Experienced Points: Age of Kotick

By Shamus
on Oct 3, 2010
Filed under:
Column

My column last Friday was about why I think Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick is bad at his job. It’s one of the longest columns I’ve run, and I could probably say a lot more if I thought it was worthwhile. The company is filled with dysfunction that can be easily observed simply by reading headlines. Which means things most likely look a lot worse inside.

Of course, you can’t mention the man’s name without having people yell the word “greed”. Greed in this case being internet shorthand for “wants to make more money”. I cringe whenever I see this line of thinking, because it misses the point entirely.

There are two fast food restaurants in town: Valve Pizza and Activison Burgers. Valve keeps their place immaculate. The cashiers are all smiles. They’re always giving out coupons.

Right across the street, Activision Burgers offers about the same quality food for the same price. Inside, they have a beat-up dining area where half the tables are missing salt & pepper shakers. There’s a lone surly cashier at the front counter. They charge for individual ketchup packets, the bathroom door is coin-operated, the drinks are mostly ice, and they don’t have free refills on soft drinks.

Now, is the problem with Activision Burgers “greed”? I don’t think so. Sure, they cut costs and nickel & dime you in an attempt to make money. But Valve is trying to make money too. The just understand that spending a little extra on trivial stuff like salt shakers and sweeping the floor can make more money down the road. Both of these stores are “greedy”. One of them is just one-dimensional and short sighted.

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From the Archives:

  1. Tse says:

    The problem with Activision and the gaming industry as a whole is that most gamers don’t make informed decisions when buying a game, they just go to the store and get whatever strikes their fancy. This means that a game being bad, having an atrocious DRM or being unfinished without countless DLCs will not make less money because of its’ shortcomings. What producers like Activision don’t realize is that their next games will sell less because of the shortcomings of their predecessors. Most gamers may not follow gaming media, but most people can’t forget a bad purchase easily.

    • Sumanai says:

      No doubt Kotick and people like him are aware of the group of “don’t follow news, buy what seems promising”. Problem being that they’re being shortsighted about it. When those clients have enough bad experiences they’ll stop buying, but they won’t start following news. Which means that you can’t get those clients back easily, even after a complete direction change.

      Which is why modern marketing teaches to lose some money to keep clients as opposed to draining them for everything and then wasting a lot of money trying to get those clients back.

    • eri says:

      As much as I like to comfort myself to sleep every night with thoughts like this in the hopes of staving off my own suicide another day, the simple fact is that unless the next Call of Duty or Warcraft game is a major let-down (i.e. downright terrible), Activision is well in the green. And of course, monthly subscriptions and Blizzard fans who buy up any plush toy or bottle opener with a Tauren on it go a long way towards keeping Activision going.

      We’ve already seen that a supposedly sub-par (for the franchise) game like Call of Duty: World at War can still sell millions upon millions of copies, and we saw the Modern Warfare 2 “boycott” break down in half the time it took for the first guy to put that petition online. For a time, the gaming community was mobilised in a way that could have actually been significant… and it didn’t make one fucking lick of difference. Not only does this sort of thing send more money Activision’s way, it also validates their existing business model of “once sequel a year”; if they can get away with pissing off a huge number of their fans and still sell more games then ever before, then they know they can do practically anything. While the Guitar Hero franchise has arguably been hurt by its relentless release cycle, I think that has more to do with a stagnation in mainstream interest in music games in general, and isn’t so much a failing of the products themselves. Either way, it hasn’t stopped Activision from “rebooting” Guitar Hero with Warriors of Rock.

      Fun fact on that, by the way: Brutal Legend was dropped by Activision after Double Fine refused to turn the game into another Guitar Hero entry. Activision tried their best to sue Double Fine into the dirt, Double Fine won… and now a year later we have a Guitar Hero game that almost totally rips off the entire theme/aesthetic of Brutal Legend. “Innovation” indeed, Bobby.

      • bit says:

        “Fun fact on that, by the way: Brutal Legend was dropped by Activision after Double Fine refused to turn the game into another Guitar Hero entry. Activision tried their best to sue Double Fine into the dirt, Double Fine won… and now a year later we have a Guitar Hero game that almost totally rips off the entire theme/aesthetic of Brutal Legend. “Innovation” indeed, Bobby.”

        Wow, really? No wonder Schafer was so pissed after.

        • Steve C says:

          It’s really hard to feel sorry for developers who feel mistreated by Activision. Kotick is in a full pimp suit and all his girls have black eyes. And a developer gets into bed with him because “he’ll be different with me.”

          • SatansBestBuddy says:

            That metaphor is horrible and you should feel bad.

            A lot of those companies were operating for years under different publishers, and those publishers were bought out by Vivendi then combined into the horrific beast that is ActivsionBlizzard, upon which time they were promptly gutted, closing down at least a dozen studios and keeping all the IP for themselves, while the studios that do remain have had most of their staff fired and replaced seemingly on a whim.

            Your last game sold poorly? Everybody keeps their job and is expected to try harder. Your last game sold well? Excellent, here’s you pink sheet, we need to fire about 50 of you guys so we can bring in another 100 people.

            Most developers would be pissed when that happens to them, and looking back I think that’s happened to nearly every single studio under Activisions control, but very few choose to partner with Activision themselves, with Bungie being the sole exception I can think of.

      • Sumanai says:

        Boycotts are not brought up by the people who don’t follow gaming sites. Those who don’t follow stop buying when they feel let down, but since they don’t follow news they don’t know where the current level of improvements actually are. Which means that sequels have to, like you said, fail badly to drive them off. But the thing is, when those clients are lost they’re truly lost. They don’t make empty threats online, they don’t whine and complain either publicly or to the company’s mail, they just won’t buy anything. Which makes it very difficult for the company to find out why, so the most likely won’t.

        The problems are that:
        a) This takes time. Sometimes a very long time, since a lot of companies are capable of keeping the quality just high enough not to piss off the majority. And people, as we all know, aren’t known for their demand for high quality content.
        b) The company, and media, is most likely to blame it all on pirates instead of actually bothering to find out the real reason. Then they waste a lot of money on DRM and cry that spending money doesn’t automatically bring them more money.

  2. Jattenalle says:

    Do the burgers come with some kind of activation system before I can eat them?

  3. kikito says:

    Loved the article, and loved the pizza vs burgers analogy.

    I have to say, though, that I haven’t had any Valve pizzas since Activision started producing that new Zergling Burger. With Terran ketchup and Protoss fries. Mmmm so delicious.

    But yeah, that’s not really Activision. I’d have preferred that Blizzard sided up with Valve instead of with them.

  4. X2-Eliah says:

    Oh Shamus, you greedy bastard. It’s always about ‘money, money, money’ for you, eh?

    On a very much more serious note, I absolutely agree – complaining about a business being greedy is like complaining about a shark eating meat – it is the entire point of the thing.

    • omicron says:

      Hasn’t stopped some people complaining about PEOPLE eating meat…

      • unnamednpc says:

        Right, because, just like sharks, people are all lonesome, highly specialized predators who inhabit and are restricted to a clearly demarcated niche in a single environment, instead of you know, friggin’ people.
        Omnivore? Free will? Self determination? Nope, never herd of it…

        • Viktor says:

          Please avoid political topics here. I really want to respond, but any response I write will incite a flamewar. There are numerous points against veganism, and I’ll gladly argue it in another setting, but this is a nice site and I don’t want to destroy it.

          • Shamus says:

            Yeah this thread went to a weird place. I’m a quasi-vegetarian myself (I eat fish, is that still vegetarian? I don’t actually know how the groups are named) but I’m careful to respect other people and the choices they make. I certainly don’t look down on people for being 100% vegan or from having rare steak. I don’t see why anyone should fight about this.

            • Raygereio says:

              “I eat fish, is that still vegetarian?”
              Yes and no. So called “semi-vegetarians” (yes, that is real term) exploit the meaning of the word “meat”. Meat means the flesh of an animal. Meat also is used by the food industry to mean the flesh of mammals. This generally results in morons loudly proclaiming themselves as vegetarians in restaurants – to make themselves look ‘hip’ or ‘environmentally aware’, or something stupid like that – right before ordering some chicken or salmon.

