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In the shadow of a $2.5 billion deal, one famed game dev slips away

The biggest gaming news of the day wasn't the $2.5 billion purchase by Microsoft of the studio behind massive-hit Minecraft, it was why the game's creator chose to sell and not stick around after he did.

And Markus Persson, known to his fans simply as Notch, isn't just leaving his studio Mojang and his game Minecraft, he's actively avoiding a repeat of that runaway success.

In his farewell note to gamers, Persson writes that he doesn't see himself as a "real game developer" and that if in working on new, small game projects he does happen to ever make something that seems to gain traction he'll probably abandon it immediately.

The game industry is notoriously bad at preparing its super stars for fame. And as gaming grows in popularity and the potential audience of a game and the person who made it becomes frighteningly large, the problem is only going to get worse.

It's clear in his letter, that fame was the thing that pushed Persson from the studio he founded with such dedication and love.

He writes of how Minecraft, which has sold more than 50 million copies around the world, became this thing that seemed beyond him, a huge hit that people told him was changing the game industry. He talks about trying to make lightning strike a second time with a new game and how that game sort of fell apart.

But what seemed to solidify Persson's growing concerns and desire to leave was seeing another developer go through the same gauntlet of celebrity he felt he has endured.

While Fez isn't nearly as popular as Minecraft, developer Phil Fish became an internet celebrity through his terse comments and stylistic approach to game design. That celebrity brought with it a crowd of people who seemed to hate the developer.

Notch saw in Fish his future, or at least one he feared.

He worried that in sticking with Mojang and Minecraft he had some how stopped being a developer and become to fans a symbol. He worried that he had lost his connection with those who played his games.

"I've become a symbol," he wrote. "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."

Persson is leaving because he didn't belong, or at least he felt he didn't. The game he created in his spare time while working another job, the game he so cautiously uploaded a video of to YouTube as simply "cave game" in 2009, has, Notch believes, become more important than its creator.

But of course that's not true. The industry needs innovative thinkers and genuine talents to drive video games forward. Video games finally won the argument about whether they are art when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled they were in a landmark decision in favor of the industry.

But in the years since, there's little to show video games living up to that protection. Games still obsess over violence, objectivity continues to be an issue.

If the industry wants to continue to grow it needs to cherish its creators, provide them the support they need to survive not only their dismal failures, but their towering achievements too.

Good Game is an internationally syndicated weekly news and opinion column about the big stories of the week in the gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come. Brian Crecente is a founding News Editor of Polygon.

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