Why do gamers hate Activision?

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.


Week of Hate

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  • 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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