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' Minecraft  was my chance to create a Valve, rather than work at Valve'
'Minecraft was my chance to create a Valve, rather than work at Valve'
December 10, 2013 | By Mike Rose

December 10, 2013 | By Mike Rose
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing

"Somehow, I felt that Minecraft was maybe my chance to create a Valve, rather than work at Valve."
- Minecraft creator Markus Persson recalls the job offer he received from Valve back in 2010.

As detailed in book "Minecraft: The Unlikely Tale of Markus 'Notch' Persson and the Game that Changed Everything", which has now been translated into English and excerpted by AllThingsDigital, Persson had plenty of tough decisions to make around the time that Minecraft began to explode.

His job interview at Valve included a programming exercise, meeting the various members of the Valve team including Gabe Newell and Robin Walker, and deciding whether to take the job.

In the end, the indie developer decided to turn the job offer down, as he felt that himself and Jakob Porser, soon to be one of Mojang's other co-founders, could make a good go of it themselves.

It's worth reading the extract to get a feel for how Persson handled his last year before Mojang. The full book can be found on Amazon.

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Chris Book
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He passed a programming test at Valve? That's a little surprising.

Laurens Mathot
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Hahaha. I always wonder if that reputation for not being a good programmer is justified.

Besides, when Valve products appear very polished, I think it has more to do with the amount of time spent before releasing it. When they have products that require active use by a large group of people for accurate testing, those products tend to be a bit buggier too. Minecraft was popular long before it reached Minecraft 1.0 (after several public versions like infdev, alpha& beta).

Scott Lavigne
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I don't think he did. Go read the blog post he made after this happened (I think it was said on his blog; might have been somewhere else). He said he was really disappointed and that they said it was very evident he was self-taught (gentle way of saying amateur). He was completely giddy talking about it before he had the interview, too. I've always assumed he was turned down based on the way he talked about it when it happened. I'd be VERY surprised if he wasn't.

Edit: Blog post I was referring to:

Rereading, it's definitely possible he was actually offered the job and he just decided he wasn't a good fit. The quote in the title of this article doesn't seem accurate, though.

Robert Crouch
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Everyone is self-taught to a large extent. I think what saying he's self-taught evidences is mostly that he has not worked in a collaborative environment so he does things in a way that might work fine for projects that are small and can get away with not using version control or following standard conventions.

You can make things that work great when you're the only person who needs to know about them, and only only need to think about them for the next 6 months, but you need a different level of attention when other people are contributing and can't see what was in your mind when you wrote it.

The thing is, that's a matter of experience and exposure. It's as foolish for someone to not use those tools in a collaborative environment as it is for someone to write FizzBuzz Enterprise Edition in an interview or as a proof of concept that has to live for 2 days. But the person who has been working in a collaborative environment will show evidence of that even when they write a programming test, even if it's just in the way they name their variables.

That sort of skill can be learned, and if you're otherwise shown to be smart and willing to learn and work in a team, you can be given those guidelines and follow them even though they might be new to you. It's a lot easier to take a smart, creative person and teach them to adapt to a collaborative environment than it is to take a person with nothing interesting about them but great code quality and teach them to be smart and creative.

In the end Notch did pretty well for himself. Minecraft was a success not because of code quality, not even necessarily creativity, but because of a strong intuition of design elements and because it filled a need and a void in the game ecosystem. Someone who can make that happen is a rare find. If he could continue to bring that to the table, then it is really unimportant whether he writes enterprise quality code. All that's important is that his ideas can actually be implemented, not hand-wavy.

If someone were to suggest a game as large in scope as minecraft. That you could travel thousands of miles in every direction and fully deform the world, build anything, remove anything, breed animals, build towns, etc. I would have thought them just making it up. It's easy to propose something like that, but Notch does more than that, he brings that whole idea to the table and knows exactly how it could be implemented. Having good ideas is fine, but having good ideas and the ability to know they can be done and the ability to actually do them is better.

Sure other people could make a higher quality minecraft than Notch. But he was the one who could come up with the idea, AND come up with it in a way that was doable, AND come up with it in a way that was fun. If you can find people who can do those 3 things consistently, it really doesn't matter if their code is a bit sloppy, that can always be tidied up.

Scott Lavigne
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I think you greatly underplay the importance of writing good code, but either way, I wasn't intending to attack him. Minecraft's great, and I'm glad it turned out well for him. One game doesn't make a trend, though, and if you don't have the technical expertise to compensate for a lack of history, I wouldn't expect him at a company like Valve. Back then, he didn't have any business knowledge or anything either, and considering the way projects are self-led and the resources employees there have access to, I'd expect that to be pretty important as well.

Alan Barton
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@"they said it was very evident he was self-taught (gentle way of saying amateur)."

Seriously, WTF!. Let me point out to you that:

self_taught != amateur

Seriously, self-taught is not amateur and being a professional simply means earning a living at that work and many self-taught people, can and do very well at it, thank you very much!

For example:

Of which, one of them is none other than world famous renaissance polymath Leonardo da Vinci!

So next time you hear of someone who is self-taught, don't try to equate it to amateur! Many self-taught people work very hard non-stop, over many decades to learn what they know. So don't look down on them.

Scott Lavigne
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You completely ignored the context. Being self-taught doesn't inherently mean anything about your skill, but a potential employer bringing it up in an interview when talking about the skill that would be the focus of your job indicates that your skills deviate from their expectations of their employees. If that wasn't the case, they wouldn't have mentioned it. For the sake of everyone's sanity, you need to be on the same page as others in a coding environment, both in regards to standards and choice in algorithms for each situation. If they mentioned this to him, then he wasn't. Really not sure how you got "People who are self-taught are less than people who are formally taught by others" from my post.

Alan Barton
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@Scott Lavigne
There is no context that justifies trying to equate self-taught with amateur. So whoever does it is making the same mistake.

@Scott Lavigne:"For the sake of everyone's sanity, you need to be on the same page as others in a coding environment, both in regards to standards and choice in algorithms for each situation."

A rote learned tyranny will not solve many problems and the only problems it does solve are trivially easy to solve with established design patterns.

Also your rote learning attitude will exclude and chastise anyone who seeks to be creative. Your attitude will create a joyless place to work, for anyone who wants to be creative and there are a lot of creative people in the games industry!

"It is almost a miracle that modern teaching methods have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for what this delicate little plant needs more than anything, besides stimulation, is freedom." - Albert Einstein

Fortunately we work in an extremely competitive industry and an extremely creative industry. Therefore companies need and have to find many people who can think outside of the box and bring different perspectives to problem solving. So companies need people who can think beyond established rote learned dogma.

"I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world." - Albert Einstein

Boyer Geoffrey
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Sounds like the comment from the article is more the rationalization that comes weeks and months after a job offer refusal rather than the hot-headed, spur-of-the-moment one that you are linking. I know I did it at some point.

EDIT : Was meant to reply to

Jonathan Murphy
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Whenever you turn down a job of any kind you are left wondering. There are also times you are left in awe as you land the dream job.