PAX East 2011: Activision Doesn't Run Internal Studios With Iron Fist

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PAX East 2011: Activision Doesn't Run Internal Studios With Iron Fist

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A PAX East 2011 panel of former independent studio employees revealed how working with Activision has largely been like a dream.

Activision and CEO Bobby Kotick get a pretty bad rap from the gaming community and beyond, but according to a PAX East 2011 panel of one-time independent developers now under the banner of Activision, the hate is undeserved. Peter Della Penna of High Moon Studios, Jennifier O'Neil of Vicarious Visions, and Eric Biessman of Raven Software all had nothing but positive things to say about Activision, relating their experiences with the publisher in various aspects of the game development process.

As it turns out, Activision isn't involved in every little decision its studios make. There's a formalized process for checking in during milestones, having talks about financial issues, and dealing with legal stuff, but the panel said that Activision isn't obsessively breathing down their necks.

Additionally, Activision does not force game licenses on developers. It tries to find a good fit and discusses the license with a studio to see how it feels. Della Penna revealed that he's had to ask Activision "what it's smoking" during some of these conversations, candidly impressing that these are decisions made through discussion, not mandates from up on high. For example, High Moon are huge Transformers fans, so it was natural for Activision to deposit the bots at the studio so it could make Transformers: War for Cybertron.

In fact, the panel was more outspoken on the pitfalls of working with licensors rather than a publisher like Activision. O'Neil said that a licensor trying to drive a game's vision can get "sticky," because it doesn't necessarily understand how game development works. On the other hand, Activision does understand this process, and typically keeps its hands out of the parts of a studio where they aren't needed. If a studio like High Moon wants to have surfboards at the ready for hard working developers to take a surf break during lunch, and this becomes part of a studio's culture, Activision is cool with it if the studio is hitting milestones properly.

While the panel emphasized that being independent and working for Activision are very different states, each member appeared to believe that being under a massive publisher's umbrella was more helpful. Success as an independent is very rewarding, but also very challenging to achieve. Biessman related his experience in the earlier days of Raven when employees were paid with credit cards, didn't have enough computers, and not even enough chairs. Now, Activision gives Raven chairs.

Part of Activision's reputation troubles come from the mouth of Bobby Kotick, but the panel believes many of his quotes are taken out of context. For example, Kotick was once quoted as saying he wanted to "take the fun out of videogames." This was a statement made at an investors conference, and in context Kotick meant that he wanted to make his company more financially responsible. This didn't mean the end of lunchtime surf breaks.

For those that dislike Activision because of things heard in the press, the situation couldn't seem to be more different on the inside. Not that Activision, or any other publisher is perfect, but at least three internal studios appear to be having a very positive experience.

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This won't change many opinions. People need a boogeyman to hate.

tautologico:
This won't change many opinions. People need a boogeyman to hate.

Of course, boogeymen are usually created from some form of media.

*looks at the escapist accusingly*

These are all lies! Lies and propaganda!

We need somebody to hate, to make ourselves feel better. Don't take that away from us.

Supp:

tautologico:
This won't change many opinions. People need a boogeyman to hate.

Of course, boogeymen are usually created from some form of media.

*looks at the escapist accusingly*

True. Media outlets will run stories about the last quote from Kotick, or Activision closing another studio, because they know it'll have an audience. In an ideal world, people would then think for themselves and not just jump at easy "Activision is evil" conclusions. But the world is far from ideal...

On one hand, it's good to hear things straight from the horse's mouth (I hope I'm using that correctly) but on the other hand, it's hard to believe that everyone's negative opinion of Activision is based solely on Bobby Kotick making words come out of his mouth without thinking about them in his brain first.

I seem to remember them trying to steal many studios IP including, oddly, a paintballing title baring it' creators name, Suing Tim-schafer and trying to make Brutal Legand a Gitar Hero title and utilising multiple studios to turn out music games at an alarming rate.

I guess if this is true then the lack of new IPs and general fall in quality is really the fault of multiple developers all suffering from the same coinicdenal problem who just happen to be part of the mega-publisher? I don't buy it.

It's not that Activision's evil: it's that they're stupid. Kotick has terrible business sense. I hate him becuase he's an idiot who has no business in a creative industry. For example: DJ Hero came out in 2009, was a slow burner, eventually selling millions of copies months after it came out. People had fun with a new peripheral and game.

Then in 2010: THEY RELEASE THE FUCKIN SEQUEL! PEOPLE JUST BOUGHT THE GAME RETARDS, THEY CAN'T AFFORD ANOTHER ONE!!!

Dear Bobby Kotick,

Please take Bill Hicks' advice regarding advertising and marketing. Thank you.

Sincerely,

CCM

I still don't like this guy. He ruins entire Activision for me. Not to mention their DLC policy. Screw that, glad they are happy but I am not.

