Can Activision ever win back our hearts?

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. 

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Motion Controls battle the Electronic Three…Let’s call it a draw

While we all no doubt enjoyed GiantBomb’s heroic and rigorous battle with the Electronic Three, one could be forgiven for coming away with something of a mixed impression of the this year’s intended show stopper: Motion Control.    

It’s fair to say that if this really is the new frontier, it’s a future landscape populated by uncertain and shaky promise.

Despite having set the wheels in, well….motion, Nintendo seems destined to only a marginal degree of relevance thanks an overly iterative software lineup. Sony’s Move enjoys an interesting, if a little confused, appeal to both the mainstream audience and the hitherto impenetrable hardcore; Its clear however that software will make or break the device’s success.

Perhaps the most intriguing of the bunch, is Microsoft’s Kinect. The controller free interface provides the closest realization of the exciting future of the technology on the whole, something akin to the holodecks of the far flung future. It’s a shame then, that Kinect’s middling display of E3 demo titles showcased the technologies mix of fidelity issues and difficult to realize potential.

Nonetheless, It’s Kinect in particular that offers the most compelling microcosm for the trials and tribulations that threaten the success of the Motion control platform on the whole.

Scanning the media response to the unveiling of Kinect’s legitimate software lineup, the impression is relatively clear: While unique, these games aren’t quite the breathtaking leap into the future of control that we might have let ourselves imagine. Titles like Kinectimals, Kinect Adventures and Kinect Sports showcase an interesting mix of the promise of the technology; coupled with its limitations.

But here’s the fancy microcosm part – there’s an exciting, if somewhat surprising, silver lining. A glimmer of that potential we’ve all been crossing our fingers for.

Harmonix’s Dance Central highlights the ongoing importance of intuitive and tactful intergration of control interfaces with gameplay. Simply put, it doesn’t matter if you’re calibrating a gamepad or a futuristic motion sensing device, the end gameplay results needs to be satisfying and fun.

Dance Central owes its strikingly positive reaction to its clever employment of motion sensing; rather than tracking the entire body and trying to replace familiar gaming mechanics with tiresome 1:1 movements (like shooting or jumping), it instead looks for broad gestures. Without being tied down by cumbersome on screen 1:1 avatar modeling, Dance Central instantly allows itself to couple a learner friendly approach with a fluent and slick visual style.

Indeed, the games reception hints at the wisdom of incrementally introducing motion tracking to players, rather than throwing them in the deep end with (supposedly) 1:1 motion tracking and glitchy, unproved and unfamiliar technology.

It’s no coincidence that people have unanimously greeted the impending ‘motion explosion’ with little more than cold reluctance. Games simply play well with a gamepad. Hopefully, developers can latch on to the notion of tactful and intuitive intergration of the technology sooner, rather than later. It seems insane to produce titles that rely entirely on a new and unfamiliar technology, rather, it seems a better approach to intergrate that technology in ways that enhance existing paradigms of gameplay.

Imagine directing your squad around with legitimate hand signals (or wand movements), all the while retaining the fidelity and comfort of gamepad control for the essentials like aiming and movement. Think of the obvious appeal of a concept like well executed head tracking in your next car racing sim, or being able to literally look around the cockpit of your next X-Wing flight.

There’s no question that there’s   promise in the tech, and (thanks to the Wii) there’s no question that there’s an audience out there willing to embrace the idea. The real question is just how developers are going to execute it. Indeed, there’s really only one clear conclusion from our tussle with the Electronic Three this year; Its either going to be a genuinely exciting paradigm shift for the industry, or its going to be sloppy and short lived money making exercise.

Time will tell.

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All day and night playing Playstation = Platinum x2.


So it turns out ive actually managed to earn two Platinum's in a little over 1 day. Im as speechless as the next guy, but I feel in the interests of full disclosure I'd better reveal my patented secret of 'dont sleep and instead play games and drink coffe whilst regularly snacking'; because clearly its starting to yield some serious results.  
 
....arggh the playstion network site is kinda janky. Oh well anyway ill update my Gamercard tomorrow. Im going to bed!
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I just got my first Platinum trophy...sweet vindication!


