Activision aims to “take all the fun out of making videogames”

Mr. Robert Kotick is becoming well-known for saying all sorts of things. He’s the CEO of Activision Blizzard, the merged-form of two companies responsible for the two big things making money right now, World of Warcraft and Guitar Hero. And Call of Duty.

This man takes all the fun out of making games, and is proud of it.
This man takes all the fun out of making games, and is proud of it.

Speaking at the Deutsche Bank Securities Technology Conference in San Francisco recently, Mr. Bobby Kotick had much to say. We’re going to just give you the important highlights here:

On Guitar Hero, Kotick says that there are some big changes in store. Seems he’s thinking of a Guitar Hero that doesn’t need a console to play, so like, the game is right there in the guitar. “I think what the untethered Guitar Hero does is equal the playing field a little more and give you some leverage with first parties when it comes to downloadable content and the business model,” Kotick said. Seems it won’t end with Guitar Hero either, as he told attendees to “expect many of our products to be playable independent of a console”. He namedrops Facebook a few times, saying that they’re thinking of integrating Guitar Hero and the social networking site so highscores, favorite songs and that kind of stuff can be shared with friends.

Kotick then sets up a nice one-two for the audience, doing a little self-depricating so as to make future technology look even better. He showed a clip of Call of Duty: World at War, saying how all his friends in the movie industry point out how unreal the mouth movement looks. He says that “game makers just haven’t reached a point yet where mouth movement and facial animation of game characters is good enough to establish a compelling emotional attachment from the player”. Well, Mr. Kotick. You’re talking about World at War here, not Half-Life 2, obviously. It’s a bit of chutzpah to say “game makers” when you really mean “our internal slave-team that churns out a new game every year for the sake of making more money”. The punchline, Kotick then revealed that Activision has been working on a real-time rendering and mouth movement technology, that “represents nothing less than a transformation of the medium”. And here’s a man that knows how lipflapping works! The mouth-tech won’t be ready until the next generation of games, though.

Finally, Kotick explains how he’s slowly been turning the art of making games from something fun, into something more like being stuck in a Dilbert cartoon. Talking to the crowd, Kotick actually boasts how he’s turned the company into something with “laserlike focus on the bottom line”. He’s managed to design employee incentive programs so that it “really rewards profit, and nothing else”. Creativity gets you fired, we think.

“You have studio heads who five years ago didn’t know the difference between a balance sheet and a bed sheet who are now arguing allocations in our CFO’s office pretty regularly,” Kotick said. He later added, “We have a real culture of thrift. The goal that I had in bringing a lot of the packaged goods folks into Activision about 10 years ago was to take all the fun out of making video games.”

And as we all know, when developers aren’t having fun making video games, those games totally rock, right?

Pride comes before the fall, Mr. Kotick. It seems that with all that focus on the bottom line, Activision is forgetting that it was exactly this kind of attitude at Electronic Arts that led to their eventual downfall into third place among the superpublishers, from a Titanic-like position of unsinkability. His actions may be making millions in the short term, but in the long term it’s creating serious damage that will eventually rear it’s ugly head as a serious drop in profits, which will then get blamed on piracy. Of course.