              So are you a vegetarian? Technically yes. Though if you were to announce yourself as such in any setting I will throw a fork in your general direction.

              • omicron says:

                Ok, I’m really going after PETA up there, not vegetarians. I was one myself for a little while (a vegetarian, not a PETA employee) and have nothing against that choice, as a rule.

                • unnamednpc says:

                  I didn’t mean to come off as too much of a raging rantdick, and I didn’t mean to attack anyone or the way they spend their lunchbreak. I’m a pretty strict vegetarian myself, but even I get tired of the holier-than-thou, missionary attitude some of “us” fling around. On the other hand, if I got a nickel for every time I have to deal with some “funny” or even downright condescending remarks for the way I live my life, well, I had a lot of nickels, I guess. So yeah, I guess I just had to vent a little there…
                  So, where were we? That Kotick guy? Hilarious!

            • Samuel Erkison says:

              I believe the word you’re looking for is pescitarian: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pescitarian

  5. Sanguine says:

    I’m finding the inference that Valve produce is of approximately the same quality as that of Activision vaguely nauseating.

  6. neothoron says:

    The impression I get from Kotick is that his statements are not aimed at video game players, but at investors, bankers, etc. that have about as much a clue about what video game players are like as he does. In that context, announcing “we’ll be extorting even more money for even less value” makes sense – he doesn’t see video game players as his customers but as a resource to be exploited.

    • Nihil says:

      That’s a really good point and I instinctively looked for the +1 button. I’ve checked out a few of his notorious statements (using the links in Shamus’ article) and indeed, one was made in a Wall Street Journal interview, another at the Bank of America, a third “during the Acti-Blizz earnings call”, etc.

      It makes me wonder if he is even aware that all the stuff he says to excite fat capitalist cats who’ll be the first against the w highly professional investors and asset managers also ends up being regularly heard by not just a (probably) small percentage of his revenue source, but much more importantly by the entire gaming media establishment.

      Major film studios are almost certainly as much if not more callous, conservative and short-term profit-oriented, but their managers’ nefarious plans rarely if ever make the news.

      • Sumanai says:

        I think you meant to say “all the stuff he says to excite a bunch of mindless jerks who’ll be the first against the w

        We’ve got a geeky reference quota to meet here, you know.

      • eri says:

        Oh, you can bet he knows. He also doesn’t give a shit. As an executive he’s making far too much money to care when someone calls him out on these sorts of statements. If anything, we can partially blame the gaming press for having an obsession with bashing the guy, because you would hear a lot of similar stuff from the executives of THQ, EA, etc. at their investor meetings. Bobby Kotick makes headlines – for the wrong reasons maybe – and nearly anything he says these days can be used as a story against him. Gamers dislike him, and rightly so, but I bet they’d feel just as upset with other companies if they knew that the people running them were just as callous. They just don’t have the paparazzi following them around and hanging on their every word.

    • Sumanai says:

      Which is probably why he’s still in control. Except for the last part. Which I don’t think he cares about what players think since they don’t write his checks.

      Since a lot of investors don’t actually know much about… well, anything apparently, he just has to sound like he’s bringing in the profit and as long as Activision-Blizzard brings in large amounts of cash the investors think it’s because of, instead of despite, Kotick’s actions.

      It’s only after the company hits negative, or drops notably, that the investors will take note that something is wrong. Then they might look closer and realise that most of the potential clientele is pissed off and that Kotick is the reason. But World of Warcraft will indirectly keep Kotick’s pockets filled for a long time.

    • Mari says:

      My deportment teacher once told me, “Good manners are universal. It’s only bad manners that need be tailored for a social circle or an occasion.” I think that kind of holds here. Good statements/ideas will stand on their own with any audience. Only bad statements/ideas have to be tailored to the audience (gamers vs. bankers).

      • Shamus says:

        I’m a critic of John Riccitiello’s policies, but he’s a pretty good example of a guy who knows what he’s doing in public. His statements are usually lacking in substance, but they’re on-message and they work for pleasing both gamers and shareholders. Something like:

        “Our games are going to bring more value to gamers through a system of value-added DLC and exciting new multiplayer opportunities, which will continue to increase sales.”

        (Not an actual quote.)

        I disagree with his approach, but he sells it well on TV and I think he’s saying it in earnest.

        • Nobody particular says:

          he sells it well on TV and I think he’s saying it in earnest

          This is something that seems to puzzle me rather often these days, that people are being forgiven for, or even lauded despite, being vague or downright uninformed, because their statements are made in earnest. I feel though that someone in a key position will have to have at least some specific knowledge and is therefore either being dishonest when being vague in earnest, or uninterested when being uninformed in earnest.

          • Shamus says:

            I was just illustrating the difference between the two CEOs. I was trying to avoid going onto another anti-EA tirade so soon after an Activision tirade. And JR is at least good at SOME parts of his job.

    • (LK) says:

      This is precisely it.

      You, the Activision buyer, are not the customer. You are the product.

  7. Joshua says:

    Thank you for taking the time to talk about “greed”. I also cringe whenever that word is tossed around. Corporations(and for that matter, most individuals that work) wish to make as much money as possible. Interestingly enough, many of the companies that failed were also accused of being “greedy”. The question should not be “Is this company trying to make more money?”, but rather “Is this company trying to make money ethically?”.

    • X2-Eliah says:

      I have a theory. Greed is wanting to get money and failing to do so.

      • Steve C says:

        Good business is selling as much value you can.
        Greed is extracting as much value you can from something.

      • Mari says:

        No, because every journalist will tell you that Exxon-Mobil is greedy and so far they do not fail at making money. Matter of fact, the more money they make the “greedier” they seem to get. Post record earnings? Those are some seriously greedy people!

        No, “greed” is just a trigger-word for who we’re supposed to hate. Anyone in the business of making money who goes on the “do not like” list becomes “greedy” from bums on the street to charities to mega-corps.

    • tremor3258 says:

      Scott Adams of Dilbert once described capitalism as a ‘billion weasels trying to hose each other,’ which strikes me as having a lot of truth to it. Everyone’s trying to make money.

      The follow-up to this was he was amazed it works.

      Greed’s on the sin list so it gets tossed around as a buzzword; some company with a huge profit margin tends to strike people as there’s ‘something’ they’re doing that isn’t quite playing by the same ruleset that everyone else is, even when they are, and so people’s hackles are up to start.

  8. Simon says:

    The difference is in how the people running the company identifies themselves with the company.

    The folks who run Valve sees themselves as Valve. They take pride in the company’s success. They want Valve customers to like Valve and continue to be customers for the future. Therefore, they care about their customers and their product experience. Valve’s success is their success. They are in it for the long haul, if not the rest of their lives.

    Kotick sees Activision as an investment. He doesn’t actually care about the company or its customers. What is important to him is that Activision generates as much wealth as possible in the immediate term for him and the shareholders. If his decisions dooms Activision to self-destruct in 5-10 years, he can walk away before that. He can then move to his new job and the collapse of the company becomes the problem for his successors. And he keeps his reputation – he has done good for himself and the investors (who did not loose out). He therefore makes all the right choices from that perspective.

    Who is running the company and how they identify with it totally colours how company decisions are made. Kotick is extremely good at his job as CEO; he *will* generate the maximum wealth for himself and shareholders within the time-frame they look at. The long term, gamers, developers, etc, are unimportant in his practical worldview and so should be sacrificed to achieve his goals. I don’t like it, but that is our current business/econimical system.

    • Henri de Lechatelier says:

      I’m not sure I agree. I think Activision could be making a lot more money if they had someone in charge with a clue. People will only buy so many Call of Duty titles per year (it seems to be about 1), but that’s far less than the total number of games people are interested in buying. Therefore, if the only things you sell are sequels to successful franchises, you are unlikely to significantly increase the total number of titles sold, and therefore in your earnings. That’s bad.

      People, however, will buy more than one shooter per year. By not tapping into their demand for new titles, you are, as the economists say, leaving money on the table. This is money that Activision could be earning, but by their decisions has instead foregone.

