I was going to name this blog something like "Are We Too Involved?" But there's nothing like a good piece of Yellow Journalism to get the old page views jumping, eh?
So the other day, a question was put to me and other gamers. "Who do you prefer: Blizzar or Valve?" Some people responded that they would have gone with Blizzard, except they then realised that it was owned by Activision. Technically, it's Activision-Blizzard, but Bobby Kotick is CEO of the parent company. Ah, yes, Bobby Kotick. You see, as they looked at it, Kotick is Satan and Activision is Pandemonium. It's not hard to see why if you follow the gaming news, but to this I still say "TOSH!" Why? Because Activision is doing nothing different to most companies.
Let's look at some myths about why Activision is evil and dispell them, should we?
1. Activision justs want to make money.
Well, duh. It's a business. Apart from being legally obliged to make as much money as possible for its shareholders, it's the purpose of every business to make money. Most pubilcally listed companies do it in rather dubious means too. Battery farming, sweatshops, tax evasion -- so much for Google not being evil, right? -- and other ethically questionable activities are how most companies skirt the moral boundaries to make that extra buck. Do you boycott Apple? Nike? The aforementioned Google? Of course you don't. Either you don't know or you don't care enough. Let's be honest for a second: how many of you boycotted Cadbury chocolate when it was using palm oil because it putting orangutans out of a home and how many of you were boycotting it because the bars were smaller and it tasted like crap?
The fact of the matter is that in general, Activision is pretty non-evil. In fact, I can't think of a single evil thing they've done in recent memory. Fund and publish some excellent video games? Oh yeah, that's pretty evil. It's not like they are making games in Asian sweatshops... yet. And if it really comes down to the fact that you're pissed they knew you were stupid enough to pay $150 for Modern Warfare 2 -- which many people, including myself, did -- then I think you're misdirecting your anger. Besides, do you get pissed that Nintendo makes an obscene profit on every Wii and Wii accessory it sells? That over three years after it came out, Twilight Princess actually went up in price?
I'm actually willing to be that really the problem is the believe that myth number one leads to myth number two...
2. Activision doesn't care about original content.
'Cause there's a new Call of Duty coming this year, amirite? The truth is that every company milks its existing IP cows under the udders are little, shriveled black stalactite. It's been happening forever, too. There are over 100 Mega Man titles out there. 100. Suddenly six Call of Duty titles doesn't seem so bad, does it? Of course, this assumes that Activision never releases a new IP, and it does. In fact, Blur and Singularity are due out in the first half of this year and both are published by Activision. (Also, before anyone mentions that it's only two titles, keep in mind that Activision's 2010 release schedule so far has 10 games in it, including Call of Duty, DJ Hero 2, and the new WoW expansion Cataclysm.
Of course, this whole idea of Activision hating original content comes down to the dismissal of Brutal Legend. The problem here is that it's a black and white view of the situation. When Vivendi folded into Activision (creating Activision-Blizzard), Brutal Legend, a Vivendi game at that point, came with it. Activision-Blizzard took a look at the portfolio, decided what was going to prove a good investment, and shelved what wasn't.
Unhappy, obviously, Schafer looked for someone else to publish his game. He found EA. Activision sued, and that caused a lot of people to be upset with Activision -- unfairly, too, I might add. You see, Vivendi had invested $15 million in the game at that point. Schafer famously quipped, "If you liked it then you should have put a ring on it." I'd call $15 million a pretty big ring. At the very least, Activision was entitled to some monetary compensation like it received from Atari for other dropped titles. (Eventually, they received it from EA, proving they had a valid case.)
Ultimately, though, the problem here is that people felt like Activision had no right to drop a game they thought was going to be a bad investment. That's just silly. Throwing good money after bad is a good way to get your shareholders to sue you. (Majesco is a great example of this, if you think it hasn't happened in the gaming industry.) The fact is that all the games that Activision dropped that were picked up by others -- Ghostbusters, Chronicles of Ridd*ck and, yes, Brutal Legend -- did poorly at retail. In fact, insiders attributed the marketing of Brutal Legend to be a reason for its lack of success, but also mentioned that if it had been honest, it would have sold even worse! Activision made the right decision.
But, really, it was what Kotick said, wasn't it. The idea that he only wanted games he could exploit on a yearly basis. That lead's me too...
3. Boby Kotick is just evil.
Just to start, here are a few facts about Kotick and his role at Activision. He has been CEO of Activision (and later Activision-Blizzard) since 1991. Remember this fact, as it will come into play later. He spent US$400,000 for a stake in Activision before this. The man has been involved with the company, if not driving it, for years. Was there any hate back in 1992? 1996? 1998? 2004? The fact is that all this hate has only just started.
