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.
Admittedly, you can somewhat defend Kottick by pointing out he was speaking to SERIOUS, non-creative, money-handling people and that his atmosphere of skepticism, pessimism, and fear refers to the world financial crisis – in other words he was trying to assure the listeners that at ActiBlizz people work seriously (as opposed to having office soccer matches while wearing just sandals and nasty beards) and turn every penny seventeen times before spending it – but damnit, I’d fucking hate working for a boss who can say these words to a bunch of investors (I assume that’s what these people are, potential ones at least?) and actually fucking mean it.
In other news, Google somehow manages to thrive without relying on scare tactics. EA, even.
All true, Meho. Kotick was likely thinking about the room when he made those remarks, though in my book they’re unforgivable in the context of a creative industry that’s about making fun. Of course, Kotick is incapable of fun or joy, so he doesn’t even realize what he’s saying.
You’re also right about Google and EA. The latter has reinvented itself very aggressively in the last two years. While hardly an engine of innovation, EA has made a point to support new IPs, try new things, deal with its quality of life issues, and generally work to keep gaming an inventive space. I find it ironic that Activision darted into the hole that EA used to occupy, even as EA tries to clamber out of it.
I work in the “business sector.” I understand the need for margins, for profits, for work ethic. But I can’t shake the feeling that such things can be accomplished in a happy, welcoming environment. Morale has everything to do with a decent product. If everyone at ActiBlizzard is afraid all the time, it will reflect in their games.
I also feel that this atmosphere isn’t being evenly shared. I doubt Infinity Ward, Blizzard, or id – for their last title with A/B – are being treated this way. But I suspect internal studios are suffering greatly.
Remind me to never piss you off, Steerpike. It’s the string of invectives that you lovingly link together that would cause me to wither & die. Not so much that you were pissed at me. 😀
I’m glad the invective concerns you, Toger. I prefer to rule out of fear! An atmosphere of skepticism, pessimism, and fear is what I want among our community at Tap! We take all the fun out of writing about games, god dammit!
I could and don’t give a crap about Kotick or EA. I just don’t. But I have worked in near proximity to advertising agencies (on film production crews) with car accounts for almost 20 years and possibly even worked on a Doner job at one point. Pretty sure I have. Advanced alcoholism has wiped all that from my memory but let me just say…YES! YES! YES! Steerpike nails it.
While my profession has it share of bloated, oozing toads squatted astride their fetid dung heaps of kingdoms, we are but little children compared to the malignancy that radiates from a cluster of ad agency types, otherwise known as the client huddled in the corner as if for protection from the real world. Take them away from their office and all they think about is that someone back at the HQ is jockying for their position, their cubicle, their three crumbs of booty.
The key problem you have, Scout, is that you’re a kind and decent person. I hope to work with you on this; to break you of your inherent goodness.
“While my profession has it share of bloated, oozing toads squatted astride their fetid dung heaps of kingdoms”
I was writing an essay about the latest X-Men comicbook crossover, Utopia, yesteray and I made a point of describing how Norman Osborn, the current Marvel Universe go to guy when you need a crazy, amoral, manipulative, power abusing sonofabitch, how even him always goes out of his way to sound good in public. Yes, he happens to have a dungeon near his office where he tortures mutants so he can fuel his anti-mutant crusade with their powers, but when speaking to public it’s always public interest this and safety of our citizens that with a spoonful of buzzwords like “humane”, “legal”, “equal” etc. So even Marvel’s scriptwriters happen to think that high ranking managers or officials, even when they’re scum with a pedigre, should make sure to at least sound like warm, caring human beings when addressing Earth citizens.
Now, my years working in the humanitarian rather than business sector may be colouring my vision a bit but even among business executives I meet I have never met anyone who didn’t know that every time you speak to anyone with ears you want to make shit sound positive. So you speak in phrases like “focus on achievements” and “we strive to excel” and if you happen to be talking about the financial crisis and hw you are making sure its effects are addressed you resort to mentioning “working harder than ever” and “everyone committing to overcoming the potentially adverse effects”. It should be just natural for an executive to, in every possible situation, sound positive, upbeat and caring. Business really is about public image to a great extent.
But, when you start making more than 10 mil per year, apparently you get to become Chuck Norris and not play by the rules…
As soon as I read those awful words from Bobby ‘Shitsack’ Kotick’s mouth, I looked forward to you taking him to task Matt, and rightly so! While maybe his message was to tell these ‘suits’ that Activision employees work hard to be profitable, phrasing it in the way he did shows him to be monumentally oblivious to the words that are falling out of his mouth, or just actually evil.
Hopefully his corporate atmosphere of skepticism, pessimism, and fear will lead to lacklustre titles which sell poorly and communicate what a horrible leader he is in only language he understands ($$$).
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