      • Simon says:

        I agree with what you say that he really should be building a stronger customer base, etc. That is how things *should* work. But the “market” isn’t something that always makes sense on the individual scale.

        Investors there days often don’t necessarily understand what they are investing in, and don’t actually care. So they often respond in ways that don’t make sense to you and me and THAT is what Kotick is good at understanding and base his strategies on.

        It’s a weird disconnect between where the money comes from and what the money actually does.

        • eri says:

          It’s not even a case of investors not really caring where money goes. The vast majority of trading is done via computers and happens in fractions of pennies, constantly going back and forth between investments. Companies write software designed to find trends and outwit other software, to the point where they exploit every potential increase in earnings and minimise losses, to an extent that is far, far beyond what any human is capable of doing alone. High speed trading has totally changed the way that business is done and it can in many cases totally ruin companies simply because they didn’t realise they were being literally nickled and dimed to death.

        • Mari says:

          Is that why the news that India would be dumping millions of pounds of cotton on the open market in December has driven cotton stocks up? I’ve been trying to figure that out for a couple of weeks now. It makes no sense in any economic model I can think of but somehow supply exceeding demand is driving stocks UP.

          • Soylent Dave says:

            The ‘record cotton harvest’ forecast hasn’t taken into account the monsoon in the cotton regions of India; the Indians are worried that they won’t actually have enough cotton for themselves, and have restricted exports (worsened by the fact that in previous years they’ve been exporting far more than just their surplus cotton, so they don’t exactly have reserves).

            So even though supply might well exceed demand when the harvest is all tallied, at the moment we’ve got a bit of a shortage (possibly exacerbated by the fact that everyone was expecting a bumper crop of Indian cotton, so other cotton producers have sold off their stock early or not produced as much in the first place).

            Hence, prices have shot up. Until the Indian textile industry decides whether they can afford to export their harvest or not.

            • Mari says:

              Good to know! Thanks for the info. It’s kind of neat the wide variety of knowledge tidbits that can be gleaned reading Shamus’ blog comments.

              I’m a (reluctant) American cotton farmer’s wife (reluctant about the farming, not the marriage – he was in IT when we married, a nice office job with mostly regular hours and salary that doesn’t lead to the use of pine-based solvents in the laundry) so I catch one side of the conversation with cotton but not always the other side, if you see what I mean. I wasn’t at all aware of the monsoons.

  9. UtopiaV1 says:

    Money talks, and 10 years down the road we’ll see which company is still around and pumping out quality titles. It’s too much to hope for that other games company managers see what happens to Activision-Blizzard and learn from it, as they are above such petty ideals such as ‘market research’ and ‘customer feedback’.

  10. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I have to strongly disagree with your examples in 1st point:

    We already have disks with soundtracks from movies and games,so why not disks that sell only cinematics?Especially if those cinematics are pretty good.This is a good thing.And by simply adding commentaries you could sell these easily.Im surprised this hasnt appeared sooner.

    So what if starcraft is chopped up into 3 games?We still dont know what other things the other two chapters will include.And its not something others arent doing.Assassins creed is a trilogy in three games.Does that mean each chapter shouldnt be more than an expansion?Plus this one single campaign for terrans offers more replayability than all three campaigns of the original starcraft.And in this day and age when all kind of crap is released as a full game,chopping up a single game into three parst just so you could make each part have more content is a plus.

    I could also comment something along similar lines for modern warfare,but Im not into that franchise,so am not as informed.

    So calling this nickel and diming is false.Especially when we have ea releasing the same 3 games every year for top dollar.

    The rest,I agree with.A ceo shouldnt have these kinds of conflicts with his employs and customers.Its just bad.

    Oh,and a small nitpick:Assassins creed didnt start out as a non sequel.

    • Shamus says:

      “So what if starcraft is chopped up into 3 games?”

      Stopped me from buying it. Not in a “OMG BOYCOTT” sort of way, but a, “Crap, I’m not spending $180 on Starcraft 2.” I don’t care how “big” the game is. I care that it will feel complete when I’m done. Maybe it’s worth that much to you, but not to me. Again, this is Activision trying to drag prices upward. I maintain that Valve is being smarter, and if they had SC2 they could make more money with it than Activision is.

      “Oh,and a small nitpick:Assassins creed didnt start out as a non sequel.”

      So what was it a sequel to?

      • Shamus says:

        And before you nitpick again: I’m aware that they’re talking about selling the other two-thirds of SC2 at lower prices. But I don’t want to buy into the series until I know what I’m getting and how much it will cost. I only have so many gaming dollars, and their tactics have convinced me to spend them elsewhere.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Thats your personal decision.But it doesnt make the tactic nickel and diming.Both assassins creed and dawn of war are using the same tactic.Compare any of these three franchises with fifa or nba and tell me then which ones are cheap sequel grinding.Not to mention that this tactic isnt exclusive to games either.Ive recently bought firstborn,third book in the time odyssey series.And this was also a trilogy from the get-go.And you are saying this is just a cheap way of milking more money from something that shouldve been made whole in the begining.Or how about the lord of the rings movies?Should that have been just a single movie?The point is that when you have a huge story,chopping it into pieces is better than selling it as a whole.Thats not nickel and diming,thats managing a huge project.

          As for assassins creed,what I meant that it was planned as a trilogy,not as a stand alone game that had sequels planned afterwards.

          EDIT:Let me give you another perspective on this issue:Youve bought civv even though you know that there will be an expansion and that what youve bought is not the full game.You dont have all the leaders that will exist in the end,you dont have all the gameplay elements,but you still got it.So youre not actually angry with the game being chopped into 3,but because the company(or rather its ceo)has bad reputation,and has poor pr.

          • Randy Johnson says:

            Civ V isn’t story based, your argument is hilariously moot.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              You know,I wanted to say that,but then Ive remembered civilopedia,and all those fun and vast entries on various units and leaders.

              • Shamus says:

                I don’t think I follow. Are you suggesting that fanfiction on civilopedia is somehow comparable to the full-cutscene, voice-acted story of of Starcraft?

                Besides, I can read that stuff for free. If all I want is the “story” of civ I can skip buying the game. This is an apples-to-asteroids comparison.

                • Daemian Lucifer says:

                  No,the two games have different focuses,and the expansions for the two will therefore differ widely.One will have an expanded gameplay and minor story tweaks,the other will have an expanded story and minor gameplay and balance tweaks.That still makes them comparable when it comes to vanilla vs fully expanded game.Its your preference whether you want to give your money for more story or for more gameplay.It doesnt make them different from a busyness perspective.

          • Stupidguy12 says:

            A movie has a maximum run time (your patience), while a video game has the stage for as long as it’s interesting. If they could cram all of the parts into one disk and sell it at once, that would be better than making people buy two additional copies of the game with different stories and one or two addon units.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              You can pause a dvd at any point and continue it later,so why not sell lord of the rings as a single dvd then?It can be compressed,so size is not the problem.

              • krellen says:

                Size is a problem. The format we store videos and pictures in already tend to be compressed; very little extra compression can be put into them without losing data. And even with current technology, a high-definition 3 hour movie is still going to take up a lot of data space – 3 to 4 gigs worth, approximately. And DVDs are only capable of holding about 4.5 gigs.

                That’s why movies like Lord of the Rings can’t be on a single disk. It’s absolutely an issue of size.

        • Amarsir says:

          Shamus, while I completely understand your point, from the outside it seems like you’re in the opposite position you were for L4D2 – where some said it seemed like an overpriced expansion pack and you were fine with it.

          And heck, part of me wonders if HL2 really needed to be 3 episodes. (Although that has apparently given them an extra decade to make the third.)

          The point being that perhaps this is a case where perception equals reality. The same game could be a legitimate piece or a cash-grab spinoff based purely on the company’s image and marketing of it. Which again means Kotick isn’t doing himself any favors.

          • Shamus says:

            Well, it’s a bit different since, again, L4D isn’t really a story game. Or at least, there’s no need to worry you’ll be “left hanging” in a story sense.

