Stolen Pixels #178: After Curfew, Episode 7

By Shamus Posted Friday Mar 19, 2010

Filed under: Column 35 comments

Hopefully I managed to play this one right. I’m making fun of the F.A.G.S. controversy, and a misfire could mean I’d repeat Infinity Ward’s error instead of lampooning it.

The other story is more serious, as I think it’s a lot more likely to be harmful to Activision employees and possibly the industry as a whole. Last month Activision president Bobby Kotick complained that perhaps his reputation as an industry villain was unfair. But this is the same Activision that tried to stop the release of Brutal Legend. Then we have him suing his golden goose in a very public display of power over some very vague charges, the side effect of which will be that his company isn’t going to be paying bonuses to Infinity Ward for the biggest selling game, ever. And then he promises to lower employee morale (although he phrases it differently) because, I suppose, there are still some people in the world who don’t completely hate the sight of him?

I don’t know Bob. Why are people so eager to see you as the villain? You tell me.


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35 thoughts on “Stolen Pixels #178: After Curfew, Episode 7

  1. Meredith says:

    I like your weekly news round-up comics. It’s fun to see how many people you can mock in one strip. :)

  2. Majikkani_Hand says:

    Well, at least somebody is having fun in this whole thing. Me, reading this comic. XD

  3. neothoron says:

    I seem to remember that his statement about “taking the fun out of making video games” was in a context of saying essentially “These people making video games are not businessmen – they don’t know how to handle their money. No wonder they eventually go bankrupt.” Of course, he still chose to phrase such a potentially noncontroversial statement in the way he did.

    Problem with Bobby Kotick, he has never had any kind of interest for videogames other than the bottom-line: he doesn’t understand what’s in the mind of the people he’s selling products to. And he doesn’t seem to know that understanding that could improve his bottom-line.

    1. swimon says:

      exactly, I don’t think he meant that he wanted to make development any less fun only that he wanted to be a serious businessman even though he works with something seen as toys in the eyes of the shareholders. He just has a tendency to speak like a bond villain.

      I don’t think he’s a villain really (except for the drm thing but I can sympathise with that), nor is he any sort of hero he’s just some guy with a job high up the hierarchy.

    2. wtrmute says:

      I have the same impression. Has Mr. Kotick ever worked with software development, especially in a management capacity, before becoming CEO of Activision? If not, then perhaps that can explain his seeming inability to comprehend the causes and implications of the constant cost overruns in the industry.

      I mean, software development is notorious for time/cost overruns, because we as humans are really bad at estimating the complexity of a project like, say, Half-Life 2, Ultima IX or Duke Nukem Forever. This phenomenon is central to the problem of software development, recognised as early as 1975 at least — the date of publication of Fred Brook’s landmark The Mythical Man-Month. Mr Kotick still seems to expect that his company can make videogames like a civil engineering company can make bridges. And that can also explain why he prefers just making new iterations of the same half a dozen games.

      1. Kayle says:

        This is a rather positive profile of Bobby Kotich from Fortune magazine from about a year ago. Basically, he took over Activision in 1991, buying it out of bankruptcy with a bunch of investors.

        Some interesting bits from the profile to contrast:

        When Kotick looked at EA he saw a booming company riven by fights between passionate game designers and spreadsheet-driven managers. He figured he could do it better…

        …His pitch to gamemakers was that he would be more fun to work for than the alternative. “ea has tried to commoditize development,” he told them. “We won’t absorb you into a big Death Star culture.”…

        …Kotick set out to create a studio system that gave enormous latitude to the gamers dreaming up new hits. Between 1997 and 2003 he bought nine studios and provided seed money for Activision alumni to start others. The studios kept their names and, often, their own headquarters…

        Kotick gave his divisions individual income statements and bonus pools and made them pay for special services like emergency hiring or a tech backup team that Activision keeps in reserve. Studio heads got a share of the profits, or losses, on their own franchises and got to control much of what went into their games.

  4. HeadHunter says:

    He’s also the guy that said he intends to exploit Activision’s franchises on an annual basis…

    Though, to be fair, by “franchises” he clearly meant “Customers”.

  5. krellen says:

    It’s been at least six years since Activision released a game I was even remotely interested in. Do they even release good games?

    1. swimon says:

      They sort of own blizzard now right? They make good games, even if it’s usually not my cup of tea.

      1. krellen says:

        SC2 hasn’t released yet, so that doesn’t count. And Warcraft hasn’t been good since Chris Metzen “forgot” the lore.

      2. Zack says:

        No the BOUGHT blizzard. Activision does not develop new content.

        I spoke to a company rep back in the 90s and I was told flat out “We do not want new content. We have ideas we can use again and again great products like Space Invaders, Pitfall, Mechwarrior, Zork.”

        Like the other large corporations they want exploitable products that are repeatable. They do not support new ideas and in that case of Brutal Legend (a game I loved) they tried to kill it because it was worthless to them since it was complete and not a repeatable commodity. That was their entire objection. They had no Brutal Legend 2 with new guns. There was no way to crank it out again and again as it was story driven and that takes time and thought. Not things they want to invest into games as you need to come up with new stories to keep things interesting. Story-less games is their forte.

        If they see a game that is repeatable they will try to buy the company and then milk it for all it is worth though. Blizzard with its re-occurring revenue must have been mouthwatering to them. Hopefully they will not destroy it too fast.

        1. Axle says:

          Well… I think that by splitting SC2 into three, separately sold, titles, they made the first step into destroyng this IP. I really hope SC2 will be so good, it will be worth buying it three times.
          But I have my doubts…

          1. Heron says:

            I tried making this argument on Slashdot — that Blizzard only split Starcraft II into three games after they were bought out by Activision — but I got shouted down. Apparently it’s not cool to boycott Starcraft II (for any reason!) and still show your face on Slashdot.

