him filled with fan art. But he admits that the outpouring of devotion can sometimes be unsettling – telling a newspaper last year about how uncomfortable he was the first time fans wanted to hug him in public.
Gamers sometimes seem to feel that they have a level of ownership over the people who create the things they love, and in the process hold them to high, sometimes impossible, standards. By staking that claim, fans turn creators into a sort of conceptual symbol, taking away their agency to be self-defined individuals.
Some people online are unhappy that Notch has "sold out" to Microsoft, arguing that it seems incongruent with his previous disdain for mainstream tech company buyouts of indie gaming start-ups – after all, he did say he was cancelling talks to port Minecraft to virtual reality headset Oculus Rift after it was bought by Facebook. And as the majority shareholder, he assuredly has made a tidy sum from the sale.
But considering the gaming community's tendency to turn on the people whose talents they claim to prize, his assertion that the sale is about preserving his sanity certainly rings true.
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