            But yes, I’m sure it is about perception. I feel like SC is part of a game for full price, which is how they’re selling it. If they called them “episodes” or “expansions” then we’d know what we’re dealing with. Episodes stand alone. Expansions require the base game. Episodes are close to full price. Expansions are $30 to $40. So which is it? What am I getting and for how much and am I going to be happy at the end? Ah screw it. I’ll just buy something else.

            • Steve C says:

              Your reasons sound kind of pedantic, which strangely enough only STRENGTHENS your argument. You are a lost sale which could have been won if Activision had marketed the same material in a slightly different way. That means that managers took a good product and sold it so poorly you refused to buy.

              BTW I’m right there with you. I also would like to get SC2 but won’t because the pills included just look too bitter to swallow.

              • Fenix says:

                This sums up my feeling exactly. Thank you for putting a difficult thought in a short concise and easy to understand statement.
                It’s been difficult for me to describe to my friends why I wont buy SCII. This fixes that. Thanks.

            • pinchy says:

              I also really can’t help but feel that it’s more of a marketing problem than anything else. I mean I happily paid full price for Mass Effect 1, 2 and will for 3 when it comes out even though they are still only separate parts of Shepard’s story. I enjoyed Starcraft 2 and probably received a similar (if not greater) level of enjoyment and playtime out of it than Mass Effect 2. Yet even with (what is to me at least) ludicrously overpriced DLC (that is made even worse by the fact that it carries on the story of Liara who was the love interest of my first Shepard) ME still feels more reasonable than Starcraft does.

              I feel horribly confused over this and I don’t know why- the game that I like more, played more and that I feel isn’t trying to nickel and dime me is actually coming across as being less reasonable in terms of the way it was sold.

              • Stupidguy12 says:

                I think the reason that people will and have bought the Mass Effect series is because each one is different, well rounded, and stand up on their own. You could play any of the games in the series and minus some references, the plot would make sense.

            • Simon Buchan says:

              This “part of a game” philosophy only really makes sense if you are talking about the story. Let me make the value proposition on that clear: If you are only in this for their one-upping Tarsonis, well… they don’t. There is a stupid and somewhat fanfic-esque main plotline, and a 3 independant B-stories about minor characters which are both better, and fully resolved, though I feel they are not quite fleshed out enough.

              Even as someone who loved Starcraft 1 pretty much only for it’s story, I couldn’t care less though: the story missions are incredibly fun, easily the best RTS mission design i’ve played (anything by Westwood or Blizzard). And I’ve actually found multiplayer incredibly fun. Insanely hard, but it’s great.

              EDIT – Re-reading this, it sounds like I’m trying to sell SC2. I apologize for that :/. Just to be clear on my point, if you are not interested in RTS gameplay at all, this is *not* the game for you, because it’s storyline is not terribly interesting, even for someone who likes the universe. The whole (main) plotline can be condensed into “Kerrigan is important” plus the BIG TWIST CLIFFHANGER!!!!1! (Plus the overmind thing I guess, but thats more a retcon than a revelation)

              But if you even kind of like RTS gameplay, this is easily the best example i’ve ever seen.

              • Shamus says:

                Thanks. You know, I wouldn’t say that I play Startcraft for the story. At the same time, I hate being left hanging. I don’t mind leaving some threads open for future installments, but if there is a story and it doesn’t go anywhere then it will get on my nerves, even if it’s not why I’m playing.

                I’m sure I will get it eventually, but it’s really expensive. And actually, I don’t mind that the game launched with an unusually high price tag. I can see a lot of fans liked the game enough that they didn’t mind the expense. If Activision were smart they would work that price down to $20 over the next couple of years. Eventually it would hit the mid-range price and I’d get it. Then it would hit the low-end and non-fans would pick it up because, hey, twenty bucks, right?

                But I expect that price won’t come down any time soon.

                • Ernheim says:

                  Yeah, good luck with that… Maybe it’s just Australia being totally unreasonable as usual, but Blizzard games really keep their prices up. Warcraft 3 battlechest is still $80 here!

                • Daemian Lucifer says:

                  The story is pretty much resolved.What is left open is the same thing left open by the first game:Xel naga nad their plan.Though this time we dont get just a bonus mission hinting at them,but a few huge and very interesting bonus missions displaying how powerful these hybrids really are.

                  And I admit,I am one of those that got the game first because of the story,and second because of gameplay.Now Im glad because gameplay in starcraft 2 is the best Ive seen in an rts.Yes,multiplayer is the same as in 1(with just a few minor tweaks),but single player is at least an order of magnitude better.The story is pretty much the same(which is a good thing),only told a bit better this time.

                  And I really am looking forward to your eventual deconstruction of the game once you get it.

                • pinchy says:

                  Really hope you pick it up at some stage, I’m sure that a really interesting series of articles would come out of it. Yes, it’s silly, no I don’t know why I’m attacking with a handful of infantry when I have a battlecruiser in orbit either, but the campaign missions are just so fun. They have managed to shake up the standard build stuff, kill other stuff gameplay without detracting from the core premise of the game.

                  Really interested to see how they price SC2 over time. If the zerg + protoss campaigns are expansions then I can see the original coming down to a reasonable price, if they’re stand-alone products then I’m less confident of that happening anytime soon.

          • bit says:

            Note that what I’m about to say comes from zero starcraft knowledge.

            The difference between SC2 and HL2, is that each of the Episodes, from a design point of view, was a complete experience. Each one had a perfect mix of puzzles, combat, environmental setpieces, and so on, introducing all features within them gradually and appropriately for that individual experience. From a design point of view, each Episode could be viewed as a mini-HL2, with all features intact and used to their fullest within the shorter time span. Not expansions of HL2, simply smaller alternatives.

            Wings of Liberty, however, is completely opposite. It has all the tools, all the design elements needed to have the Zerg and Protoss campaigns. Does it? Nope. It doesn’t even have the slight decency to sell them as DLC. Instead it sells them as entirely different games, which are 50% identical to each other.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              Well,no.Wings of liberty is just as same as hl2ep1.It has the same mix of combat,puzzles and story,and introduces all the features gradually.Plus it hints the awesome power of the xel naga,just like episodes have hinted the power of the advisors.So it can be viewed as sc2ep1.

              So the only problem I see is that people want them to call these episodes,and they call them stand alone expansions.

              • bit says:

                Yeah, but HL2 doesn’t include an identical multiplayer for identical, full price across the board. HL2 doesn’t have the features sitting unused in the previous game.

                • pkt-zer0 says:

                  Isn’t that because HL2 doesn’t even have much of a multiplayer part to it? I’m not sure what “unused features” you’re referring to, either.

                • Will says:

                  SC2 lacks the features to produce Zerg and Protoss campaigns in the style of the Terran campaign. It has all the core game Zerg and Protoss units, but if you’ve played the campaign you know that there is far more in there than merely the core Terran units.

                • Daemian Lucifer says:

                  How do you know it will include identical multiplayer?You have all three?

                  Plus what Will said.

                • pneuma08 says:

                  Actually, they’ve publicly stated that it’s going to be expansion-like on the multiplayer side of things. That is, Heart of the Swarm is to SC2 what Brood War was to SC.

                  SC2 single player also has a fair amount of units and buildings that aren’t available in multi (not just hero units either) or customizable in ways that aren’t available in multi.

                  That said, in all honesty I’d be VERY disappointed if HotS and LotV end up just dumping all the extra units, buildings, and “research” into multi. Then it would be pretty clear that they just split up the game in a weird, asymmetric way in order to get more money.

            • acronix says:

              If you see Starcraft 2 Trilogy-thing as enterely multiplayer, then yes, each part will be just an expensive expansion pack. However, there´s enough work in the singleplayer campaign to argue otherwise. Wings of Liberty comes with “bonus” assets for when the main character “moves” around the ship which are higher quality than the units you see in the missions. It also comes with extra units, unique to the campaign, with models that aren´t used in multiplayer (except in custom maps). These units are also enterily terran (except for a couple of models).
              The story has also a much grander scope than that of Half-Life (even though both are basically “save the world!” types); there are paralel mission-lines that concentrate on different conflicts that have an effect on how you´ll play the subsequent missions. There´s around 30 total mission, which is, if I recall correctly, the size the original Starcraft used for the three races together.

