Published on February 20th, 2011 | by Ken Yarbrough, Editor
Ken’s Rant of the Week: How Activision is Destroying the Video Game Industry
“Those who do not study history, are doomed to repeat it.”
In 1983, our beloved Video Game Industry was slowly becoming a staple of consumer entertainment. Atari, Inc. Had created the Atari 2600 in 1977, and it had been seeing great success here in North America. At the time, Atari was synonymous with entertainment, and by extension, videogames.
But then the unthinkable happened. Atari began to flood the market with low quality games and before long, the market was over-saturated, eventually collapsing on itself. If it hadn’t been for Japanese developer, Nintendo, the video game industry might never have recovered.
Fast forward to 2011. Three console makers (Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft), two different handheld series (Nintendo DS, Sony PSP), and a slew of mobile phones and social networking systems, and you have a pretty crowded market. Thankfully, mobile apps, social networking games, handhelds and consoles all represent a very different type of gamer. So on the whole, the crowded market sustains itself.
So, where am I going with this? Well, for now, I’m going back to 1980.
In 1980, Activision became the world’s first 3rd party publisher. At the time, the only publishers in the market were the console makers. This kept developers from making any sort of profit, or receving any recognition for their titles. Activision changed all that. So how, then, is Activision now destroying the industry? Let’s come back to the present.
The great crash of 1983 was largely caused by oversaturation of the market. Too many titles available, most below acceptable quality, for consumers to purchase. About a week and a half ago, during Activision‘s quarterly financial call, some interesting announcements were made.
Most importantly, the publisher would be ending development for it’s largely successful Guitar Hero and Tony Hawk franchises.
Activision claims that the cancellation of the Guitar Hero franchise was due to the music genre no longer being profitable. The problem with this statement, is that Activision is largely responsible for that fact. From 2005 to 2010, there were TWELVE titles released under the Guitar Hero brand. That’s not including the handheld, arcade and mobile titles. That’s roughly two and a half titles each year. Explain to me how that ISN’T oversaturation. Add to that fact that the quality of the Guitar Hero brand has continued to decline, likely because of the extreme deadlines on the titles, and it becomes very easy to see why the “music genre is no longer profitable.”
So, why then, would they announce in the same financial call, plans to release “no less than one new Call of Duty title each year?” They’ve already destroyed one highly profitable videogame genre, and they are going to start working on destroying the FPS genre? They also recently stated that they can no longer take chances on new IP, as the only thing that is PROVEN profitable, is blockbuster titles, a la Call of Duty.
What do you think is going to happen when you release a new Call of Duty EVERY year? And why stop there, Activision? Why not release two a year? The only publisher to actually be around during the crash of 1983, is doing EXACTLY what was done then: oversaturating the market.
That’s not the only problem that Activision has created, though. With the relatively new concept of downloadable content (DLC), publishers have a new way of eating into our wallets. With rising development costs, I see no problem with DLC whatsoever. However, Activision, continues to show it’s immense greed even here. While the industry “standard” for new map packs in a first-person shooter hovers at 800 MSP ($10), Call of Duty‘s many map packs cost 1200 MSP ($15). The quality of the maps, or the quantity, isn’t higher, but the price is.
So what exactly is the problem? Where does this greed stem from? Generally, I don’t like to place the blame on one man, when there are so many moving pieces to video game development and publishing. But in the case of Activision, it’s painfully obvious that the problem lies with one: Bobby Kotick.
Bobby Kotick has made numerous statements in regards to the industry that are not only insulting, but rather worrying as well.
In regards to publishing decisions, he stated that Activision would focus on franchises that “have the potential to be exploited every year on every platform with clear sequel potential and have the potential to become $100 million franchises”. (F2Q09 Earnings Call November 05, 2008 )
In regards to the increasing prices on peripherals…”if it was left to me, I would raise the prices even further” (Activision Blizzard Q2 2009 Earnings Call p.8).
It is clear from these statements that Kotick has one goal when it comes to the video game industry: Make as much money as possible, with as little regard to the consumer.
I understand as much as the next person that making video games, and publishing them, is done for financial gain. However, there are no publishers in the industry with nearly as much disregard for the very consumers that are purchasing their products. In an economy as disheveled as ours, Kotick thinks that raising the prices of peripherals is a good idea?
What’s even more alarming, is that he is not even afraid to speak these intentions so publicly. Bobby wants to gouge prices, oversaturate the market, and doesn’t support new and fresh ideas and he’s blatantly open about it.
In an interview with Kotaku.com, Kotick stated: “[P]art of the whole philosophy of Activision was whether you’re owned outright or not, if you’re a studio you have control of your destiny, you could make decisions about who to hire, flexibility on what products to make, how to make them, schedules appropriate to make them, budgets.”
That’s a pretty far cry from their financial call last week don’t you think?
Bobby Kotick is an absolute blight on the video game industry. Because of Activision/Blizzard‘s immense success, he not only has the power to destroy the video game industry, but clearly, he has the will as well.
Mr. Kotick has no interest in unique ideas, or letting creativity flourish. Sure, you can get juice out of an orange, but eventually there is nothing left to squeeze.
This is a call. Not a call to arms, but a call for Robert Kotick’s resignation.
His shareholders will quickly dismiss this article, due to the amount of money he has made for them over the past few years. But I urge them, and you, to use your head. Sure, there is a lot of money being made right now, but his methods will eventually lead to the market being unable to sustain itself. Very soon, there will be no money to be made in the videogame market, because it will be bloated with too many rehashes, and titles that don’t meet the standard set forth by their predecessors.
We must stop supporting this style of destruction. No one wants to see millions of copies of Call of Duty being buried somewhere in New Mexico.
For Ken’s Rant of the Week…I’m out.
**The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily the opinions of www.gamingtruth.com. These opinions are exclusively held by Ken Yarbrough.**
*Ken’s Rant of the Week is a weekly opinion column.*
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