Boycotting them with all my might even still!

tautologico:

True. Media outlets will run stories about the last quote from Kotick, or Activision closing another studio, because they know it'll have an audience. In an ideal world, people would then think for themselves and not just jump at easy "Activision is evil" conclusions. But the world is far from ideal...

Which sort of directly counters this exact report, doesn't it?

Also, if Activision aren't evil, why have we already had so much evidence? Is it because of Kotick's shenanigans? If so, then it's still a good reason to have him ousted.

Does seem a little weird having a conference about how Activision are REALLY NICE PEOPLE TO WORK FOR though.

I mean, why would they say that normally?
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The_root_of_all_evil:

tautologico:

True. Media outlets will run stories about the last quote from Kotick, or Activision closing another studio, because they know it'll have an audience. In an ideal world, people would then think for themselves and not just jump at easy "Activision is evil" conclusions. But the world is far from ideal...

Which sort of directly counters this exact report, doesn't it?

Also, if Activision aren't evil, why have we already had so much evidence? Is it because of Kotick's shenanigans? If so, then it's still a good reason to have him ousted.

Does seem a little weird having a conference about how Activision are REALLY NICE PEOPLE TO WORK FOR though.

I mean, why would they say that normally?
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Exactly my thoughts :P

Of course these guys will say that. Why would they come out and say that their boss was the spawn of Satan?

But I don't think that this proves or disproves that Activision influence games. It pretty much means nothing.

I don't dislike Activision because of how they use their companies. For all I know, they could be treating their developers like Nigerian princes.

There are several things I do dislike about them about them;

1. Their Behavior; Shamus Young mentioned this in an article describing Activision and their relationship with gamers/companies. They're suing everyone left and right, denying their employees payment, point fingers at others, and they never explain to us why they're in the right. Kotick described the suit with the Infinity Ward founders and said "Oh, if I was doing what they were doing, I'd be in jail!" well...what did they do?

2. Their CEO; Bobby Kotick is a hack. He could be a nice guy up in person, I don't know, and if he's reading this than I don't mean any personal ill will. But he just has no idea what he's doing. Shamus did another article on it, the guy just doesn't know what he's doing. Whether what he says is taken out of context or not doesn't matter, it's the fact that he keeps saying those stupid things like "Charge for Cutscenes" and "take the fun out of games". And every time he says things like that, they hide behind the "It's taken out of context!" or "He was joking!" or some crap like that. A good CEO shouldn't need that, and he is not a good CEO.

3. Sequelitis; Guitar Hero is the notorious Ur example of this. You want to know the reason why the music genre is now becoming stagnant? It's because Activision kept shoving Guitar Heroes on store shelves, with new instruments for every single friggin' iteration. They didn't support the games with DLC, instead pumping out game after game with questionable sound tracks, until it all fell apart. It doesn't help that you've got testimony from the head of the games.

Those are just a few reasons why I dislike Activision. I am already in a personal boycott with them and I will be until they clean up their act. Fine, Activision is a business, just like EA, BioWare, VALVe, Naughty Dog, whathaveyou. That doesn't mean they can't have some integrity in their balls.

And to be more On Topic; What, are they really going to say "Yeah, Activision are a bunch of douches" in a public panel to hundreds of people in a well-documented discussion? Not unless they want to burn a lot of bridges.

April 1 is quite early this year.

I don't hate Activision, I just hate what Bobby Kotick spews out.

something tells me that bobby have gotten tired of all the bad press and are now trying to buy his way to a better reputation with the gamers but i for one do not fall for it Activision is just as bad as Sony now a days

I imagine activision isn't terrible, but Kotick's full unedited speeches tend to read of a man who is entirely separate from reality.

Few people outside of politics and 24 hour news have managed to say so many stupid things in such small amounts of time.

In this market, i would say that is nice to be working under Hitler.

Devs not shit-talking about their publisher? Wow, how did that come to be... -_-

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The_root_of_all_evil:

tautologico:

True. Media outlets will run stories about the last quote from Kotick, or Activision closing another studio, because they know it'll have an audience. In an ideal world, people would then think for themselves and not just jump at easy "Activision is evil" conclusions. But the world is far from ideal...

Which sort of directly counters this exact report, doesn't it?

Also, if Activision aren't evil, why have we already had so much evidence? Is it because of Kotick's shenanigans? If so, then it's still a good reason to have him ousted.

Does seem a little weird having a conference about how Activision are REALLY NICE PEOPLE TO WORK FOR though.

I mean, why would they say that normally?
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+1

Somebody should have asked how much each of these people was getting paid to say these things, and watch them sweat and laugh nervously. Maybe when somebody not on Activision's payroll tells me that they're a decent bunch, I'll believe it. Until then, I call bullshit on all fronts.