              I agree, though, that the game will be 50% identical to each other. But Half-Life episodes were too.

        • But that did not stop people from buying Wing Commander games. The tradition was one main game and two lower costs expansions per game. Now that broke down, but it looks like what they are trying to do with Starcraft.

      • pkt-zer0 says:

        I don’t recall you complaining about the Mass Effect trilogy. Why is it okay to split that game up into three parts, but not Starcraft 2? Being an RPG, I’d think it naturally has a larger focus on story, too.

        As for this being Activision’s doing: I seriously doubt it. Then the game would’ve been released two years ago, with just the 15 or so missions per race that they had. Here’s a Dustin Browder interview where he justifies the choice to split the game.

        • X2-Eliah says:

          There is a distinction between three mission packs for the same game and three games, no?

          • pkt-zer0 says:

            No distinction that would seem relevant to be mentioned here. Episodes of both are “incomplete”, and you’ll have to spend more than the price of one game to get the full experience. Actually, conceiving Mass Effect as a trilogy right from the start seems more in line with Kotick’s vision of “exploiting a franchise annually”.

            • pinchy says:

              Agree that theres no real difference between the two in terms of the game. It just seems everyone’s ok with paying full price three times because it came out on console too- if it was pc only like Starcraft then I can’t help but feel that people (including myself) would think differently.

              • Will says:

                Actually i think it’s more in line with the fact that the first Starcraft was not a triology, and initially SC2 wasn’t either, SC2 becoming a trilogy in and of itself came as a surprise to a lot of gamers, which caused an unthinking knee-jerk “I hate it for being different!” reaction. Then, rather than admit they were wrong, they proceeded to come up with personal justifications like Shamus clearly has; incorrect justification, but sufficient for their own personal reasons.

                This isn’t actually surprising, we’re talking basic Human psychology here. If you change something or do something unexpected you will always cause at least a small percentage of people to suffer from that reaction. It’s just a fact of dealing with people.

                • Aldowyn says:

                  The problem with SCII is that everyone was expecting a game with 3 campaigns, one for each race, and we only got one. Okay, it’s the same length, with more replayability and all around awesomeness… but I still can’t play single player as the Protoss, and won’t be able to for who knows how long. Probably years.

                  And comparing ME2 to CoD or any of Activision’s other cash cow’s just doesn’t work. It’s had an end in site since the very first game! It’ll probably end up a lot like Halo: 3 core titles in sequence, and several spin-offs.

                • Will says:

                  On the note of how long it’ll be until the other 2 installments to come out; i’m pretty sure Blizzard said that Heart of the Swarm would be 2011, with the Protoss one which i can’t remember the name of being 2012.

                • Daemian Lucifer says:

                  @Aldowyn:

                  There is a pretty extensive bunch of protoss missions in the campaign,plus you can always play skirmish and user made maps with full zerg and protoss units.The only thing you wont be getting is the other two sides of the story,cool between mission things and mini games specific to the two expansions,and some unique units that will appear there.Everything that came with wings of liberty can be implemented in custom maps.And believe me,that is massive content.

                  Also,starcraft 2 has an end in sight as well.So it is just the same as mass effect,only you know that there wont be dumbing down of exploration like in me2.

                • omicron says:

                  I think maybe part of the issue is the timing.

                  When Mass Effect was made, it was made (is being made) as a series of three individual games. This makes it more palatable as a trilogy from the beginning.

                  When the Half-Life episodes were announced, they were announced after the standard game was out the door and finished. They were clearly “expansions”, priced as such, and agreeable thanks to that.

                  Blizzard is, for all intents and purposes, treating its two additional campaigns as expansion packs in the gaming media. Thing is, expansion packs are released for games that have already been released, in order to give a ravenous fanbase MORE stuff. It’s feeding an identified hunger. What Blizzard did, in this context, smacks of arrogance.

                  What Blizzard did by splitting up the campaign ahead of launch was to take a featureset associated with an episodic gameplay – a set story arc divided into portions and distributed over time – and price the first section, at least, at the price of a full game (and then some!) It doesn’t matter that the game has 29 missions. It feels wrong – it feels like a set of three episodic games that Blizzard is treating like a full-priced game and two expansion packs (that may or may not be episodic in pricerange). Episodic games typically add up to the price of a full game – and by pricing its episodes this high, Blizzard is saying that StarCraft II, the original unedited director’s cut, was going to be worth upwards of $100. That rubs me the wrong way, and I think it does the same for a lot of other people.

                • Daemian Lucifer says:

                  @Shamus
                  Yup.You can play skirmish as either race.

                  @omicron
                  I would argue that full starcraft 2 is worth $100+.Especially when compared to,say,halo:odst and similar expansions priced as full games.

                • Will says:

                  That’s what people like to think Blizzard did. What they actually did was realise that the story the game they wanted to make was too big for one single undertaking and in a moment of intelligent design practice decided to chop out the extra bits.

                  The SC2 parts are literally preplanned expansion packs. Nothing more.

                  It’s not an episodic game; you have the game, it’s there. It’s an episodic story. And i don’t see anyone complaining when the individual books that make up the Lord of the Rings are each sold for the price of a WHOLE BOOK!

                  The vast majority of the complaints i see on this subject are more about people who had a false sense of entitlement; that Blizzard owed them something, rather than any real reason to be upset.

                • pkt-zer0 says:

                  @Aldowyn:
                  The problem with SCII is that everyone was expecting a game with 3 campaigns, one for each race, and we only got one.

                  Sure. But if the choice is between 3 shorter and lower quality campaigns now, or 3 longer and better campaigns over a couple of years, going with the latter is the proper choice, if quality is what you’re looking for.

                  @Will: First expansion in 2011 Dec, second in 2013 July, going by the projected 18 months of devtime. They’ll likely end up delaying things, though.

                  @omicron: So, what you’re saying is that a “set story arc divided into portions” is okay when you call it a trilogy, but not when they’re expansions. Uhh… what?

  11. Andy_Panthro says:

    When I read your piece, I was reminded of a guy that will be very familiar to folks like me from the UK and Ireland.

    That man is Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary.

    In order to gain extra publicity, Ryanair and in particular Mr. O’Leary have tried every trick in the book.

    He’s suggested people pay for toilets on planes, have standing areas, no co-pilots and all sorts of other measures.

    Some are just publicity stunts, but they do charge you for everything they can get away with.

    Generally though, they are quite cheap, so people use them in their droves. No matter what crazy things he says, the company is still doing well.

    You know what they say, all publicity is good publicity…

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/sep/14/ryanair-pilot-replace-michael-oleary

    • krellen says:

      Unfortunately, Activision games aren’t cheaper than their competitors’, so they can’t be bat-shit crazy and still make money based off bargain-hunting, unlike Ryanair.

  12. John Magnum says:

    Briefly, I considered boycotting Activision. Not necessarily Blizzard-Activision as a whole, since my understanding is that Blizzard is still run very independently on the development side. So just Activision. After all, there’s a lot to dislike about Activision, and I might as well at least TRY to be principled and vote with my dollars and not buy their games.

    What games are those, anyway? I surfed over to their site to look at what I’d be missing out on.

    The one game I might’ve actually bought at some point was Call of Duty: Black Ops, and I was heavily on the fence about that game to begin with. Everything else–DJ Hero, Guitar Hero, licensed games–I simply had no interest in getting to begin with.

    So, yeah, I learned that it’s hard to boycott a company when you wouldn’t buy their products in the first place.

    • krellen says:

      If you want to hurt Activision, you have to boycott Blizzard. Activision isn’t going to look at their Blizzard/non-Blizzard profits and decide the non-Blizzard side is doing things wrong, it’s just going to look at its overall profits, including the Blizzard side.

