Out There: Trouble in Minecraft
It's safe to say that Minecon should have been an entirely celebratory affair. But it wasn't. When Markus "Notch" Persson tweeted yesterday that Mojang would no longer work with Yogscast, and then followed up with a list of strong grievances against the team, tectonic cracks within Minecraft's vast community were revealed, cracks that could call into question the community values on which Minecraft is built.
Many members of the Yogscast's large following – it has 1.2 million subscribers on YouTube and over 131,000 likes on Facebook – quickly took up arms against Notch and Mojang, while Reddit became home to Minecon volunteer staff defending Notch's claims and popular PC gaming podcaster John "Totalbiscuit" Bain explaining his view on the situation, favouring Yogscast's point of view.
One of Bain's main points was based on Yogscast's importance to Minecraft, a response to Persson's tweet, "And they claim they're the reason minecraft is big and that we should thank them more than anyone else in the community." It's a point that Yogcast's Lewis Brindley and Simon Lane themselves supported in a recent interview with us, in which Brindley said, "The entire game has had $0 spent on PR yet has sold 3.5 million copies – I think a large part of that is due to us."
"Yogscast is without question one of the most important forces within not only Minecraft but at this point, gaming in general," Bain wrote. "They wield a massive amount of influence and they make a hell of a lot of people very happy."
And here lies the significance of this otherwise rather seamy and very much two-sided story. Minecraft's success has trailblazed a new way of making and marketing games, a community-led approach based on input and support from players from the very earliest stages of development. As Bain says, players have done much to promote the game, with Yogcast surely representing one of the most significant groups.
But with such involvement comes investment, and with investment comes the expectation of control. Yogscast has grown enormously since Minecraft came along; it has relied strongly on Minecraft, just as Minecraft has relied on Yogscast as it has grown, too. A relationship that was once simple and symbiotic has developed complications – and grown apart.
Yogscast's informal style of presentation, which includes swearing and (to quote Bain again) "British humour", perhaps isn't so compatible with Minecraft's ambitions and growing family audience as it once was. But with Yogscast having amassed such a large community, does it have to rely on Mojang as much as it may once have had to? Is it time for Yogscast to strike out well beyond Minecraft, a movement already in full flow with playthrough videos of the likes of Skyrim, Dead Island and Modern Warfare 3?
And if this is the case, what lies in Minecraft's future? Will it have to resort to corporate deals, bound by watertight contracts, to avoid such arguments in the future?
What this episode in Minecraft's history shows is that as the stakes get higher it becomes harder to maintain a happy, mutually reliant and coherent community. Could it mean that Minecraft's model can only go so far? Does it mean that huge success will always be at odds with the broadly benevolent culture that fomented it?