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.
Wow. That is some premium quality hate right there. To think that people in the gaming industry can inspire this kind of hate, usually reserved for politicians and war criminals (at least in my neck of the woods) speaks volumes about the passion we invest into games.
Anyway, to try and be constructive, I will say that no one should buy Modern Warfare 2 at least for the first six months or so even though noone buying it for the first six days would essentially do the trick. But somehow, I think that a lot of people who are really angry at Bobby and ActiBlizz for the extortion tactics at play here will end up buying it as soon as it hits the shelves. I personally won’t be buying it but then again, I want Wolfenstein so I am equally guilty as the next guy….
I hear you, I guess. But I’ve gotten a startling number of hours of fun out of the COD franchise, a frankly disproportionate number of hours of fun, and it doesn’t bother me that it should therefore be priced higher.
When did it get established that all games have the same price point, anyway? A better car costs more; why not a better game?
The trick, of course, is that the game has to actually be better, to provide that extra play time and joy. Which, given the popularity of online play and Nazi Zombies and the like, the COD franchise certainly has.
Dunno. I respect the righteous fury, but I’m not that bothered by the pricing.
The first incident I can think of where a game had premium pricing was Time Zone in 1982. It was a Sierra On-Line graphic adventure that spanned six floppies, came in a big box, and cost $100.
The second that leaps to mind is The Legend of Zelda for the NES, which cost $40 at a time other NES games cost $35. Shortly thereafter all games went to $50 and stayed there until this generation, when console game prices hit $60. Some prices are considerably higher overseas; naturally publishers charge what they think each market can bear.
I don’t mind the idea of better games costing more, but I’d have to insist that mediocre or bad games cost less. You can’t start at $60 and work your way up; you need to start at $6 and do that. Ironically, this might lead to better sales for bad games. If Bionic Commando had been $19, it might have sold well despite sucking.
No, the issue here isn’t that they’re charging extra for what will almost certainly be a great game – the Infinity Ward Calls of Duty are always excellent, while the Treyarch ones are historically only okay, and we’ve got no reason to believe that Modern Warfare 2 will be any different – it’s that they’re doing it in such a way that it seems almost anti-competitive. Major titles have been delayed until Jan/Feb because of the impending Modern Warfare 2 juggernaut, and to charge extra for it on top of that just seems… sleazy.
In truth this article was more about my general hatred of Bobby Kotick than the pricing of Modern Warfare 2. Heck, I’m more angry at A/B for their Brutal Legend lawsuit than the price of a game everyone’s going to buy and get hundreds of hours of online fun as well as a killer single player experience. The key question of “money’s worth” is what it comes down to. I do feel sorry for all those Brits who have to pony up extra quid.
As for Kotick himself, well, I don’t hate the man the way I hate Dick Cheney or Heinrich Himmler, I hate him in a more pedestrian way. Still, my hatred of him is a pure thing, like crystal or water, unsullied by even an atom of doubt in the matter.
Evil! EEEEVIILL! lol i am sorry i cant help but laugh at way you tell your story it’s hilarious but yeah i agree now days games becoming out of control need put limits how much some these company are charging per game no need charge so much money i know doesn’t cost them nearly as much as they charge to produce this product
The thing is… only maybe one in seven or eight games actually makes the investment back so it’s not really a question of “it doesn’t cost that much to produce that one particular game”.
That said, the game prices are getting out of hand, with the new console generation used as an excuse to ramp the RRP to 60 US dollars per title. Graphics cost money and Hi-Def graphics cost more money…
But, then again, THAT said, I WISH I could pay 60 bucks for new games. Over here where I live new console titles are around 70 EUROS, which is approximately 98 American dollars. I shit you not. This very afternoon I was eyeing the PS3 version of Red Faction Guerilla but decided that I still have to think whether it’s worth 100 dollars to me. It’s ridiculous. I touched on this briefly in the review of BlazBlue: I imported that game from Hong Kong and with shipping and customs costs I paid less for it than I would pay for it in a shop over here. Just to put things in perspective a little bit: average monthly salary here is perhaps 550-600 dollars.
The thing with the Activisions recommended retail price is, for me just one of the last attempts of the industry to cash in on retail products. With the digital distribution model taking off, it’s really only a matter of time before the leeve breaks and the IP rights owners realise that they can not keep the prices of digitally distributed games artificially high. Then we should see a major change in the market and new pricing models. Services like Steam and Xbox Live have already had some experience here and the recent launch of Miscrosoft’s GoD service shows that pricing is an issue nobody has a proper answer to. That will have to change and we already see that there are different prices for different games when digitally distributed and it’s easy to imagine that we will at least end up with several price categories. Almost certainly there will be cheap games among them. But the problem with that will be that the prices won’t be going down as quickly as is the case with retail games these days and that there won’t be a used games market to fall back to…
I realise this has little to do with Bobby Kotick and Activision/ Blizzard, so I will just chip in and say that sueing Doble Fine was a dick move of the highest order. I would pay real money to see the contents of the settlement and learn just how much money changed hands and in which direction. One thing Steerpike is absolutely right about: Activision lately looks as if they are trying their hardest to paint themselves as dicks. Probably not the smartest tactic ever considering that this is an industry where positions change very quickly. Shitting on people on your way up is stupid if it is very likely you will meet them sooner rather than later on your way down…
I can’t imagine anywhere will actually be selling the game for that price, mind you. It’s an RRP, and the big retailers will all be competing to undercut each other. Until the deliberate understocks kick in just in time for Christmas, of course. But it’s still a significant step in a bad direction.
