My Thoughts On Activision

After the stellar success of Modern Warfare 2, many were shocked at the dispute between Infinity Ward and Activision over unpaid royalty fees.  As a result, some employees were terminated, including Jason West and Vince Zampella.  They have formed a new studio called Respawn Entertainment with Electronic Arts.  From what I’ve read, not many details were given as to who else was terminated or what Respawn will work on.  In situations like this, there are usually non-disclosure agreements.  Therefore, I usually consider any news about video game politics rumor until I hear it’s confirmed from a noteworthy source.

So, why am I writing about this?  Anti-Activision groups have been quoted in video game news sites more than once, and someone has mentioned Toys for Bob.

Since Bobby Kotick took over as the CEO of Activision, the publisher became notorious for pushing sequels every year.  When Activision has a high-selling franchise, they assign as many developers as it takes to release it on as many platforms as possible.  This also includes Guitar Hero, Call of Duty, Tony Hawk, Crash Bandicoot, Spider-Man, James Bond and many movie-licensed games.  Did you know that Toys for Bob worked with other developers on the Wii and PS2 versions of Guitar Hero: Van Halen?  Some of the things they did include building the environments based on the PS3/360 versions and animating the Miis for the Wii version.

Dan Amrich has joined a Facebook group called “Gamers Against Bobby Kotick & Activision”.  Dan is currently working as a blogger at Activision.  He has worked previously as a reviewer for video game magazines such as Official Xbox Magazine, GamesRadar and GamePro.  He is also a guitarist.  There is currently a very active discussion about Activision on the Facebook page where Dan has started to discuss his views on Activision.

I'm Dan. I used to be in the games media. I now blog for Activision. I work inside the building. I don't agree with everything the company does, yet I don't agree with a lot of the insults and criticisms the company gets either. So the only way around that is to have a discussion.
‐ Dan Amrich

There are a handful of studios under the Activision umbrella (Raven, IW, Neversoft, Bizarre, Toys For Bob, etc) and they each have creative freedom. PLEASE read that again -- they have creative freedom. Activision works with the devs, says "here's what we'd like" or "can you change this" -- but the game vision, the way it unfolds, comes from the developers.

- Dan Amrich

With regards to creative freedom, it’s nice to hear that they have control over what they can do within the publisher’s expectations.  I remember reading some posts written by various developers including Paul Reiche and Greg Johnson (ToeJam & Earl); when developers describe the developer-publisher relationship; they generally agree that they are told to work on a certain project and since the publisher is paying for it, the devs are obligated to perform any changes requested by the publishers; there are hundreds of people working on these games, and each person has to pay bills, buy food, continue learning new skills, upgrade technology and even support a family.  It’s better to work on a project that isn’t a “fresh IP” then to do nothing and not get paid.

It’s difficult for me to discuss my feelings towards Activision because I want this blog to support all of Toys for Bob’s interests and at the same time, I want to stay neutral towards other issues.  I’m not affiliated with any media groups, agencies, publications or any other organizations with ties to the video game industry.  Everything I know is based on publicized information such as blogs.

I agree that Activision’s notorious strategy to pump sequels into the market had made it difficult for other developers to achieve good sales of their games.  Even though many people complain of the many Guitar Hero/movie-license games out there.  At the same time, I have to think about the people who are buying these games; Activision found a demographic who will spend money for these games repeatedly.

I remember that Activision was once struggling financially until Kotick took over.  I can’t argue that he is successful.  This actually makes me remember what type of gamer I was before I discovered the name “Toys for Bob”.  I used to play games without knowing anything the developer.   When Alex wrote on the TFB news site that he wanted to collect e-mails to convince Activision to show that a new Star Control game can be successful, I was shocked that they couldn’t just do it anyways.  By learning more about Star Control and Toys for Bob, it gave me a better understand of the video game industry that many people don’t see.

In summary, I don’t agree with Activision’s strategy of pushing sequels and giving more developers the chance to try something new.  However, I know that they continue to do it because it’s making money.  I wish that Activision would give more developers a chance work on one of their own ideas.  There is so much to talk about when it comes to how Activision works.  I wish the Infinity Ward and Respawn Entertainment the best of luck in the future.  Making money is important for any business and Activision is no exception.  I would love to see developers have more creative control with their work.  Activision isn’t the only publisher receiving this kind of criticism; just take a look at the mediocre Sonic games that Sega has published; there are a lot of fans hoping that Sonic the Hedgehog 4 (codenamed Project Needlemouse) will bring Sonic back to its roots and break the cycle of bad Sonic games.

Most of all, I am glad that Toys for Bob is still active to this day; they have countless years of experience, they work hard, they know what it takes to satisfy their publishers and they can take a moment of their precious time to make an announcement or write to the fans whenever they can.

Speaking of creative control, when TFB announces their game, we may have some insight of where the game came from and how much control they had with it.

What do you think about Activision and Dan’s statement that Activision really does give developers creative freedom?

Facebook: Gamers Against Bobby Kotick & Activision
GameSpy:Activision Rep Kicks off Discussion with Gamers Against Bobby Kotick
Dan’s Blog: One of Swords

Edit: Made a revision.  Dan did not create the Facebook group.

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