By Pepsicolaboy 2 Comments
An article I wrote for Issue 3 of The Luchazine:
No-one does controversy like Activision. Between driving fan-favorite franchises into the ground, mercilessly dismantling hapless developers and getting embroiled in multi-million dollar lawsuits with former employees; gaming’s biggest third party publisher is hardly doing its upmost to win our hearts and minds.
It’s no secret that the company’s much maligned chief executive Bobby Kotick, hasn’t helped matters. The CEO’s penchant for making headlines is nothing short of legendary, with his well publicized ambition to “take all the fun out of making video games”, merely my personal favorite of his regularly distasteful quips.
While all his arrogant blustering seems to do little to dissuade consumers from supporting his multi-billion dollar gaming corporation, the publisher’s public image has certainly undergone something of a nose dive in recent times. Today, Activision comfortably displaces EA as gaming’s ‘Evil Empire’ in the forum of public opinion.
But does the publishing giant truly deserve our contempt? Regardless of public perceptions, no-one could argue that Kotick isn’t doing his job. Overseeing the company’s operations for nearly 20 years, Activision’s controversial CEO has masterfully steered his company’s annual profits in to the billions. Indeed, it would be utterly naive to deny that Bobby Kotick is every bit the business savvy executive any company would want at the helm.
What’s more, industry figures personally familiar with Kotick offer a different perspective on the CEO’s persona. According to senior Activision executive Maryanne Lataif, Kotick is “ passionate about games, and loves the video game industry”, while popular financial analyst Michael Pachter describes Kotick as “ friendly to a fault”; going on to speculate that it’s the gaming media that has twisted his public persona, “ making him into a ruthless factory head."
But let’s be honest, no amount of kind words from industry insiders are going to reinvigorate Activisions mediocre public image. The fact is that a wearisome cycle of annual releases, dispassionate support for new IP’s, sinister sounding reports of hostile working conditions combined with Kotick’s inflammatory antics, have all served to render Activision as the industry’s resident bad guy.
Yet while difficult to imagine today, it’s not impossible for Activision to save their public image. They need only to look to EA to see the difference just a few short years can make. EA has managed to move past years of negative press and a diminishing reputation, with CEO John Riccitiello openly admitting that profits got in the way of quality in the past.
This is in stark contrast to the sentiments of Kotick, who believes his company should focus on IP’s that can be “exploited every year on every platform”, with a narrow focus on established, big selling brands. Simply put, Activision needs to diversify its portfolio by putting the same kind of premium on innovation as it does its core franchises. In doing so, they lay the foundation for their next big franchises, rather than simply running the existing ones out of steam.
The real question is, can they reboot with Kotick at the helm? Well, play it right, and the loud mouthed executive’s high profile can easily become one of Activisions most decisive PR tools. But let’s not forget that if Activision continues to shun the industries own representative body, the ESA, they will still be regarded as an arrogant and selfish corporation by their peers, regardless of Kotick.
The bottom line is that Activision simply needs to get back in bed with the rest of the industry. By eschewing community events like E3 and focusing on profit driven business decisions, Activision risks losing the hearts of its audience and the support of its industry, in one fell swoop.