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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Hear what he said about Tim Schafer? What a prise twat. I’d love to punch him.
I fear for this man’s ability to further tighten his grip on the industry. Putting all these businessmen in charge of artistic industries (like the Comic Book industry experienced) can’t be good. Activision could (and likely will) just keep buying up any developer that makes quality titles and turn it into another production line product development center with the sole purpose of increasing profits for the investors.
Lewis: I think I read what your talking about on Kotaku earlier.. I never played Brutal Legend, but it looked like it had a lot of potential. Anyone here play it?
I love Tim Schafer and I love Heavy Metal, but Brutal Legend is simply not a very good game. Oh, it’s nothing short of breathtakingly ambitious, trying to be an action game, a sandbox driving game, an RTS and a light adventure game all at the same time, but it’s serviceable at best in either of these genres and most often notably below accepted values. On top of it, it’s just NOT VERY FUNNY which was my main gripe with it. I’m ready to think that the designer Tim Schafer is simply unable to make GREAT genre-straddling games having made mostly adventure games in past (although – Psychonauts, goddammit) but I expected his writing to amaze me… again. It didn’t. It’s passable for the most part and cringe-inducing at spots. If you like heavy metal, you should still give it a try, lord knows I played it all the way to the end AND some multiplayer. If not, well…
“and the Shit We License business unit ” should actually be:
the “we eat licenses and we shit… well… shit” unit.
Although, of course Steerpike, in his righteous hatred towards Kotick and Activision forgets about at least ONE MORE original IP Activision published last year, the one reviewed on this website, no less – Prototype.
NOT VERY FUNNY? Oh god Brutal Legend was hilarious! Absolutely hilarious. It was also ridiculously polished, and the graphics engine was sweeeet. Alas, I do not own the full game however 🙁 or a PS3 for that matter…
Polished? Graphics? Funny?
OK, just in case someone takes Lewis seriously:
The game was NOT polished. It dropped frames like an epileptic trying to organise a painting exhibition. The netcode was pretty weak.
Graphics were low poly with art direction that looked like placeholder art all the way through to the end.
The game, also, was not funny. I don’t like Jack Black too much so it can be partly attributed to his performance, but most of the written humour was just unfunny to me.
Don’t know if anyone read this over at Gamasutra, but EA’s response to Kotick was pretty funny.
“Kotick’s relationship with studio talent is well-documented in litigation,” EA corporate communications VP Jeff Brown tells Gamasutra in a statement.
“His company is based on three game franchises – one is a fantastic persistent world he had nothing to do with; one is in steep decline; and the third is in the process of being destroyed by Kotick’s own hubris.”
The article goes on to explain those in further detail, but I felt I should share that part. ( :
SEE? And that’s why I like EA better than Activision. That was awesome. Hadn’t seen it. Thanks Armand!
I resent that Meho; the graphics and art style were great; how can you say they aren’t? I’ve no doubt Gregg will agree also. As for the humour, well that’s subjective; I like JB a lot, and found the game very funny.
I’m genuinly shocked you don’t like the graphics… 🙁
I’ve only played the demo so can’t comment beyond that but from what I played it seemed pretty slick. The humour was a little uninspired in places but it certainly got a few chuckles out of me.
With regards to the art direction, I don’t know what sort of cracked out ninja shit you play Meho but I want some! Me and my girlfriend thought the art direction was epic and she’s fussy at the best of times. She’s not even a fan of heavy metal. I don’t care for low poly models or low res textures or even low frame rates a la Shadow of the Colossus, providing the overall appearance of a game is consistent. From what I played Brutal Legend looked solid throughout, it looked metal. It looked heavy. It looked fucking badass in places.
EA’s response was awesome. I’m not the biggest EA fan, but good job by them.
OK, as for Brutal Legend’s art direction, clearly I can only speak as a civillian, unlike Gregg who also has a professional opinion, but just comparing BL to other Schafer games – I can remember every face from games like Psychonauts and Grim Fandango while in Brutal Legend there are very few memorable ones. Sure, Ozzy and Lemmy look great but how hard is it to do a convincing caricature of either of them. The rest are just bland. The environments were… OK. I wasn’t repulsed by them, but considering I have been into metal for almost tirty years now, I wasn’t bedazzled either.
I guess when it comes to the game’s treatment of metal as a culture and aesthetic, what bothered me the most is that Schafer went for the easy stereotypes that a non-metal author would use rather than for something more sophisticated. Again, compared to GF, Psychonauts or indeed Day of the Tentacle, Brutal Legend was just shallow in how it treated its topic…
As I said, I haven’t played anything beyond the demo so take my words with a pinch of salt. I do intend on playing Brutal Legend at some point and if I change my tune you’ll be the first to know my friend 😉
I only played the Brutal Legend demo too. The over riding sense I got from the game more than anything to do with it’s art direction, visual style or theme was that it was pretty bland from a gameplay point of view. The demo bored me within a couple of minutes, which was a shame as I was prepared to love everything else about it. Like I say though, these are impressions only of the demo so perhaps I’m wrong. I may even try and pick it up at a later date, given how cheap it is now.
As for Kotick, well he’s a comedy character isn’t he. I suppose the best thing you could say about him is that he was something of an astute and admirable businessman, but some of his recent actions (including becoming embroiled in petulant arguments over the internet) do quite well in undermiming that.
Though I didn’t play BL, I’ll gladly agree with Meho about Psychonauts. Easily one of the most memorable games I’ve played, with some of my favorite level design as well (there are some stinker levels as well, but over all really creative stuff!)