Tell you what, if Treyarch comes forward and says the same thing, I may be inclined to believe this. But I have to really wonder what the only active dev on the Call of Duty franchise is going through right now and the only devs coming out on this are ones that aren't producing Activision's front line of games and therefore probably immune from pressure because they have smaller budgets.
Perception is very important here, and what gamers think of a studio shouldn't be dismissed like yesterday's Woodstock concert. We buy the (overpriced)games, we give studios the money(more than we can afford these days). How many sales are not happening because gamers would feel dirty buying a game because it would have the same stink as buying from a company that uses child labor?
One little panel isn't going to convince us that Activision is awesome to work for. Consistency to maintain this point from here on will. I think it remains to be seen what comes out of Bobby's mouth the next time he is in public.

Professions under even the appearance of duress are of reasonably doubtful veracity. They have to know this. Yet they still feel the need to dog and pony.

Methinks and protests and ladies and yada yada yada...

Smell test, failed.

Now lets hear the opinions of former Bizarre Creations developers and others that have left Activision in the past...

This really doesn't get us anywhere...there's just too little transparency in the video game industry...

Why was this reported as news when it's clearly promotional material? I guess it's about the same as running cutscene promos and such, but it's clearly not presenting itself as such and I find that misleading.

Wow, the people whose paychecks Activision controls are saying nice things about them. What a shocker! I guess that thing with Infinity Ward was just a big misunderstanding, and they have perfectly good reasons to spend more on lawsuits than games, and it's pure coincidence that every studio they buy immediately starts churning out cookie-cutter sequels.

Oh, and in case you've all forgotten: Raven just laid off a quarter of their staff.

*COUGH* bullshit! *COUGH*

Everything that Kotick's been quoted saying has proven otherwise

Ok to be honest you never say thing like "I want to take the fun out of making videogames". I mean there is taking thigns out of context and then there are things you just don't say. Maybe it isn't that bad I don't know for sure but he needs to keep his mouth closed sometimes. Although must be a slow day in the news room.

Natdaprat:
These are all lies! Lies and propaganda!

We need somebody to hate, to make ourselves feel better. Don't take that away from us.

Hate BioWare, then. They seem to be showing their true colors as of late.

...if you don't want to hate them, you COULD always hate Zynga, given their past business practices. As for me, while Kotick can be a bit of a douchebag, I did support them by buying Blur. Damn shame Bizarre Creations went under, though.

I call bullshit. Those representatives of various developers under the Activision banner were more than likely saying those things because their jobs were on the line.

Tell that to IW, oh wait. They don't exist anymore.

Nobody with more sense than emotion would say something negative about their boss, or even a former boss.

In the small world of game development there aren't a lot of options for who to publish your game. Not to mention ticking off the largest and most powerful one of them all likely would be a poor choice.

Not only that but it might make future employers less willing to work with you if they think you might trash on them publicly. Or they might see YOU as the trouble maker because of your ill feelings towards your employer and your inability to let-go even after leaving.

Any theories about them being paid to say this or the odd panel discussing this delightful PR topic aside, what else would you expect them to say about their current or past employer?

Scrumpmonkey:
I seem to remember them trying to steal many studios IP including, oddly, a paintballing title baring it' creators name, Suing Tim-schafer and trying to make Brutal Legand a Gitar Hero title and utilising multiple studios to turn out music games at an alarming rate.

I guess if this is true then the lack of new IPs and general fall in quality is really the fault of multiple developers all suffering from the same coinicdenal problem who just happen to be part of the mega-publisher? I don't buy it.

I have to agree, the way activision operates is just too damn contradictory to what's being said. Maybe they don't treat their workers as bad as we think, but it simply doesn't change what's in plain sight, and that's a company which looks for franchise potential in games, sucks every last bit of money out of it, and when it's no longer profitable enough, dumps it and it's creators like they never did anything for em.

I hate to sound negative, but to add: why does the Escapist post these sorts of things without any thought or analysis?

It's far too close a mimicry of the mainstream news media who posts PR press releases verbatim.

This isn't even some games promotional material, it's just employees of a company giving corporate PR completely divorced from the products.

This still isn't enough to make Bobby Kotick any less of a jerk, nor Activision itself from being an ass to Infinity Ward.

Sean Strife:

Natdaprat:
These are all lies! Lies and propaganda!

We need somebody to hate, to make ourselves feel better. Don't take that away from us.

Hate BioWare, then. They seem to be showing their true colors as of late.

...if you don't want to hate them, you COULD always hate Zynga, given their past business practices. As for me, while Kotick can be a bit of a douchebag, I did support them by buying Blur. Damn shame Bizarre Creations went under, though.

...

I blame Activision for Bizarre going under, for sending Blur out to die and completely failing to give Bloodstone any publicity, hence I'm going to say you're wrong.

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