Einstein, Tesla, Minecraft and Microsoft: Big Companies Kill Creativity

Notch is laughing all the way to the bank with the $2.5 billion dollars Microsoft just paid for Minecraft. On the surface, Microsoft made a great purchase. After all, it wants to be a major player in the gaming market and sell lots of game players and software. Why not seize upon a game that has captured the hearts of millions of devoted fans?

What struck me most when observing or playing Minecraft is that it was a game designed by someone who loved to play games. Once a player buys the game, Notch never bothered the player with requests or demands to upgrade to the latest version or add a particular application. Seemingly all he cared was that his customers were having a ball. Sometimes, like a mysterious God roving through his universe, he would visit various servers and observe his customers having fun. He certainly was never a vengeful God demanding the sacrifice of a first son or a pound of flesh.

Let’s just say it. Big companies are responsible to their stockholders. The bigger they are, the more they have to prime their pump by generating new customers and increasing the revenue from existing customers. While Microsoft swears it will not do anything to anger Minecraft customers, I would bet that sometime soon popups will appear offering enhancements for a fee.  Notch and his group of merry programmers were very responsive to their customers when it came to fixes and new enhancements, and the Minecraft bulletin boards reflected customers’ belief that bugs would be fixed immediately and enhancements on wish lists would be added quickly.

How does that experience coincide with people’s experience with Windows or Office? Often the prevailing wisdom was that customers were the ultimate beta testers whether they knew it or not. Also, unlike Apple, who remembers free upgrades from Microsoft?

I guess my point is that large companies by their very nature and by the demands pressed upon them are not incubators for creativity. Group think is much more encouraged. Ambitious middle managers are not about to take risks. As the old saying goes, it’s never a good thing for your boss’s boss’s boss to know who you are.

Creativity comes from living and breathing a creation. It means thinking about it night and day and loving  and nourishing it like a child to help it grow to maturity. The parents of Microsoft Word and its 250 features nobody ever uses are probably in the witness protection program. You can’t create a great product by committee or even by having lots of focus groups. As Steve Jobs noted, he knew better than his potential customers what they really needed.

So, watch what happens to Minecraft over the next couple of years. The first time you see a new fee or a new operating system requirement or even a limitation that can be fixed quickly by just adding a low-priced application, you’ll know that deep down within the bowels of the mega company some group of middle managers are starting to get nervous because of pressure on them to produce more revenue. They’ll react the way they always react by trying to turn their customer base into a cash cow.

There is a distinct difference in the case of Minecraft when it comes to the type of customers Microsoft must deal with. They are not companies with tens of thousands of dollars invested in Microsoft products so that they are in too deep to get out without severe financial repercussions. These are young people who have an innate ability to recognize when they are being screwed. Rather than take it, many will simply walk away and turn to the next hot game.

So, if Microsoft is to be successful, it must disregard all its natural tendencies to nickel and dime its Minecraft customers. It must be responsive when it comes to enhancements and fixes and not try to favor the Windows platform over other platforms. I do suspect, though, that there isn’t an Einstein or a Tesla or a Notch working for Microsoft. The company will have to rely on the Minecraft customer base to suggest enhancements. Believe me, they have lots of good ideas.

Return to a Different Dimension Now Available on Amazon

Return to a Different Dimension is now available on Amazon. It is the sequel to the Amazon bestseller, Journey to a Different Dimension, and features the same cast of characters. This time, though, the three teens face even greater danger. The entire world is threatened if they fail.

The new book features a cast of new threats including monster robots, Slender Man, and extraterrestrials. Couple that with the usual Minecraft monsters and you have a real adventure.


Imaginary Conversations with Reviewers


I spent a few years teaching literature; one thing that always fascinated me were the critics who frequently saw certain themes, symbols, and elements in fictional works that I’m positive were never intended by their authors. They evaluated these novels and short stories based on what they thought the authors should have written. One priceless example of this type of analysis is Hemingway’s “A Clean Well Lighted Place.” There’s a page of text that doesn’t seem to make sense. Critics came up with all kinds of bizarre interpretations. Hemingway couldn’t answer the question because he already had blown off his head. Finally a scholar discovered that two lines had been copied in the wrong order when the story was first published. Case solved.

I was thinking of this situation as early reviews come pouring in for Silent Partner. I have to say I’m pleased because almost all reviews rate the book four or five stars. There are a few reviewers, though, who had some very strange ideas of their own. If I could meet for drinks with them, I imagine some of the conversation would go as follows

Schatt:   I see you’ve tentatively given the book one star, but there’s no review. What didn’t you like?

Reviewer 1: No. I give all the books on my TBR shelf one star ratings until I read them. I then adjust my rating when I write a review.

Schatt:  Aren’t you concerned that giving a book you haven’t read a one star rating might influence others who will decide not to read it?

Reviewer 1: That’s not my concern. It helps me keep track of the books I intend to read next. Besides, Goodreads is for readers and not for writers, so don’t bother me.

Schatt:  Nice to meet you in person, Reviewer 2. So, I see you gave the book 3.5 stars. I’m not sure I understand what you didn’t like.

Reviewer 2: I liked it a lot  and thought the writing was good. I just didn’t like that you didn’t write a paranormal romance.

Schatt: Did I promise you a paranormal romance? I think the book’s cover describes it as a paranormal mystery.

Reviewer 2: Well, I thought it was supposed to a paranormal romance. I don’t like paranormal police procedure books, so I always give them low grades.

Schatt: When you put down your drink, could you tell me what aspect of the book you didn’t like?

Reviewer 3: I think you’re trying to imitate 50 Shades. Your book is not as sexy.

Schatt: But…the whole point was to add some comic value to Josh and Frankie’s undercover work at the S&M club. There really isn’t anything erotic in the book.”

Reviewer 3: That’s my point! You didn’t make the book erotic enough.

Schatt: But… I wasn’t trying to make it erotic.

The more I read reviews, the more I think of the blind men’s wildly differing descriptions of an elephant based on what part of the animal they felt. All reviews have value, but some reviews remind me of a line from A Farewell to Arms where Lieutenant Henry thinks about how unfair life is:

“You did not know what it was about. You never had time to learn. They threw you in and told you the rules and the first time they caught you off base they killed you.”