Meanwhile the publishers are trying to eliminate or muscle in on the second-hand game trade to make up for all the revenue they’re losing there. Because, you know, people would definitely still pay the kind of price they do for console games if it weren’t for the resale value.
The value of currency isn’t constant. The American dollar is worth less than half of what it was 25 years ago, so even if you were paying $80 for games today, it would still be cheaper than the $50 NES games from the 80’s.
Here’s an inflation calculator for anyone who is curious
For pricing in general, they’re free to charge whatever they want and I’m free not to buy it. That’s about as fair as it gets.
link was eaten – http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl
When Penny Arcade do industry appraisals, they sometimes hit it dead on:
TBH, I agree, molestation of brands, even ones they let go, is pretty insane. None of the big publishers (even if they started with a good heart) really are anything other then money-in, money-out now, which is a shame.
Oh well, I guess you could poll “Least favourite publisher/CEO”, but you’d rarely find one person saying they have a favourite!
Let the hate flow through you, my young apprentice. Your anger has made you powerful.
I don’t know if I can hate this man or his company for pricing according to “what the market will bear.” If gamers are so lacking in self-control that they are unable to boycott buying a new release for more than a day, then they have no one to blame but themselves. I am one of those people, of course, and I judge myself GUILTY of being a weak-kneed hyperconsumer.
Damn! To say you hate the guy seems a little understated. What’s with all the rage? Price gouging has been a staple part of big business for years. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it. Buy it used in February for the standard $60 or wait until April and buy it new. At least it is a decently long-term investment, particularly if you are a fan of online gaming. It’s a better investment than the $50 bucks a week I spend on gas, and I haven’t even traveled more than ten miles away from my house. Unfortunately, if you think a boycott will somehow show them the consumer is pissed off, you are putting WAY too much faith in the consumer’s ability to control their spending and their understanding that a higher price tag does not mean better game.
That being said, my MW2 is pre-ordered. ‘Til then, its GameStop cheapies for me.
Matt, Maybe you should have started with the comment that you don’t hate the man as much as you hate Dick Cheney–now there’s a suitable target for your vitriol. I must say I find your subtle, ironic, deadly wit more effective than the bile-spewing rage. C’mon the guy probably has a mother, and maybe kids who are very sad now. I usually agree with you and appreciate your efforts to keep the industry on its toes, but this time I have to agree with Jersad, “they’re free to charge whatever they want and I’m free not to buy it”. After all he’s not killing little girls.
Maybe not, but I hear that he feasts on the entrails of freshly killed kittens.
While urging his pack of dobermans to kill and eat little girls. It’s true, I’ve seen it on ‘Gaf!!!!
Anyway, while Steerpke’s tone might sound offensive to some, essentially, he’s making a point here: forcing a higher RRP for a hotly anticipated new title is a clear sign of greed. Perhaps capitalism equals greed but it still needs to be spelled out loud. Greed kills industries. It’s killed the Ameican videogaming industry once before and you stil suffer under the Japanese fat boot in some ways. This gesture by Activision as well as Microsoft’s ludicrous pricing of its Games on Demand service are clear symptoms of greed, perhaps panic, perhaps stupidity in an industry that not even a year ago claimed it was recession-proof. Well, it’s not and this is not helping.
Read your post and stumbled across this article a few days later.
Thought I’d share it.
Good article, Bismarck, thanks for the link.
I’m a little alarmed to see that Kotick went to the University of Michigan. I went to the University of Michigan. As a fellow Wolverine, I have to like him a little.
One of the points made by Bismarck’s Economist article is that Many dislike Kotick because his “bean counting approach stifles creativity.” This sums it up nicely. Frankly, I don’t care that much that MW2 carries a higher price in the UK; not only do I not live in the UK, but I know the game will be worth it. It’s more the arrogance of his willingness to drive prices of all games into the stratosphere without any care for the fact that most games aren’t worth the price point they’re at now.
Heh, this is a new side of you Matt that I don’t believe I’ve witnessed before! Makes me almost feel sorry for Kotick. Nah…
I’ve always had a centrist approach to corporate greed. Does it suck that the average console game costs $60 now? Certainly. But like Meho pointed out, only 1 out of 8 games turn a profit these days and game development has never been more expensive. In fact, I’ve read several industry articles which quote people in the industry basically saying that they weren’t sure this high cost (and rising) of development in the HD blu-ray world was sustainable. These companies need to hire (and pay) dozens upon dozens of people just to create all the pretty art that goes into these game worlds now. I’m actually sensing a pretty significant “pop” in the bubble of the video game industry right now. Between the high costs/high risks of developing these games combined with the global recession battering sales, there will be a big number of studios closing their doors….and probably more publishers as well. This crash won’t be as bad as the 80’s crash, but there will be a lot of damage.
Going back to these high prices for new games, I’m one of those people who just refuses to pay these prices (for the most part). I’ve always been a patient person and could wait (years sometimes) to buy a game at a good price. Part of this is because I’ve never been a big online player, so to buy a game well after its online popularity has faded is no big deal to me.
Alrighty then, back to the Kotick bashing!! 🙂
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