Before I touch on this, though, I want to augment my position by introducing you to who I consider to be one of the most evil men in the video game industry.
This man became president of his company in 1949 and immediately fired his entire family from the company so he would have sole claim to it. Shortly afterwards, when dealing with dissent from his workers, he simply fired them all, many of them loyal, long-time workers. He was notorious for making business decisions on whims, only approving products when he had an interest in them. One of his ventures was only kept going because he was his own best customer. A small, silent man, the threat of his wrath put the fear of God into his employees. One man, whose previous projects gave the company much success, was publically humilated due to one small failure. This man crippled competition by locking third parties into unattractive contracts, and would them manipulate those contracts to put his own company on top. If you wanted to work with his company, despite the fact you would be making his company a success, you had to play by his rules whether they were fair or not. One company, engaged in a contract to build hardware with his company, was not told that the project was cancelled and was left to humilate themselves at a press conference announcing the hardware. The project was cancelled because this third party stood to make some money from the project, money that this president believed belonged to his company alone.
If you haven't guessed, I'm talking about Hiroshi Yamauchi, the ex-president of Nintendo. Nintendo, the company so loved throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. (It was indeed his behaviour that saw so many third parties flee to Sony in the late 1990s.) A ruthless little pitbull of a man, Yamauchi's behaviour and ethics make Kotick look like a saint. It only takes a good read of Game Over to understand what a bastard Yamauchi actually is/was. Yet, we never seemed to care. We never hated him or hated Nintendo. We never said we were going to boycott Nintendo. Why? Largely because we didn't know.
The problem is you (and me).
Thus is the crux of the problem. We are involved now thanks to the Internet. We have sites like Game Politics dedicated to telling us the ins and outs of the industry, and even sites like NZGamer will report on industry politics. In 1986, no one was reporting on that. In 2010, the Internet puts information at our fingertips the minute it happens. In 1991, you were waiting a month for more information. Despite the fact that Kotick's behaviour, even if you consider it deplorable, is nothing new to this industry is overlooked because we simply didn't know it was going on before and can't compare to it. History can teach us, but how many gamers actually read a book on the history of the video games industry? (You should, because the story of Tetris is fascinating.)
There is, also, another problem. We are hypocrites. We criticise Kotick and Activision for making money, yet we do the very things they expect us to. How many people bought Modern Warfare 2 despite the fact it was $150? How many people people actually boycotted the PC version? (Hint: not as many as they would like to have you think.) How many goddamn Guitar Hero games did you people buy? Enough to make it economically viable for them to abuse the IP, that's for sure. When was the last time you bought a new IP, or an independent game. Jeff Minter is right; you'd all rather buy a rehash of Frogger. Seriously, Brutal Legends sales speak for themselves.
Additionally, you'll moan about Modern Warfare 2, but you're all quite happy to fork out $140 for Arkham Asylum, Fallout 3, or Street Fighter IV. Being a hypocrite myself, I can smell my own... and you lot certainly stink of hypocrisy.
The fact is that gamers that hate Activision are, generally, the equivalent of champagne socialists. They'll talk the talk but won't walk the walk. Putting your money where your mouth is? PAH! Why should I miss out on gaming goodness just because Kotick is evil? He should charge me what it's worth! So what if I will pay him what he asks? HE SHOULD HAVE MORALS.
Do you realise how silly it sounds? Even if you do boycott (and I mean actually boycott and not just passing because you had no interest in the first place), do you boycott other businesses with similar business ethics?
The point of this rant is that Activision isn't evil. They are just doing what any smart company would do: make money of an audience with no common sense or willpower. If you want Activision to bring down the price of games, stop buying them at that price and they will drop. You want Activision to stop buying Activsion to stop exploiting IPs, stop buying the sequels. If you want Bobby Kotick to run his company like a kid's birthday party and McDonald's... well, get a clue!
Ultimately, I think a lot of people are also just jaded and Activision is a scapegoat. I know I loook at my collection and I see lots of numbers (including zero, derp derp) beside the titles. (In fact, in my entire console collection, six are not sequels... and Rock Band is kind of questionable, so maybe even five.) It's tiring to just have the same crap thrown at you. It's even worse when they get around the numbers buy abusing the colon. (HA!) Whatever happened to the days of the Spectrum, C64, ST and Amiga? (Christ, even Amiga IPs are getting molested now.) In the big leagues, it's gone, but that's the nature of business. (Sure, The Hurt Locker won an Oscar, but who do you think is more likely to get a new movie green lighted, Bigelow or Cameron?) The independent scene is were people should look if they are sick of the big boys being corporate. I hear there's this great little game called Shatter...
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