I overheard an intriguing anecdote that led to a wild story about copyright. Yep, wild and copyright, inevitably synonymous! The idea was to retell the story, “I wrote a story for a friend” but, it is articulated so perfectly in the original The Egg and the Rock Substack newsletter authored by Julian Gough, the protagonist, that reviewing the piece and spreading the word made much more sense.
A quick precursor into gaming life and what happens when you reach the pinnacle of a computer game, otherwise known as ‘clocking’. My only real experience with this is Nintendo 64 games, particularly old school Super Mario. It took some serious dedication and practice for hundreds, if not thousands of hours. Dexterity, memory, concentration and luck all came into play as it does with all video games. And, parents and carers that either weren’t home a lot or didn’t care how much time you spent staring at a TV. A player reaches the end and something happens: words or celebratory animation. From vague memory, Super Mario danced a jig and the Princess was jumping up and down, virtual coloured confetti comes to mind. It’s annoyingly unmemorable for all the effort required to get there AND all the things I didn’t do while playing that game. Unlike the End Poem for Minecraft, which has been made more amazing by the story that goes with it.
The by-line of the post tells us that Gough is liberating the Minecraft ending from Microsoft as a gift to the universe. He unravels the story slowly and deliberately, it’s a long read, like 55 mins long. Julian Gough came to write the ending for Minecraft after answering a Twitter callout from a friend, he made while attending a gaming conference in Berlin some years before, see below:
Gough gets emotional early on in the piece and then explains why this story about a story hurts – so -much. The friend, Markus, was in a hurry for content. He was launching Minecraft at a conference and needed an ending, stat. Gough immersed himself in Minecraft world with his daughter so to write something that would mean something to the end user. The story that Gough supplied was exactly the style, tone and length Markus was seeking. As the owner/business partner of Mojang Studios, the company that created Minecraft, Markus (@notch) had full license to make creative decisions. And, he loved it. Gough was thoroughly into the artistic collaboration process with Markus, in fact, he describes it as a key creative moment of his life. Where the client was into his ideas, the story itself and the philosophy behind it. It was a 9 minute read, the ending of Minecraft and Markus didn’t want to edit one word. He loved it. He immediately wrote the code to include the End Poem and handed over the contracting negotiations to the CEO of the company, Carl Menneh.
Carl’s role in the process was to negotiate the best deal for shareholders, of which there were 3. The story goes onto report that Julian and Carl had different agendas. Carl was ruthless and Julian was a creative that didn’t really get the business side of things. So he ignored the copyright contract that would handover the rights of his artistic creation. Whatever field you are in and whatever creativity you supply as a service, you never know who’s hands it will end up in or how popular that thing might become. No one could have known Minecraft would go on to sell 238 million copies for download and Mojang Studios would sell the rights to Microsoft for 2.5 billion dollars some 11 years after Julian wrote that ending for the launch.
When Minecraft was bought out my Microsoft obviously due diligence was required. Whoever noticed that the copyright for the End Poem was not owned by Mojang isn’t clear but Mojang took steps to rectify the issue. Julian never signed the contract. He felt done over by the corporate licking. And he gifted the copy, in essence, to the people, the universe from which it came.
The crux of the story isn’t clear. Julian is angry, then generous, flummoxed by administration and legal jargon, a creative victim, monetarily deficit, morally strong but confused. A nature escape and kindness from strangers and a psychedelic trip helps him find some peace and perspective and write this story for our consumption. Go Julian Gough.