 I know its lame but I was literally giddy with excitment when I saw that sweet little icon in the top right hand corner of my screen. It was for Borderlands and I suspect the game will hold a special place in my heart forever now as a result. 
  
Ahh if only there was an S-Rank to accompany it. One day. One day. 

Also, Ive been playing wipeout HD recently......dont really know why.  
Double also, Red Dead Redemption by far the best sandox experience Iver ever had. Been sinking lots of time into that baby too.  
 
Cheers my freinds. 
Sam
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Alright...FINALLY - my PSN gamercard.

Damn my internet ineptitude. Sorry to block up your feeds with useless blogs that dont exist.
Nonethless - until GB gets PSN support - I plan to update my gamercard here about once a month or so. 
The bottom line is I play more Playstation :)
 


It is lame a personal goal of mine for 2010 is to get to Lvl. 10 on PSN and 10,000 Points on Live? Probably.
 
Lame be damned!!
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So.... Who's this for exactly?

After replying to jeff's blog directly, I started thinking about the issue in a light that I'd previously neglegted. 
 
As a silver member, do these features make paying for a gold account more tempting?
In short, no.
When I consider it this way, I think the importance of the intergration of these add ons becomes all the more important. This is simply because the feature set of a gold account (from a purely fiscal point of view) seems so inconsistent and trivial. Particularly when I consider what Im already enjoying on my PC, laptop, mobile pohone and of course, PS3.
 
To put it simply - 
Playing games is free, easy and reliable on my PC and PS3. 
Social Networking is already portable and perfectly realised between my Laptop, PC and even if i need to, my PS3. Streaming movie services are simply faster on my PC, and frankly since the xbox doesnt even come with a wireless modem, watching that stuff on my TV isnt an option since the modem is in another room to the TV. Its just as easy to throw a HDMI cable from the laptop to the TV. And perhaps more importantly, Netflix + Sony's own streaming service + ABC iView (BBC iView in england) is already out/on the way for my PS3 anyway, making that 'feature' utterly redundant.
 
So what the hell am I paying for? why would I possibly consider getting a gold acocunt. At least thats how it seems right now, maybe microsoft is gonna blow me away in the coming months and I'll cave in, who knows. 
 
Just my 2 cents :)

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Well, other than MW2...I want...

What do I want for summer 2009?
Assuming you mean other than MW2..... 

1) Borderlands. Its about the only original IP, its not a 'spiritual' sequel to anything, its not quite part of an overly crowded genre whose tireless iterations have turned me into a cynical old man, it genuinely seems like a cool idea regardless of its execution and it had the balls to stand up the MW2 timeslot. Respect.  
 
2) Gran Turismo 5. I dont care that TGS hasnt happened yet so it hasnt been 'suprisingly' anounced for this christmas. Still, pretend for a moment Ive travelled forwards in time to a time not so far from now when this this laughably predictable event has actually transpired - Boy am I going to race the pants off that game. Really, really looking forward to another GT game.  
Of course, I could be wrong. maybe its the hope speaking. 
 
EDIT: Turns out I was wrong :)
 
3) Anything that isnt Halo 3:ODST. 
Dont get me wrong, the Halo series is one of my all time favourites. But to take a moderately topical example - COD4:MW was popular, critically aclaimed and is still played today - for a reason. For that matter, so was original Halo. I have officially denounced moderately different re-toolings of games that work well. COD4 took what was great about shooters and turned them into a specticle like no other, all the while re-inventing many of the fundamentals of online multiplayer, so much so that even the mighty Halo 3 begun intergrating such elements into its own system. Today, they are industry standard. This will happen again, as it always does, but it wont be Halo 3:ODST that does it. I guess its such a big deal to me because it probably could have been.
 
Ultimately, my justification for such a policy has and always will be Half Life and Half Life 2. There has been no excuse for iterative re-skinned sequels since november 14, 2004.   
 
And finally yes Im aware of the irony given that im so stoked about yet another GT game. But its a sim. What exactly do you want them to change. FPS games can be anything, particularly in a world so well realised, popular and frankly, awesome as the Halo universe. I have little tolerance for this full priced expansion pack, as equally good as any other Halo it may be. 
  
Sam.
 

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