GR: As a sensationalizing member of the lowly gaming press, I know you aren't wrong. We love a good inflammatory quote, but I HATE it when people use a joke out of context as ammunition.
DA: Well, when I came to Activision, I was still fresh off the KOXM podcast, where I would regularly play devil's advocate to whatever Ryan McCaffrey said. It was good for the show. And when Bobby would say something, I honestly asked, "He can't really have meant that the way it was reported, can he?" I mean, it just simply didn't make SENSE that someone would do that. So I went back to the transcripts and the press coverage - all of which was available online - and tried to look at the context of those statements. Anybody could have done it, but I obviously had a reason to do that research. I wish I had thought to do it before leaving OXM, but things got really bad for the company's image in the three months between my gig at OXM and my gig at Activision.
GR: As fun as it is to take Bobby Kotick quote out of context and get enraged, I also love reading your explanations.
Above: Art by graboids
DA: Yeah, I have a full research paper on my blog called Bobby Kotick: Those Infamous Comments, where I found that a lot of what he said was not interpreted correctly - maybe mistakenly, maybe willfully, but still wrong. And I showed all my work and explained what I have found. So far nobody has been able to disprove my research.
GR: So do you think Activision can improve its standing with core gamers?
DA: I think Activision has to keep making games that people want to play, first and foremost. If the games were not making people react, then they would not want to follow a soap opera around those games. But I'd like to think it's both ways -- Activision should keep trying to be transparent, to show skeptical gamers "this is why this was done" and "this is how we feel about this thing which you also care about very deeply" -- that's step one.
But gamers, on their part, have to be willing to listen to those things and take them at face value. If the audience says "But I don't care because you're Activision," well, that won't work either. Activision could be giving orphan kids prosthetic limbs and you'd still have haters who say they're building a cybernetic army for their own nefarious purposes. Some people are going to hate because hating is more fun. But if we can get both sides to lower that wall a bit - the big corporate wall and the gamer knee-jerk reaction - then we might be able to get somewhere. But at the end of the day, if the games are not good, nobody will care anyway.
Above: Art by graboids
Also, you know, people love to focus on Bobby, but he's not the only guy here. I think he makes the easiest target because he's the guy at the top - you know, if you get a meal you don't like, you want to talk to the manager, not the chef. But people like Eric Hirshberg - the CEO of Activision Publishing - are very active in the creative decisions. I am really eager to see what happens here with Eric in that role. He's the guy who helped create Kevin Butler for Sony; he's a gamer and he knows games too. So maybe some fresh blood will change the dialogue, too.
GR: That makes me wonder... looking at Activision's titles, is pleasing the core even in Activision’s best interest? Call of Duty and high profile licenses aside, it looks like Activision could be content to make/publish Cabela Hunter and Shrek games without having to deal with an audience that seems hell bent on hating whatever they do.
DA: That's the other dirty secret about Activision - those mass-market titles are very successful, but to a completely different segment of the audience. After GH and Tony Hawk were put on hold for 2011 and True Crime was stopped, I heard a lot of people say "Now all you have is Call of Duty and World of Warcraft." Well, no - there are games like Cabela's and Wipeout and iCarly and stuff most core gamers probably don't even realize exist.
Above: Forgot about Shrek, didn’t ya?
They're not actively marketed at them so those games become invisible. And it's a given that even games like Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions or Transformers: War for Cybertron are going to get a certain amount of attention because they are based on big existing franchises, but that doesn't mean they have not earned their success.
War for Cybertron got a lot of love from Transformers fans but I also heard from folks who said "Wow, that was way better than I thought." They went in with lower expectations because of the license, which is sort of unfair. Every game is its own game, licensed or no. And the truth is that core gamers have their games, and mass gamers have their games. Feel free to cross over, but expectations are not the same on both sides.
Above: Transformer: War for Cybertron = good shit
GR: So you don't see Activision embracing a full on "casual games" route? It would make more sense within its cutthroat business model, plus they wouldn't have to deal with a finicky, largely unappeasable fanbase?
DA: I don't really think so. I have no indication here to suggest that Activision is going to abandon the core gamer. I've seen some stuff in the works that is being made for the hardcore, and some that widens the scope.
GR: Good! That's actually something that scares me... Activision's obtained so many old and beloved franchises from its numerous acquisitions, I'd hate to see them abandon the focus altogether because people tend to throw virtual riots of Call of Duty DLC pricing. That said, is there any old franchise in Activision's stable you'd like to see them resurrect?
DA: Activision's IP library is ridiculously awesome. I know I never shut up about Interstate 76, so if I could have anything come back, it's that. I don't expect it, but then again, people asked for a new King's Quest game for years, and now Telltale is working on one. Pitfall came back not once, but twice, when there looked like an opportunity.
Above: Never gets old
Franchises rest, sometimes for a while, but franchises don't really die. I mean, look at NBA Jam. Look at You Don't Know Jack. Look at Kid Icarus. The only thing they needed to be active again was a good enough idea and good timing. I don't think anything in the vault is gone forever… it's just waiting.