            1. Sheer_Falacy says:

              If all three titles are the size of a full game… then it’s basically a game and 2 expansions. Which is perfectly reasonable.

        2. swimon says:

          I’m confused, if I buy an egg do I not own it?

          Other than that I agree with your post I don’t like Activision either.

  6. SatansBestBuddy says:

    John Riccitiello, CEO of EA, tries to make his company’s games more fun, more varied, less same-y and overall just better so that his company’s customers will buy more games.

    Currently at risk of losing his job, and has had to close down entire studios to keep the company from going into the red.

    Meanwhile, Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision, tries to make sure his company can put out as many copies of the same damn game with new cover art as fast as they possibly can, not caring at all if his customers want better games, just more of them.

    Recently fired some guys for no reason, looks to be buying up more studios so they can recycle their games even faster, and is making more money then he knows what to do with, though paying the people who made him that money doesn’t seem to be on the list.

    The world is pretty unfair, isn’t it?

    1. H.M says:

      So the question would be, who’s fault is it that the “fun” guy is on the chopping block? Might be because PEOPLE ARENT BUYING THEIR GAMES

      1. Chargone says:

        to be fair, plenty of people hate EA for other reasons.

        this, for example:

        also: large percentages of the human population of this planet are of below average intelligence. (funny that <_<)

  7. Johan says:

    I didn’t see how that could be a funny joke… then I saw the last panel :D.

  8. Robyrt says:

    My first thought halfway through the comic was “Is this going to be a joke about the PlayStation Home?” Then I realized the last word was “Overuse” and not “Excess.”

  9. Kdansky says:

    I loved this comic. Your writing is still brilliant and you manage to tell a fun joke despite the tragic news you tell.

  10. Bret says:

    So, did you see Battlefield Bad Company 2’s F.R.A.G.S. video?

    Was mildly amusing.

    Also, Valve manages to do well while avoiding being evil. I mean, Steam is an inconvenience sometimes, but they do seem to be trying to fix the problems.

  11. Nihil says:

    It explains so much if you assume Bobby Kotick is actually Dogbert.

  12. Josh R says:

    I always get a little dissapointed when I see a Dr Breen comic…
    Maybe it’s just a different humour to my tastes…

  13. Allan says:

    Maybe it’s just that I’m young, but more likely that I see the word fag thrown around so liberally and without the intention of actually being derogatory to homosexuals, that I just don’t see it as that offensive. The N-word is still rare enough that to use it is actually shocking(see, I’m scared to even mention it :) ), and dumb(the original word for a mute, someone who was unable to speak) is so far beyond liberally used that simply no one cares. I’d much rather see fag and faggot head in that direction than the other.

    1. Ramsus says:

      I disagree because dumb, meaning cannot speak makes perfect sense as an insult. You’re accusing the person you’re insulting of saying things so stupid that it’s like they aren’t actually communicating. Fag still only works as an insult because you are insulting them by essentially questioning their sexual preference. Honestly I find the N word less inherently offensive than fag simply because it’s only used to insult one group of people, not both the recipient of the insult and anyone who is gay.

      1. Davin Valkri says:

        And I somehow manage to equate “fag = cigarette (British English, colloquial)” (blame old WWI songs) and usually miss any insulting connotations the first time around. It does kinda help make online insulters run off you like water on a Teflon pan, though–they say “fag” because they’re all addicts who haven’t had their nicotine fix!

        1. ehlijen says:

          Why is implied homosexuality an insult again? I’d rather be called gay than a smoker. I am neither but only one of the two causes cancer.

        2. David V.S. says:

          The two are historically related. Male homosexuals were called “fags” by those who thought it appropriate to burn them.

  14. B.J. says:

    Well, the story I heard concerning Activision vs. Infinity Ward is a little different from the standard dialog of “Poor helpless artist being stomped on by massive EvilCorp.”

    Keep in mind:
    1. Activision owns IW and has funded all their games. IW has never had to bear the risk of failure like Blizzard in the old days or Valve.

    2. The owners of IW are millionaires.

    It seems IW didn’t really want to make MW2 but Activision told them that was the only game they’d fund. This is a reasonable proposition in the world of publisher/developer relations. MW is a wildly successful game; it’s not like they were being asked to make the sequel to Barbie Horse Adventures.

    The result was a Producers-esque attempt to make a rather broken game with an atrociously controversial level, which IW hid from Activision until it was “too late” for them to do anything about it. It seems IW was trying to ‘burn the fields’ behind them in preparation for leaving Activision employ and taking whatever talent, money, and IP they could. Activision firing them was a (legitimate!) preemptive move to protect their interests.

    Also: These guys are millionaires. Just thought I’d reiterate that.

  15. scob says:

    “This sort of hyperbole is funny when it’s coming out of the mouth of a Dilbert character”

    No, it’s not.

    When I was in school, I’d read Dilbert and I’d laugh until I cried.
    After a few years as a working engineer, I’d just cry.

  16. Gndwyn says:

    I thought you were going to work in a “no homo” joke.

  17. kmc says:

    Shamus, for my part (although you didn’t ask ;.) ), I think the joke works for a few reasons, not the least of which is that you put it in the mouth of someone who, seconds earlier, referred with laughter to the idea that the audience is there by threat of death. Like, [nervous laughter, is it a joke, is it true, OH GOD IT’S DR BREEN KEEP LAUGHING DAMMIT]. Also, please pardon my post-modern punctuation. That’s how it sounded in my head.

  18. Steve C says:

    I found this awesome short history of Activision and Bobby Kotick. The timeline starts with the merger between Activision and Blizzard.

    1. Steve C says:

      Glad that link was useful!

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