      WoW is a ridiculous font of money; it single-handedly brought Vivendi back into the black, and now it is single-handedly keeping Activision’s jerkass behaviour afloat. So long as you keep excusing Blizzard from Activision’s antics because “it is independent”, Activision will never get the message.

      • acronix says:

        Sometimes the sacrifice of a (sort of) innocent is needed!

      • John Magnum says:

        Fair enough. Unfortunately, it still ends up not being a particularly powerful boycott, since there are also hardly any Blizzard games I care about. WoW I’m not going to subscribe too–Shamus has covered the issue where you feel obligated to play, and I don’t want to mess with that. Starcraft I didn’t much care for, and Starcraft II seems to be aimed very squarely at the millions of Starcraft 1 players. Diablo III is kind of intriguing, but it’s pretty easy for me to decide not to buy it.

        It’s sadly really not much of a statement when I’m just going “Okay, those two games I was sort of interested in? I’ll pass those up.”

        • pkt-zer0 says:

          Starcraft I didn’t much care for, and Starcraft II seems to be aimed very squarely at the millions of Starcraft 1 players.

          Well, that depends on what you mean by that. I thought Starcraft 1’s campaign was rubbish as far as gameplay is concerned, and I was discouraged from the multiplayer due to the unwieldy interface. I enjoyed watching pros play the game, however, as the game’s core concepts appealed to me. So I wouldn’t really consider myself a SC1 player, but I ended up liking SC2 quite a bit.

      • Jarenth says:

        This does sort of imply that boycotting Activision is pretty much impossible. There are thousands, maybe millions of WoW subscribers who don’t consider themselves ‘gamers’ in any sense, but who will play WoW every night — my landlord and his wife, for instance. These people don’t know about Activision, don’t care about Activision, and aren’t looking at or concerned about the future of the games industry. They just want to play their fun game.

        As long as what you say holds true (and I have no doubt that it does) Activision is going to stay afloat no matter what future-conscious gamers do.

        • Will says:

          It is impossible. The only way Activision-Blizzard is ever going to see any impact on it’s profits is when someone eventually breaks WoW.

          It will happen, but it might not happen for many, many years yet.

          Just think about it; WoW has somewhere in the realm of ~15 million subscribers at the moment, every one of those subscribers is given Blizzard at least 15 dollers every month. So at the absolute minimum, with no extra things sold, Blizzard earns 225 million dollars every month.

          That alone is enough to keep a pretty massive buisness afloat without anything else. Count all the other money Activision-Blizzard makes through other games, accessories etc. and it becomes immediately ovbious that World of Warcraft absolutely must go before Activision-Blizzard will see any impact on profits.

          • Vekni says:

            Kinda sloppy math Will. Blizz doesn’t release exact subscription numbers, but I can tell you authoritatively from the inside that there are NOT 15 million subscribers. Even if there were, accounts are activated, canceled, reactivated, banned, etc every day making it a very fluctuating number.

            Also, $15/month is the highest rate, so players are paying AT MOST $15/month (people who buy time in bulk get slight discounts); not counting Blizz employees and their friends/family who get wonderful things like 25 year gift subscription cards, but that only accounts for….hundreds? A few thousand accounts tops? Not enough to detract from the math, but something to be considered.

            Then ALSO consider:how many subscribers, no matter the number, are/were in China or elsewhere that Blizzard doesn’t do business directly but must go through a third party who also takes a chunk of the change.

            THEN there’s the exchange rate to be considered, for nonAmerican customers.

            In short, even if I didn’t have access to some of the numbers to disprove that the fact that business income isn’t as simple as subscription number times players equals profits discredits that. They DO pull in a hefty 100+ million a month, though, I grant you that much! I wish I could state an exact number, but it is unknown to many. :(

            • Jarenth says:

              Bad math or no, the point still stands.

              The point in this case being “World of Warcraft is making Activision-Blizzard more money per month than most of us will ever glimpse in a lifetime, and it’s keeping Activision’s otherwise horrible business model afloat all by itself.”

              • Will says:

                Pretty much, the 225 million figure was effectively pulled out of my ass; i can be extremely confidant that Blizzard is making far in excess of that, although i can also be sure they sink a fair bit of that profit back into themselves.

                Even so, i suspect that Blizzard is still profitable enough to keep Activision afloat all by itself; and that’s completely discounting the fact that Activision is still making money too.

                We can scream and rant and rage at Activision all we want, at the end of the day, the company is profitable, and that’s all that matters.

              • pneuma08 says:

                I do seem to recall a Kotick quote about how only 30% of their sales are console-based; considering that Modern Warfare 2 sold ~7 million in one day, the overwhelming majority of which was on consoles, that is crazy.

            • Shamus says:

              Doh! Ninja’d. Gotta remember to read the whole thread before replying.

              I’m pretty sure their monthly profits are actually an irrational number.

            • krellen says:

              We shall henceforth refer to Blizzard’s monthly income as $more than enough.

          • Shamus says:

            Keep in mind: The 15 million number includes the Chinese WoW players, and I’m SURE those people don’t pay $15 a month. Also, you can pre-pay and get WoW for about $10 a month.

            I’d love to know what the take-home is each month, but I don’t think it’s quite that high.

            • Aldowyn says:

              None of you have included the non-subscription stuff. There are entire successful MMO’s that live off the microtransaction model, and I bet that a fair chunk of the income from WoW comes from those transactions. I’ve heard of people who spend hundreds every month on MMOs, on buffing items and things required to make weapons, and that would just get worse with the increase in scale.

              Another point is that I’m sure Activision makes almost as much, if not as much, from their yearly milking of just a few franchises. It doesn’t take many CoDs or Guitar Heroes to equal one MMO, even if it is WoW.

          • silver says:

            This is one thing that I always wondered. Whether Blizzard is pulling in $50 M a month or $250 M a month, the fact is, that’s insane money and so why the heck were they ever for sale in the first place? I mean, I get that they’re a publicly traded company and thus it’s possible to make bad decisions for them if you get 51% of the stockholders to agree to them (which would pretty much have to be through deception in Blizzard’s case), but why didn’t they soak up 51% of their own stock so that they could have the final say in whether or not they got bought? Are their expenses on the order of $49.99M or $249.99 a month or something?

            • Will says:

              They weren’t actually for sale. Vivendi; Blizzard’s parent company, made a deal with Activision to merge the two companies into one. It was a merge, not a takeover, with the goal of creating the new Activision Blizzard company which would be able to rival EA in size.

  13. Wolfwood says:

    Awe the internet would be so much less funny if he was fired. XD

    EA fucking loves this guy. Without Kotick, EA would still be the bad guys in videogame! (Remember Project $10?) But ever since Kotick stepped in, Activision have successfully pulled all the rage against EA towards themselves XD

  14. toasty_mow says:

    Here’s a question: The video game industry, despite idiots like Kotick, is huge, really huge, and its making a lot of money. A while ago, before I was born, when video games where in their infancy, there was this huge video game crash… do you think we’ll see one of these again when gamers realize their just getting the same game marketed to them ever year? Or do you think something will change… eventually… somehow.

    • Aldowyn says:

      No. Like you said, the video game industry was huge. The crash in the 80’s was from the industry trying to get too big too fast. It started out as a niche, and all of a sudden a ton of people tried to come in with bad products (Kind of like the DS, but worse), and the market crashed.

      It’s simply too big and too mainstream to do something similar now, especially if it hasn’t happened already.

      • omicron says:

        As for turning out derivative product year after year… I think the “new” factor will always be able to keep the games alive. I mean, look at movies. Most of the plots are derivative, all the stories have been told before, and the graphics have officially plateaued… but people still buy tickets. People still go to see what’s new.

        A lot of that is probably the changes in outside culture, and the ways they retrospectively affect the stories. ’80s movies, ’80s music, etc. all seem rather cheesy to those of us looking back. An ’80s movie with an updated culture could be made, today, and feel new and fresh, even if the story was old. This is going to keep on happening, decade after decade, until America is long past.

        The videogames industry has a stable future. We aren’t going to crash and burn any more than books and movies and music ever have.

