Why do gamers hate Activision?

Who says a Week of Hate has to be all hurt and no healing? Activision is a company people love to hate, but let’s take a break from dogpiling on the monolithic publisher for its past misdeeds. We thought it’d be more interesting if we could get to the bottom of all the abject ire and the hardcore schadenfreude, to get to the bottom of gamer’s beef with the company. To help us in our quest, Acitivsion’s own community manager, Dan Amrich is going to help us trace back the origins of the anger, where hopefully we can see of how the publisher of Pitfall has managed to cast one of the most negative shadows in the medium. And maybe, just maybe, we can curtail a smidgen of the overwhelming, disproportionate amount of hate.

Above: The Mouth of Sauron!

[Full Disclosure: Dan used to work here and is a very dear friend. What follows is more of a friendly conversation regarding semi-serious subject matter. If you’re looking for a scathing expose on Activision, you might want to look elsewhere. Better yet, go ask Dan yourself at his One of Swords blog or Twitter. Odds are he’ll get back to you.]

GameRadar: When exactly did Activision become the “evil empire?” As a post-Atari console gamer, they weren't even on my radar until the first Tony Hawk game.

Dan Amrich: I put it at December 2, 2007. That's when it was announced that Activision and Vivendi would merge. Vivendi owned Blizzard and Sierra at the time, so the resulting baby, in the summer of 2008, was Activision Blizzard. I think the moment Activision became the largest third-party game software publisher, the crosshairs moved from EA to Activision.

Above: KNEEL!

Suddenly people who had never really thought about who was at the company, what it really did, or anything other than "Yeah, I liked Pitfall when I was a kid and I like Tony Hawk games now," took a closer look and wanted to know more about who this major player was.

GR: That's what I was guessing. But the hatred seems to be fueled by more than just surpassing EA, perhaps something about beloved PC dynasties falling under the Activision umbrella?

DA: Which dynasties? I know I go back but to me Activision PC dynasties are games like MechWarrior 2 and, during the 90s when they had a distribution deal with id, Quake II and Doom 3. You mean the Blizzard stuff?

GR: Well, we're trying to trace back the ire. Yet in spite of their association with older PC stuff, they've tampered very little with those franchises.

DA: I think Activision is smarter than people give it credit for sometimes. If something works, you let it keep working. Blizzard knows what it’s doing - their track record of quality and innovation speaks for itself. If you own Blizzard - and many people have, there were like four other companies that acquired Blizzard before Activision was involved - well, you let Blizzard be Blizzard. You give them what they need to do what they do. Anybody with a brain would do exactly what Activision does now - support without meddling.

GR: So you don't think the Blizzard merger is where the internet’s anger comes from primarily?

DA: I think people hate Activision for a combination of things. One, they are top dog - I call it the Yankees syndrome. The Yankees win, and the Yankees are a well-funded team, so people like to hate them. But the Yankees also have a lot of passionate fans that support the team because they like what the team does and what it is. But when you have that many World Series rings, you have that many sluggers in your bullpen... you are the natural target for all the other teams. That's totally understandable.

Above: Art by graboids

GR: That's sort of what I was getting at. I think the misconstrued hate is, to some degree, a byproduct of being incredibly successful. Yet there's a disproportionate amount of people out there who seem to delight in anything bad that befalls Activision. Seemingly desperate for them to fall or fail… how happen?!

DA: It comes with the territory. And in gaming, we are all trained from birth to root for the underdog. Duke Nukem - he's one man with a lot of guns and even more one-liners. He is going to save the universe through gunfire and dirty jokes. We root for him because the odds are so incredibly against him. We love that fantasy. Every RPG - the Kid from the tiny villiage/island/planet/whatever, is going to go on a Great Adventure and make a Big Difference. We root for him because he is insignificant, because there is no way he will succeed unless we believe he will succeed. He's the underdog. Activision is a multi-billion dollar corporation with a string of hit franchises, global success, and market leadership. That does not sound anything like an underdog to me.

GR: Would you say that part of the anger comes from a perception of Activision's success being "bought, not earned?"

 DA: Activision has really earned its success. There's nothing to buy, you know? They make games that sell. They tell people about those games when they come out; they get as much attention as possible for those games so a lot of people will want to find out more and hopefully buy them. That does not make them unique compared to any other publisher out there, honestly. Every company wants the most success they can get, whether you're offering games or cars or you're a mom-and-pop restaurant down the block.

GR: But I still don't understand what drives a lot of the hate. People don't engage in the same kind of behavior in regards to successful companies like Nintendo, Rockstar or Valve. What makes Activision different?

