Not long after dismissing the value of literally every independent developer in the world except for Bungie (note that most outlets are saying “indie.” That word has a different connotation), Bobby Kotick of Activision/Blizzard has unleashed this little chestnut, courtesy of EDGE Magazine:
You know what? What we like about a developer is that they have a culture, they have an independent vision and that’s what makes them so successful. We don’t have an Activision anything – it’s Treyarch, Infinity Ward, Sledgehammer.
No Bobby. No you don’t have an Infinity Ward. Why is that exactly?
Kotick – interviewed in issue 220 of EDGE – says other publishers like EA stifle their wholly-owned studios, rename them, and instill their own corporate culture into any new acquisitions.
Now, this may or may not be true; I’ve seen examples of plenty of freedom and plenty of stifling at many wholly-owned studios. It’s really a matter of the studio’s own negotiating leverage. Be successful, make the publisher money, and you’ll have a leg to stand on when it comes to asking for your old name back, or to not be required to be located in the publisher’s world headquarters, or starting a new IP. The less successful you are for your publisher, the less likely you are to get what you want. It’s pretty basic stuff.
But for Kotick to suggest that he offers his studios freedom simply because he doesn’t add the word “Activision” to their names is the most patently ridiculous (though, oddly, least offensive) things the man’s ever said. It was not Neversoft’s “culture” to make a music game, but it was put in charge of the Guitar Hero franchise and, as far as anyone can tell, isn’t allowed to make anything else. Which do you think Neversoft would have preferred: Making a single Guitar Hero game and getting a bunch of money, then being free to make whatever it wanted under the Activision/Neversoft moniker, or keeping its name and churning out Guitar Hero until the heat death of the universe?
The only thing that we try to do is to provide a support structure to make them more successful. If you do a really good job – and a lot of our studios do – you get to pick what is, in my view, the most difficult thing to pick in the industry: to make original intellectual property.
Which is about as close to abject falsehood as you can get. The only new IP released under the Activision banner in I think the last five years was Singularity, and it performed so poorly I can’t imagine the publisher will ever green light something new again. Oh, sure, Bungie can be independent, but Bungie’s Bungie. At least the company was smart enough not to be bought out by Activision, lest it suffer the same fate as Infinity Ward.
If publishers like EA “stifle” creativity, how do their studios manage to churn out innovative and/or successful new IPs like Mirror’s Edge and Dead Space? Oh sure, EA is hardly a saint, but you see a lot more creativity from other publishers – ZeniMax, Ubi, 2K, etc – than you do from Activision.
Right now Kotick maintains an iron grip on his studios, and his company currently has an iron grip on the industry. But that will soon change, I think. Activision/Blizzard is basically divided into two lines of business: Activision Publishing and Blizzard Entertainment. Activision Publishing is further subdivided into the Call of Duty business unit, the Guitar Hero/Tony Hawk business unit, and the Shit We License business unit to deal with, well, with licensed properties. Now, they define these explicitly as the Action/Adventure Unit, the Internal IP Unit, and the Licensed Products unit, so theoretically there’s room for more than those titles in them. But Kotick’s a stone-squeezer; despite his protestations to EDGE, I would not expect to see a lot of creative new IP coming out of Activision’s studios any time soon.
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