    • Steve C says:

      The video game industry first crashed because… wait for it… managers thought they were selling soap. It wasn’t that the industry got too big too fast, it was that managers at the top didn’t understand what the hell they were selling. With no understanding of the games, they couldn’t tell shit product from solid gold. They churned out crap games by the landfill load. Companies treated their developers badly and they left. Ironically it was a group of poorly treated developers that founded Activision.

      Sound at all familiar?

  15. Malkar says:

    The real difference is that Valve is the family-owned little burger place. Think In-n-Out or Five Guys. Activision is BK or Mcdonalds.

    • X2-Eliah says:

      Valve-family? The only family I can think of similar to Valve would be the well-connected italian ‘family’ with a …father figure at the top, capiche?

    • Klay F. says:

      Except Five Guys is getting stupidly huge now also. Hell, we are starting to get them EVERYWHERE here in Texas now. I remember my friends up in the northeast states telling me how good they were. I tried it, and it tasted like every other burger place I’ve been to, or worse.

  16. Steve C says:

    deleted by user

  17. Veloxyll says:

    Looking at it from a business-y perspective, it’s almost like Bobby is running Activision as a Cash Cow; that is, he’s trying to get as much money from it as he can before the market dries up. The only problem is, he’s kinda bad at it; a lot of his comments don’t really strike me as appropriate for that approach, eg we need to make game development less fun.

    Thing is, all the evidence from even Activision only titles pretty much say this is the entirely wrong approach, and that there is plenty of growth potential available in the games industry, so I have to agree with Shamus, Activision would be more profitable under basically anyone else.
    Sadly since all most investors look at is Share price and Profit, Activision’s other departments are going to have to do really badly to offset the unstoppable cash machine that is WoW before the Board seriously considers replacing Kotick. Unless they really understand the games industry and have noticed this, where they’ll off him around when Cata comes out then report their massive quarterly earnings to make everyone forget they replaced their CEO

    • daveNYC says:

      Yeah, but you can’t run an entire company as the cash cow. You can have a product or division be the cash cow that supports the new shiny product development, but you can’t have an entire company just milking the same old. That will catch up with you. Although most likely not before Kotick makes off with many millions in bonus money.

      Xerox is a great example of what can happen.

      • Steve C says:

        Apple is a much better example. John Sculley ousted Steve Jobs and milked the cash cow Jobs left. As did 2 other CEOs. When Steve Jobs returned to Apple, he turned it around from the joke* it was to the iPowerhouse it is today.

        A good CEO who knows how to create value for consumers will rule the industry. People like Kotick suck it dry.

        (*Anyone else remember the Apple of the mid 90s?)

  18. Aldowyn says:

    I just want to ask you something, Shamus:

    What happens to the industry if SWTOR becomes successful? I mean major WoW-like successful. Do we end up with two HUGE companies, including a possible Activision-Blizzard like EA-Bioware merger (not sure how likely that is), duking it out over the customer base? Could these companies co-exist? Or…. what? I don’t really know, or have any idea, that’s why I’m asking.

    Hmm, I think I’ll put this on the thread specifically for this. Hey, Shamus, go look at that! :D

  19. ehlijen says:

    Greed needs to be clarified. Who is being Greedy? Is it Kotick, or the company?

    The company is supposed to be. Kotick being greedy for himself at the possible expense of the future of the company is a bad thing. He’s supposed to keep it going after all.

    • Will says:

      I think when people say ‘Greed’, what they mean is ‘short-sighted’, or possibly ‘incompetent’.

      • ehlijen says:

        That’s usually what I think greed is. The other kind of greed I call ‘ambition’ to make the difference clear. But that’s just me.

        • Will says:

          Greed is generally defined as an excessive desire to possess something but of course excess is purely relative, so it gets confusing easily. Using ‘short-sighted’ or ‘incompetent’ gets your point across better, but lacks the ring that ‘Greed’ has, after all, ‘Greed’ is one of the seven deadly sins, it must be bad!

          Basically, like everything, it’s about perception, not reality.

          • krellen says:

            I’d define greed as desire for money and wealth as a sole goal. Most companies have some goal besides bottom line alone – whether to deliver a good product/service, fill a need otherwise unfilled, or at least nominally have some goal other than just making more money. For a game company, this would typically be delivering the best, most enjoyable games on the market. Activision doesn’t really seem to have this goal in mind.

            EDIT: Forget this comment. Should have read further down, where silver already said this.

            • Shamus says:

              I think this is a big problem with being publicly held. If you own the company yourself, then the product you put out is like your legacy. Me? I’d rather have my name on work that will outlive me than make 10% more churning out stuff that won’t even matter in 5 years.

              • SolkaTruesilver says:

                Sell minority parts. Or non-voting parts. Or whatever. You can construct a perfectly viable financial structure without losing hold of your mindchild, and having the reckognition you deserve, while at the same time generating the initial income to fund your project without meddling eyes (except maybe some neutral observers).

                These observers, off course, will help your potential investors to shell out more money.

              • krellen says:

                Stockholders that are focused on the bottom line alone are stupid, short-sighted fools. They’ve got as much of a legacy as the company.

                It’s also a legal fallacy that “interest of the stockholders” means “the most profit possible”. It’s simply not true, and there exists no legal precedent stating otherwise (before someone brings up Dodge v. Ford: it is not commonly cited as legal precedent and is better characterised as a one-off, “stop being a douche” ruling on behalf of the Dodge brothers to Henry Ford.)

                • SolkaTruesilver says:

                  “Stockholders that are focused on the bottom line alone are stupid, short-sighted fools.”

                  That’s called a Quant firm. (zing!)

                  But I agree 100% with you. If you want to be a serious investor and be competitive, you have to avoid the temptation of the quick buck, and go with something that will grow well and pay out on the long run. Only when you already have big capital can speculation start to pays out (kinda weird when you think about it).

                • Will says:

                  The problem is; the subconscious is horrible at looking into the future. Given the opportunity of $5 now or $10 later, the vast majority of people will pick the $5 now.

                  It’s one of the many failings of human psychology.

  20. Ernheim says:

    Reading the thread you linked to, the quote that really jumped out at me wasn’t some ham-fisted attempt to monetize a previously free part of a game (although the “With respect to the franchises that don’t have the potential to be exploited every year across every platform” thing is pretty special). It was this:

    “Most of the 20 years, that I have provided for growth at Activision, we were content to make products that are attractive to the 16-35 year old guy who has gotten no date for Saturday night.”

    This to me shows that he absolutely does not give a shit about his customers. When a businessman doesn’t mind publicly insulting and alienating all of his customers, that’s when you know there’s a problem

  21. silver says:

    In the purest form of capitalism – a barter economy – you can only get value by making value to trade. The problem is that sometimes your value is long deferred (we only make wheat once a year) or sometimes your value is in doing something that the person who has what you need doesn’t need (I make horseshoes. I want clothes. Too bad the clothier doesn’t use horses).
    So the clever solution to this problem is introduce tokens representing value that has been created – now the wheat farmer can partition the tokens from the harvest to cover the next 12 months, and the blacksmith can use tokens from selling horseshoes to the wheat farmer to buy clothes. Hurrah. Everybody wins.
    This is capitalism at its finest and purest.

    It’s nothing like what we have today. The inventions of loans, interest, banks, insurance, stocks, corporations, and intellectual property all changed capitalism – and then high-speed global communications combined with those things (as well as with the division of the world into different governments where you can exploit different rules in different places, and where some governments still practice things closer to slavery than to a barter economy) have all together really mutated capitalism to the point where I personally don’t even think the word applies (I refer to American economics as “corporatism”) – because now you can “make” a ton of tokens just by moving tokens around without actually producing anything of value.

    And, ultimately, while people will continue to use “greedy” as a generic pejorative for anyone who seems to want more money than they “deserve,” I think a more accurate and useful definition of “greedy” would describe people and corporations who are concerned only with the tokens and not with the value the tokens are supposed to represent. That is the sense in which Activision is very “greedy” and Valve is less “greedy.” Both want a buck, but Valve is (or at least seems to be) actually concerned with the value they make rather than just the value tokens they can rake in.

