It may be a matter of public record that I harbor a certain degree of dislike for Activision/Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, but really only in the sense that I wish him an eternity of pain and suffering at the claws of specially-trained torture demons, that his blighted genescape be eradicated from this earth as one might eradicate smallpox or plague. But I only feel this way because his pompous bean-counting has already damaged a creative industry, and he’s intent on turning that creativity into something that can be quantified on a spreadsheet. Still, reading my latest Game Informer, I could hardly blame Kotick for the remark that he wouldn’t have paid seven million dollars for Blizzard in 1995. Of course, he later paid something like 18 billion dollars for the company, but that was later.
After all, in 1995 Blizzard had Warcraft, which helped launch the real-time strategy format (Dune II, from Westwood, was the other driver), but which hadn’t yet become a guaranteed franchise. This is long before Blizzard gave us Starcraft and Diablo, and of course long, long before World of Warcraft changed the games game forever. Back then games cost a few hundred thousand, or at most a few million, dollars to make; I remember how shocked everyone was late in the year when it was learned that Origin had ponied up $14 million for Wing Commander IV. So Blizzard looked like it had a pretty bright future ahead of it, but I don’t think anyone guessed what that future would be. Kotick can hardly be blamed for lacking the prescience to foresee it.
It does sort of make you think, though. 1995 falls into a period some refer to as the “Silver Age” of gaming – ’94 had been one of the best and most important years for the PC, the console market was still chiefly Nintendo and SEGA, and audiences in general were considerably smaller. While I imagine that some industry analysts knew even then that gaming was about to explode, the explosion wasn’t immediately apparent to most of us. In some ways 1993’s DOOM was the game that started it all: the 3D revolution, the rise of video games as a major market commodity, and even the corporate mergering we’re seeing today. Heck, even DOOM creator id Software, independent of all independents, is now a fully-owned subsidiary of Zenimax, while Activision/Blizzard owns what seems like the entire known universe.
Perhaps the interesting thing about the ActiBlizzard relationship, as pointed out here in this 1UP piece, is that Blizzard is anathema to most of Bobby Kotick’s views on how the games industry should be run. Even before World of Warcraft, Blizzard had enough financial stability to produce games at its own (often leisurely) pace, not releasing products until they were highly tuned. Blizzard also has a history of scrapping or offloading titles that are approaching completion – Warcraft Adventures was over 90% complete when the project was canceled – simply because the company felt the product wasn’t worthy of the Blizzard name. Kotick would never bin a 90%-complete project, he’d order it released as is and command a shower of patches, in hopes that some level of sales would recoup at least a fraction of his investment.
Simply put, Blizzard is more interested in quality than profit or timeliness, while Kotick cares nothing at all for quality and has eyes only for the bottom line. Blizzard is like Valve in this way – both companies have the dollars to produce what they want at the pace they want, essentially ignoring the calendar in the interest of producing superb product. Naturally most developers lack the money to do this, and of those who do, many are still trammeled by the wishes of their publisher, who very possibly owns them. The key difference between Valve and Blizzard is that Valve has always been, and remains, independent. That its Steam service makes the company a publisher in its own right suggests that Valve will likely remain its own master well into the future.
So while I’m sure some of the venomous Kotick-haters out there (among whose number I count myself) will find some way to ridicule the man for failing to buy Blizzard back in 1995, there’s simply not much there there.
Don’t worry, though, it’s only a matter of time (seconds, probably) before Kotick says or does something characteristically asinine and we can get back to good old vilification.
Great article Steerpike!
I’ve never understood the necessity for Blizzard to be part of any other company. Individually they make enough money (and have for a long time) to be totally independent. Subsequently they have the luxury of only release a product when it is ready, and not before. Still, even if Mr. Kotick has paid a small fortune to acquire Blizzard as part of Activision, it is at least paying a small fortune for a company which is guaranteed to make eye watering profits.
On another note, I wrote a similar article over at Dancing Cactuar relating to Blizzards financial wellbeing and the impact they’ve had on the online gaming industry, if anyone wants hard statistics on the figures they earn. http://dancingcactuar.com/?p=5
Will Blizzard’s next offering be anywhere near as successful though? Bobby hopes so. WoW blew the MMO scene wide open for reasons I’m sure Lew could explain but could they do it again now? Things have changed so much since the pre-WoW days and the competition is so fierce. I suppose when the King rises though, everyone rises with him.
Have you seen the new Star Trek MMO? Now I’m no Trekkie but the on and off world combat fronts look great. Or at least that’s what I think I saw on the trailer.
The only company on earth capable of toppling WoW is Blizzard themselves. Every MMO has a five year shelf life and WoW is surpassing it’s own. Blizzard and the sub team who now develop WoW have annihilated the ip. The story is a total mess as they butcher it to appease it’s current player base (Trolls as Druids, need I say more?)
As a result new subscription numbers have fallen heavily as older players grow tired of the carrot on stick approach, constantly having there existing gear ruined upon each expansions level cap increase. Why spend countless hours getting the best level eighty armour if the new level 85 green gear is instantly better?
Blizzard are working ona new MMO, they have been advertising for some time but I suspect a) it won’t be based in Azeroth and b) will sell shit loads. If Aion can shit loads and be a shallow grind, imagine from a marketing perspective what the succesor to the biggest mmo of all time cab achieve….
The MMO market is a strange beast. The mistake many companies make is trying to… ah, screw it, I should write this up as a post.
Apologies for my terrible spelling. I am having to type from my phone- lacking personal internet is not my idea of a good time (and I cannot edit!)
It’s meant to say “If Aion can sell shitloads” and “mmo of all time can achieve…”