DA: People are eager to see a company like Activision fail, and I think that's part of it. It's fun to rebel against authority... even if the authority is perceived. I mean, Activision makes games; you either like them or you don't. You buy them or you don't. The authority is the person opening with their wallet. So Activision is successful because a lot of people - even some of the most vocal critics - enjoy playing the games it makes. And that doesn't mean they do not have a legitimate criticism, but it does mean that they enjoy having it both ways.

Above: Activision's Singularity was a critical darling, but didn't make a huge impact at retail

Well, number two on the thing that causes the hate: I think Bobby Kotick has said a lot of things that people didn't like when they heard them. They didn't always hear them correctly - some were misquoted, some were accurately quoted but not in the full context, some were just jokes that bombed and got taken at face value - but they reacted to what they heard and made up their mind from there.


Week of Hate


  • DevonOO7 - April 26, 2011 11:34 p.m.

    Laughed so hard when I saw Dan right away!
  • ChrisCultista - April 26, 2011 11:37 p.m.

    DAN! Stop staring at... that... (Luvs the Dan!)
  • JPorFavor - April 26, 2011 11:50 p.m.

    When is saw that picture caption, I couldn't stop laughing.
  • juicenpancakes - April 26, 2011 11:56 p.m.

    I always love GR and Dan uniting to make something beautiful, but I still wish a few, slightly hard-hitting questions had been asked. Bizarre getting dealt the James Bond game, Singularity not getting a marketing push, etc. And yes, I read the beginning and I wasn't expecting an intense interview. I don't hate Activision near as much as a lot of people (maybe that's because they hired Dan the man Amrich), but there are a definitely a few things I question with them.
  • RideZeLitenin - April 26, 2011 11:57 p.m.

    Pitfall FTW
  • EnragedTortoise1 - April 27, 2011 midnight

    See, it's funny because they completely ignored the whole "killing off studios" thing. On a lighter note, Damerich ftw. I actually made fanart of him and sent it to Antista a while ago, but it never got posted. Sadface.
  • nadrewod - April 27, 2011 12:03 a.m.

    I have absolutely no problem with Activision's dev teams: in fact, some of my favorite games for the past few years have come from Activision studios (Singularity, MW2, Spider-Man 2). The main problem is where the company seems to be headed (Singularity got basically zero marketing while Black Ops got its own Jeep, IW basically got a lobotomy soon after MW2 came out, Spider-Man seems to be getting onto the "new game once a year" trend-train that has currently ended in a massive wreck for both Tony Hawk and Guitar Hero). All of my fears seem to be personified in Kotick (filed a lawsuit against West and Zampella after raiding their office and interrogating them for hours before firing them, tried to sue Tim Schafer for using a game whose rights Activision had sold to EA months beforehand in order to prevent a later overlap between the awesome story of "Brutal Legend" and its lame rip-off "Guitar Hero: arriors of Rock", has been quoted multiple times saying stuff like "I want to take the fun out of making video games"). Honestly, I really believe that if Activision just pulled a "BP" (changed a head executive who was making the company look terrible in the news after several disasters and bad decisions for one that never made the news, thus allowing their image to slowly regenerate) by replacing Kotick, my personal ban on Activision would almost instantly stop (I would need to be certain that the new executive wasn't using Kotick as a role model and going down the same path: the gaming community is user-friendly, as in "ask for a donation from time to time, and you might just be surprised how many people are willing to pay extra just to keep games, and their creation, fun") and I might even buy a game like MW3 (even though it hasn't been announced, everyone knows it will). P.S. For bonus gamer respect points, settle any lawsuits you currently are having with former developers, especially popular ones like West and Zampella, with terms extremely favorable for the developers (it might cause a little belt-tightening in the short run to make ends meet, but the happy note those suits would end on would bring many gamers who had been on the fence running back to buy your latest game: I should know, the initial IW kick-out set me on my anti-Activision spree).
  • BALLSTOTHEWALLET - April 27, 2011 12:07 a.m.

    LOL at the first pic, Dan Amrich watches you poop.
  • rockstarsean - April 27, 2011 12:07 a.m.

    Ill put it simply (mine is a passive dislike, I don't care enough to hate): - Release good stakeboarding game, next year release sequel with barely noticeable difference, repeat until every last penny has been squeezed from dying corpse of said skateboarding game franchise. - Release bland music game, next year release sequel with barely noticeable difference, repeat until every last penny has been squeezed from dying corpse of said music game franchise. - Release bland FPS game, next year release sequel with barely noticeable difference & no imagination or creativity for full price, repeat until every last penny has been squeezed from dying corpse of said FPS game franchise. Yeah, bending over for shareholders and the buring Singularity. Their only interesting game.
  • Nin10DOH - April 27, 2011 12:12 a.m.

    Dan.. just leave me alone...please stop watching me
  • D0CCON - April 27, 2011 12:32 a.m.

