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The problems with capitalism, as explained by a Minecraft hedge fund manager

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Minecraft is a video game about placing blocks, but when Microsoft paid $2.5 billion for its developer Mojang, it wasn't just buying virtual Lego. It was buying a tool powerful enough to map entire countries, it was buying a way of involving citizens in public space design, and it was buying a virtual programming suite so detailed that players could build 16-bit computers and working hard drives inside the game.

Microsoft was also, as demonstrated by game developer and Minecraft player Alice Maz, buying a fully working model of late-stage capitalism. Maz recently reminisced about her time on a Minecraft server that had an economy plugin — a modification that altered the blocky world she chose to inhabit, giving it a functional system by which players could buy and sell the goods that Minecraft miners mine. After a spell, Maz says, a social hierarchy formed.

Maz got her foot on the economic ladder by mining clay, a simple process of slapping the ground with a shovel or an axe and vacuuming up the resultant cuboids of gray dirt. But she had a plan. She targeted a wealthy player who had bought out the supplies of clay, mining and selling just enough of the material that she was able to buy a plot of land. From there, she was able to start playing the economy.

Maz collaborate with three other players to fix prices

As with real-world balloon economies, Maz's server faced a crash, but unlike historical precedents, this one was caused by a bug that allowed a player to endlessly duplicate rare items without the legwork required to mine them. Maz says the player was banned, but once the toxic element was removed, confidence in the economy was shot. The market was in freefall.

Maz collaborated with three other super-rich players, fixing markets to get incredibly wealthy off the back of the server's miners, without having to lift a pickaxe. Eventually she was able to freewheel on competing markets, dealing only with resellers to buy and sell raw materials back and forth, somehow notching stupendous profits for simply moving blocks of rock from one chest to another. Her methods, she notes, were exactly the same as those employed by vast financial services such as Goldman Sachs.

Her fascinating experiences, tweeted out over a course of hours, were collated in a duo of lengthy Storify pages by John Brindle. Maz's time on the server highlights problems with boom and bust cycles, capitalist markets, and the inequalities of wealth, but there's one question — if she's so good at playing the virtual markets, why not head to real-world Wall Street?