It’s in vogue these days after Kris Graft eloquently defended the various malignancies of Activision/Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick to support the man, claiming he does all he does as an effective executive officer and not as an imp of Satan himself. Of course, then Kotick goes and does something like giving a speech to the Deutsche Bank Securities Technology Conference, during which he said – didn’t imply, said – that his goal is to “take all the fun out of making video games,” that his company is focused on “profit and nothing else,” and that an “atmosphere of skepticism, pessimism, and fear represents ‘mission accomplished.'”
Game creation is a creative industry, you slack-jawed nard-gargling chum-dumpster. I hope you die.
I used to work in advertising, at an agency called Doner. Back when I was there, in the late nineties to early 00s, it was a relevant, prestigious independent agency. We landed the Mazda motors account, a huge coup for a comparatively small agency, and our billings were approaching a billion dollars. Good times.
Of course, all advertising agencies are sweatshops where misery is 95% of the game. You work 60-100 hours a week, get paid practically nothing, and exist in an atmosphere where terror and humiliation are part of the daily experience. You do learn important things while working in advertising: a commitment to perfection, a strong work ethic, and the fact that when it comes to corporations, image is everything. But you burn out quickly, and your chances of becoming a chain-smoking alcoholic are high.
Doner was (and is) ruled over by a fellow named Alan Kalter, a squeaky-voiced 5’4″ troll of a man who reveled in his Napoleonic superiority, abusing his position at every turn to frighten, demean, and threaten those below him. I was low enough in the agency to avoid his daily wrath, but I worked closely with the then-Chief Marketing Officer Bryan Yolles in business development, so I traveled all over the country with Alan and I got more than enough cruelty and smallness from him to last a lifetime. Yolles, while far from without fault as a supervisor, taught me a multitude of things I needed to learn to survive in business, and my memories of him are fond despite his own propensity toward domineering meanness. Bryan was mean to make a better product; Alan was mean to be mean. Big difference.
Alan Kalter is the Bobby Kotick of advertising.
Interestingly, advertising is also a creative business, where good cheese comes from happy cows. It’s ironic then that most ad agencies cultivate an environment of slavedriven misery, much like Kotick has cultivated at Activision/Blizzard and its studios. Ironic, also, that as I learn about Kotick’s latest atrocity, an old friend from Doner emails me with this story, itemizing the agency’s Kalter-fueled illegalities: concealing and failing to pay off pensions to employees, owing millions of dollars to departed executives, that sort of thing.
What sucks is that I used to carry my tenure at Doner proudly, as a sort of Purple Heart. I’d not only survived there but thrived (briefly), and though it did crush my soul I learned things that made me successful now. I told people I worked at Doner. I told people that Doner was partly responsible for why I’m good at what I do now, and I believed it. Now I’m ashamed of it. Now Doner is in a death spiral, accused of crimes of which it’s almost certainly guilty, laying off hundreds of employees to accumulate the millions it needs to pay departed execs, billings down from $600+ million to $100 million, the creative geniuses who drove the agency to success in the nineties all gone. Nothing reigns there any more but the fear and the loathing. And Alan Kalter, ruling his broken kingdom, almost certainly as petty and vicious as ever, a mangy, meanspirited terrier nipping, ever nipping, at the hands of those who try to pet it.
I wonder how people who escape from Kotick’s Activision will remember their tenure at that place, and whether enough high-level executives will realize in time that game development needs to be fun or else the games won’t be fun, that profit – while crucial – cannot eclipse all other aspects of the creative process. I do hope that Activision/Blizzard’s board of directors realizes soon rather than late that Kotick is leading their company down the same path as this modest ad agency, and get rid of this man before any chance of redemption is gone.