    "Activision's Singularity was a critical darling, but didn't make a huge impact at retail" Maybe that's because Activision didn't seem to give two shits about that game. I know the article says there are two sides to every story and things that seem crazy to us make sense to people behind the scenes that have all of the information. Maybe that's true. Maybe they found a study that showed that not marketing a game at all and making sure nobody hears about it is actually a great way to make the game sell. Maybe Raven Software said some bad things about the mothers of Activision employees and Activision punished them by doing their damnedest to make the game fail. Or maybe they were handing out flyers for the game to save money for the next Call of Duty marketing bananza. Until I can see their thought process on setting Singularity up to fail, pounding Tony Hawk, GH, and (probably) COD into the ground, and mismatching games and developers (How was it a good idea to make a racing game developer make a shooter [Bizarre Creations and James Bond]. Their last shooter [The Club], didn't go over well, did it?), I still think they are nuts. If you want the fast answer for why I am sick of these people, here it is: I loved GH to death, but the constant sequels ruined my love I loved Spiderman 2 The Game to death, but the sequels were the exact same game with added glitches on top and my love died down I loved COD4 to death, but the yearly sequels changed nothing and added bugs and balancing issues, effectively killing all my interest in what was once my favorite multiplayer game.
  • p0wnd - April 27, 2011 12:32 a.m.

    I like Activision, well at least compared to EA
  • TheRandomFool - April 27, 2011 12:37 a.m.

    Personally, it is understandable the way they milk good ideas. You might hate it and never buy into it, which is clearly good for you, but they need ignorant people to buy the worthless crap so they can make good, solid games. My issue is that unique games, like Prototype and Singularity get relatively little advertising, when compared to COD and other guaranteed hits. They have so much going for them, and if something catastrophic happens, they can always use WoW as a fallback. Come on Acti! Give us some genuine good stuff!
  • CH3BURASHKA - April 27, 2011 12:42 a.m.

    I, personally, know exactly why hate Activision - they suffer from what every mega-corporation suffers from: stockholders. Ideally, all the money they get from their cash cows CoD and Guitar Hero, after being filtered through the pockets of the C[X]O's, should be used to invest in new ideas and to take on new risks, which should be ultimate cycle for a company, especially one invested in a creative medium. However, their financial interests collide with any kind of creative internal interests, as seen in most every franchise they have.
  • IceBlueKirby - April 27, 2011 12:43 a.m.

    I don't really hate Activision, they just bug me sometimes. Like the way they completely failed to generate ANY awareness of Singularity. That was a mistake. The fact that they shuttered Bizarre. That bothered me. But they've done some good things...put Beenox on the future Spider-Man games? Great idea. Greenlit Prototype 2? Hellz yeah. And even though they ran Guitar Hero into the ground to the point where they had to kill it off, that means they can focus on different things now, right? Maybe some of the marketing money they're saving will go to making sure people are aware of Singularity know, if it exists. Ever. I may dislike a lot of things about Activision, but if I can name things I like about them, that shows that they're at least doing SOMETHING right, and that's good enough in my book.
  • bigwill1221 - April 27, 2011 12:52 a.m.

    Eh hate the Activision/Blizzard merger.. playing WoW for several years, game was hard now its catered for easy mode just to sell more...
  • Larinah - April 27, 2011 12:53 a.m.

    The reason I hate Activision is because, as someone who will be entering into the game development world in probably 3 years time, I hate seeing a big company like Acti just throw smaller companies away when they stop obeying every command that they freaking give them. They've become the big bad hated company for a REASON, and that reason is because they're everything people hate about big business. They're impersonal, they care too much about profits and not enough about giving new companies a start, and they effectively gutted one of the most popular game dev companies, Infinity Ward. It was after they pulled that shit that I said I'm through with them. Last game I bought from Activision was BOps and it just solidified everything I thought about them. I don't buy a game to get the same thing dumbed down, I buy it to have an advanced experience and to see progress. Not "Oh hey, Treyarch, do us a favor, make your next CoD game exactly like a combination between the first Modern Warfare and your shitty game World at War. They'll buy it anyway because they're suckers."
  • gulfcoastfella - April 27, 2011 12:55 a.m.

    Telltale is making a new King's Quest game? Nice, very nice.
  • VaneTrago - April 27, 2011 12:58 a.m.

    I remember back when he was DanElektro on Gamepro a decade ago, constantly being real, real shitty to their real fans on the website back when it was just a fledgling and the chat would die every few hours or so. It got to the point where about 20-some-odd constant users ended up getting fed up and leaving to form their own website, PGNx. He even eventually came on to the board to try and defend himself, with another inflammatory statement. And now he's trying to circumvent the damage done by saying he was misquoted, or joking? Get off Kotick's nuts.
  • mega4709 - April 27, 2011 12:58 a.m.

    This article made my day. <3 Dan Amrich

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