Microsoft caused a bit of a stir this week when it announced it had bought Minecraft creator Mojang for $2.5billion. But it would appear it values Minecraft much more now than it did when the game was first introduced.
At Gamescom, I had an interview with Peter Molyneux of Fable, Populous and Curiosity: What's Inside the Cube? fame. He may have left Microsoft to form his new studio, 22 Cans, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have stories to tell. And so we got onto the subject of Minecraft. Bear in mind that the following was said well before any news of the buyout came to light, so Peter was just making an incidental comment on the series:
Me: "I think Minecraft is your kind of game"
Peter: "For sure, it is, it is. I've been a total fan of that game since I first saw it when it was just this… you could only chip out blocks pretty much and that was all."
Me: "Yeah, it's so simple. And, of course, graphically simple as well. It's amazing that in the modern era of all this normal mapping and all this sort of thing that a game that's all pixelated can be so huge.
Peter: "Well I can remember coming to things like this back in my Microsoft days and talking to Microsoft. They thought it was rubbish. You know, it didn't have a character, it didn't have a story, it didn't have a tutorial, the graphics were, you know, like 1980s graphics and they totally, totally missed that. To consumers... they didn't care. Some of the most beautiful scenes I've ever seen in a game has been in Minecraft. Because you just feel like there's this never-ending world, really."
In fairness to Microsoft, Minecraft isn't like other big-name games. And nobody could have predicted quite how massively successful it would become. Even Mojang's famed co-founder, Markus 'Notch' Persson, found the scale of his creation overwhelming, telling his fans: "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... It's not about the money. It's about my sanity."
Of course, there's no suggestion that Microsoft was offered the chance to buy Mojang or Minecraft back when Stampylonghead was just plain old Stampylongnose. But I should imagine if the chance had arisen back then, it wouldn't have required a sum equivalent to the gross domestic product of the entire United Kingdom to do so. Ah, the benefit of hindsight...