News that Microsoft could be about to acquire Mojang seems to be very hard to reconcile with this stance, but according to the Wall Street Journal, the deal could be valued at more than $2 billion, which is what Facebook paid for Oculus. That is funnily enough the number Persson had said it would take to buy his company, back in 2012.
Anyway, my price is two billion dollars. Give me two billion dollars, and I'll endorse your crap.-- Markus Persson (@notch) December 18, 2012
At this point, it's tempting to start calling Persson a sell-out, but the truth could be more nuanced. While Persson has talked about the pressures that large companies can create, the pressures that Minecraft brings are equally real.
With over 50 million units sold, Minecraft is a cultural phenomenon - it has a full genre worth of imitators, and aside from that, it also helped popularise an entirely new way to sell games. Minecraft was released as an unfinished alpha build in 2009, and purchasing it at that point gave you access to all later releases. At the time, this was an unusual model for selling games, but the incredible success of Minecraft (you can now play it on the PC, iOS and Android, the Xbox 360 and Xbox One, and the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 - over 50 million copies have been sold across platforms) has made it a new norm, with early access sales on games and paid betas, where you get to pay to help people to identify and solve bugs in their products being widespread today.
According to a Bloomberg report, the deal actually got started when Persson approached Microsoft, and this is particularly surprising considering the public stance he has taken earlier about selling out. However, Bloomberg also says that while Persson will stay on with Mojang during the transition to Microsoft, he will be leaving once the handover is complete. If so, this could be a move by Persson to return to an indie environment.
With MInecraft being available on all platforms, the goal today is to monetise is more thoroughly through toys, merchandise and licensing - a strategy which Rovio has been trying for its Angry Birds franchise, with somewhat mixed results.
While Mojang has grown impressively with Minecraft, the company was not able to release any other game that met the same kind of success. For Microsoft, the deal is clearly about Minecraft, but for Persson, it could also be a way of growing beyond Minecraft. The success of the game has led to constant new releases on consoles, mobile devices, and updates on all platforms.
With the game being launched on just about every platform available today, it's possible that Persson sees this as a way to wash his hands off a brand that has been exploited to Mojang's limits - if the deal really does allow him to leave as soon as the transition is complete, then he could launch his own studio again, and focus on making new games, unburdened by Minecraft.
So yes, you can probably call Mojang a sellout. But Persson might not have sold himself out in the process.