    • Will says:

      The ability to make money without producing anything is an inherant attribute of a system of trade.

      • Aldowyn says:

        What Will said. Heard of the phrase “buy low and sell high”?

      • krellen says:

        Actually, merchants make their money by providing the value of transporting and/or storing the goods. There is still value added.

        • Will says:

          How much is a Pig worth?

          It is worth however much someone is willing to pay for it.

          If you find someone who is willing to sell you a pig for 4 horseshoes, and then find another person who is willing to buy that pig for 8 horseshoes, you have just generated 4 horseshoes from nothing more than perception. You might even find these people in the same village if you’re lucky.

          ‘Value’ is purely subjective, a fabrication of the mind and as a result of that it is subject to said mind. Without some universal constant or absolute, value will always be different from person to person.

          • Shamus says:

            I’ll add that even in a case like this, you’ve added some value. The guy selling the pig didn’t have the time or energy to go and find the BEST buyer. You had found one, or were willing to look for one, or had some skill at locating buyers. And you were paid 4 horseshoes for your effort. I don’t have the time or storage space to run around buying everything wholesale, so I pay the grocery store to do that for me.

            I’m not arguing against what you’ve said. I just think it’s fun to think about this sort of thing.

  22. Kdansky says:

    You make the false assumption that Kotick is paid so much money because he is good. He’s not, just as any other CEO apart from a few rare exceptions who might actually deserve what they earn. It’s very simple: If you’re the guy who can decide on your own wages, you might as well make them as big as possible if the laws don’t stop you. And if instead your friends decide on your wages and you decide theirs, then that still works remarkably well.

    That is primarily a political issue, and a flaw of our current capitalistic model. He’s a CEO, therefore he earns a ton of money, no matter how bad he is, because all CEOs earn a ton of money.

    • silver says:

      “You might argue that, “If he wasn’t making money they would fire him, therefore he’s good at his job.” But in business things aren’t nearly that simple.” – Shamus’ article

      I didn’t actually see ANY one claim he was good at his job. Shamus’ entire article was about how terrible he is at his job.

  23. Ace Calhoon says:

    I’ve gotta throw in my disappointment at the “StarCraft II is $180” comment. As I’m sure has been noted above:

    1) It hasn’t been connected to Kotik in any way, other than that Blizzard is under the Activision tag now… So, do we attribute EVERYTHING Blizzard does to Kotik?

    2) It has more single-player gameplay than most main-stream releases.

    3) It has a similar number of missions as the original three StarCraft campaigns combined.

    4) It has a complete story, with beginning conclusion and end.

    5) Marketing for the subsequent two parts labels them as expansion packs.

    6) Map editing, multiplayer, and skirmishes are complete for all three races.

    There are a lot of legitimate reasons to dislike SC2. This isn’t one of them.

    • Steve C says:

      So, do we attribute EVERYTHING Blizzard does to Kotik?

      Yes.
      He’s the CEO. The final decision rests with him regarding any decision of consequence. And you better believe the pricing structure of one of their flagship products is a decision of consequence.

      • John Magnum says:

        Also, I’d always thought that Kotick was just CEO of Activision, and that Activision-Blizzard as a whole had a different dude in charge. But, no, Kotick is (apparently) CEO of both Activision and Activision-Blizzard simultaneously.

      • Ace Calhoon says:

        So… Bobby Kotik is responsible for the continued success of the single most successful pay-to-play MMO in the marketplace? He’s responsible for an upcoming hack-and-slash adventure RPG that’s so anticipated that fans are scrutinizing every pixel of the screenshots? The most successful multiplayer shooter (or rather, the most successful video game) *ever*? That doesn’t really make a very sound case for the whole “Bobby Kotik is bad at his job” thing.

        Also, the SC2 thing isn’t a “pricing structure” change. Whether you agree with the choice or not, it defines the shape of the single player campaign. SC2 isn’t a third of a game that was hacked off at the last minute. It was clearly built to be what it is.

        • Jarenth says:

          It doesn’t matter whether or not *we* think of mr. Kotick like that; what matters is that the Activision-Blizzard shareholders, who are ultimately in control of his continued employment there, do.

          • Will says:

            Technically Kotick is indeed in charge of Activision-Blizzard, in reality, Blizzard are mostly left to their own devices so long as they continue to make profit.

            One of the few publicly available facts about the merger was that Blizzard refused to merge unless they got that caveat.

  24. Jabrwock says:

    I like the analogy. It works in terms of “problems with the product” as well. In fast food, you rarely are given a refund. Instead they’ll give you a replacement burger.

    In that instance, Valve apologizes for the incorrect order, hands you a fresh, hot one, and bids you good day. Activision tells you you ordered wrong, and tells you to suck it up.

    And then Activision wonders why the customer then walks across the street to join the satisfied customer base of Valve.

    • Jarenth says:

      Except that in this analogy, Valve is that one restaurant where you’re always waiting half an hour for your order. Whereas Activision will always have something wasting away under the heat lamps; which, hey, may be rancid, but at least it’s *there*.

      [Finish Episode 3 already, Valve!]

  25. DarkLadyWolf says:

    It’s almost a little scary that I remember this kind of situation back in the early days of gaming (when the C64 and Spectrum were ‘kings’). Most licensed games that came out were crap, but they still hit the charts because of the licence. Even then “industry commentators” were bemoaning the state of affairs, and wondering if it would ever change. It really seems like it hasn’t.

    It’s also worrying that I can’t help thinking Valve are an anomaly. A good one, but still an anomaly. I truly wonder if the majority of customers aren’t simply closet masochists who enjoy being abused for their money.

    Edit: Actually, having thought about it, I’m wondering how much of the problem is a lack of places to find out “real” information about games. Most of the mainstream gaming sites can’t be relied upon to give impartial advice (in my not-so-humble opinion), and finding an “indy” sight that suits your own views/tastes can be a minefield. So perhaps it’s less the “masochist” thing and more the “uninformed” thing.

    Having said that, there were a lot of magazines “back in the day” that gave good advice, and this situation still prevailed. Make of that what you will.

    • Will says:

      The problem is simple; the mainstream likes mainstream games.

      In the same way that the mainstream likes mainstream music and TV and movies. The elitist prigs of which i am a proud member who sit on the edges as a vocal minority bemoan how all the TV\Music\Movies are unoriginal and terrible and blah blah blah, while the average joe thinks they’re just what he wants to watch\listen to.

      That’s why the mainstream is mainstream. The Games industry is just a bit younger than the other industries, so is still trying to work out the whole ‘mainstream = mainstream’ thing.

  26. Zak McKracken says:

    I stil think that this guy is incredibly greedy, and that’s his problem.
    “greedy” meaning: He’s addicted to money, with no second priorities or any afterthought. And that means: To his Bonuses. And those are awarded for quarterly revenue figures and stock value. If you want to increase those, he’s doing exactly the right thing and is incredibly competent.
    He knows he’s not in the game forever, and he knows what investors want, short term performance. That’s what he gives them, to the detriment of the gaming industry as a whole.

    The whole “greedy” debate is a linguistic one in my view. I understand it not as “wanting money” (almost everyone does that), but as “chasing money to the point of forsaking anything else”. And that seems to fit the bill very well. The ironic bit is that being greedy doesn’t necessarily make you more money in the long run. That’s what I’m hoping for now. Let activision die, and let lots of small new enterprises take their place, full of former employees who know exactly how not to do it.

    I’m just afraid this will take a long time, and I won’t be able to play starcraft II ;(

  27. Jack V. says:

    Yes, although from a theological standpoint, I think “greed” might mean “someone who wants money” it might also mean “someone who wants money SO MUCH that they grasp for it, even to their own medium or long term detriment”. So while I agree with your point, I’m not sure if I’d have labelled the qualities of good CEO “greed” (although that might just because I’m scared of the negative connotations). Either way, they’re different SORTS of sin, but it sees convincing that he is guilty of both of them.

  28. randy says:

    I have no problem with Kotick being a greedy bastard. I DO have a problem with him being an enormous douchebag that is doing a lot of damage to our industry.

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