The degree to which I hate Activision/Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick is nigh-unmeasurable. I loathe the man; I hope he falls into a deep, deep hole with ground glass and spikes and hot lava and sharks and scorpions and poison and fire ants and chromic acid and knives and dead puppies at the bottom. I didn’t think it would be possible – you know, physically – for me to despise anyone in the games industry more than I despise Chris Crawford, but that was before I became acquainted with the abomination against God and man that is Bobby Kotick. Every word that issues from his scumhole is a blight on the purity of language, and threatens to taint all that is right and honest in the universe. I do not like him, Sam I am.
Bobby is famous for saying and doing evil and stupid things in the name of his evil and stupid company. Who’d have thunk, back in 1979 when David Crane and his friends founded Activision as a way to escape the heavy-handed behavior of then-publisher Atari, that their humble creation would one day become a megapublisher so immense that it dwarfs its closest rival, in control of franchises so powerful that they can price them arbitrarily and force more than a dozen hotly anticipated games to retreat, tails between legs, from the 2009 holiday blitz, simply because they feared competing with A/B’s behemoth release? Who’d have thunk that Activision/Blizzard, the former of which was once meant as a haven for developers and a corporation on the side of the gamer, would turn into a profiteering monster that makes EA’s early-aughts behavior look downright staid?
All this bile stems from the company’s decisions regarding Modern Warfare 2, a game we all know is going to so dominate the holiday season that neither its developer nor its publisher are bothering with much in the way of marketing or awareness campaigns. Modern Warfare 2, set for release in late November, is priced at £54.99 in the UK. That’s fifty-four pounds sterling, fifty-four “quid,” five thousand, four hundred and ninety-nine pence. That’s ten galleons, sixteen sickles, and twenty-eight knuts.
That’s almost a hundred bucks, and it’s five “quid” higher than most games.
Oh, Actiblizzard blames the weakness of the British pound and the economy and blah blah blah, but the fact is the company knows people (especially British people, I guess) are slobbering for this game and they’ll plop down their extra pounds despite the sickening sense of cashing in to the Man. And on a conference call last week, Bobby Evil Kotick said “…you know, if it was left to me, I would raise the prices even further.” He’s been getting a lot of grief for this crack, just as his company’s been getting a lot of grief for pricing Modern Warfare 2 that way in the first place.
I know, I know, Bobby Kotick is a corporate CEO, and his job is to make money for his company and his investors, and how bad can someone who calls himself “Bobby” really be, anyway. Over at Gamasutra, Kris Graft points this out eloquently, and pointed out that articles like this one and people like me are not being fair to the fact that the man’s only doing his job. I do recognize this; and I also recognize that if gamers are dumb enough to fall for such a gouge, Bobby Wicked Kotick should probably be congratulated, not pilloried. There’s nothing magical about the video games industry; it’s as shameless and self-serving as any other. It’s not that Kotick does or says these things that bothers me, it’s the casual contempt with which he does it.
Blizzavision also recently settled its lawsuit against EA and Tim Schafer’s Double Fine regarding the release of Brutal Legend, a game and studio they dropped from their roster when the Activison+Vivendi+Blizzard merger went through last year, and then sued when Double Fine went to EA and Azzivardion realized that hey, Brutal Legend is really getting a lot of press attention, and they should be in on that even though they’re the ones who binned the game in the first place. Someone at EA famously said that the lawsuit was like dumping a girl and then getting upset when she finds a new, hotter boyfriend. The judge was inclined to agree, and Blivazzion meekly dropped the suit for an undisclosed sum that most people are reporting is approximately zero. Fear not, they’ll make it up with UK sales of Modern Warfare 2.
The frustrating thing about being a gamer is that we’re all slaves to the corporations, no matter how much we want not to be. This is why Kotick’s henchmen can get away with pricing Modern Warfare 2 five pounds higher than every other game, this is why the silly Left 4 Dead 2 boycott is a non-starter, this is why we shell out for games we’ve been excited about for months even if we know they’re getting bad reviews. And it’s something that smart companies take advantage of.
But just as there is room in the world for kinder, gentler nations, there should be room in the world for kinder, gentler companies. Kotick has at his command a multi-billion dollar corporate behemoth; wouldn’t it be nice, just once, for a CEO of such a monster to be decent and generous to consumers? Or even in raising prices, even in gouging for what’s sure to be the blockbuster hit of 2009, would it kill him to at least express some shame? I guess that’s silly when you think about it, but it’d still be nice. Selling Modern Warfare 2 for thirty bucks wouldn’t kill Activision/Blizzard; realistically, it’d help them, since at that price the game would probably move even more units than it’s going to at a premium. Steam sales have proven time and again that low prices = huge spikes in purchasing, and with a game like Modern Warfare 2, economies of scale are such that a low price seems like the prudent move.
But then, this is the same industry that gave us the Playstation 3, a machine originally priced at $600; when questioned about that, Sony’s Ken Kutaragi blandly stated that it was the sort of machine that people should work overtime to get.
So why do I hate Bobby Kotick so much more than so many other greedy executives? I don’t really know. I think it has something to do with the smirk. Even EA’s John Ricitiello is growing on me, but Kotick, man, I can’t help but wish that he takes an anvil right in his stupid face.