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Activision CEO Is A "Carpetbagger"

| 22 Jan 2009 15:19
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Activision CEO Bobby Kotick may have earned acclaim for building the company into the world's biggest videogame publisher, but Ben Kuchera of Ars Technica says he's a "carpetbagger" whose interest in the industry begins and ends with the money.

In a biting commentary, Kuchera wrote that during his time covering videogames, he's "never been anything less than impressed with [industry executives'] passion and love for the business they work in." From the top dogs at major players like Nintendo and Sony to people at the developer level, he said, "I'm happy to report that almost everyone who works in the business loves what they do."

Yet Activision CEO Bobby Kotick is a different story. Kuchera points to Kotick's "very brazen" desire to squeeze every last dollar out of every Activision title he can, from the intense exploitation of franchises through annual sequels (and disinterest in games that cannot be easily sequelized) to the division of Starcraft 2 into three separate titles and even the monetization of Battle.net. "That's why I find Bobby Kotick so distasteful," he wrote. "The man is a carpetbagger."

He also noted that after years as the industry bad-guy, Electronic Arts has apparently passed the mantle to Activision. "At least with EA, the franchises mostly stay the same year after year," he wrote. "Activision's tend to age poorly, like wine made from rancid grapes. This is a company that looked at Ghostbusters and decided it wasn't interested because Harold Ramis most likely wouldn't write a sequel every 10 months."

"Kotick doesn't play his games, and it shows," he continued. "This is a guy who looks at the balance sheets of World of Warcraft and wants more, more, more... and it's doubtful he even knows the name of Azeroth."

The catalyst for Kuchera's outburst appears to be the recent Forbes article on Kotick in which Rock Band was described as "a shameless knockoff of Guitar Hero." Anyone who pays attention to the industry will be aware that Rock Band was actually created by Harmonix, the original developer of Guitar Hero that was replaced by Neversoft after Activision bought out Guitar Hero publisher RedOctane. Despite the series' skyrocketing popularity, he asserted, the games has been noticeably inferior since the change in developers.

The Call of Duty series, which Activision moves between developers Infinity Ward and Treyarch in order to maximize output, comes in for even harsher criticism. "I can't imagine what it's like [for Infinity Ward] to give Call of Duty to Treyarch between games," he wrote. "It must be like leaving a child you love dearly with an abusive aunt six months out of the year."

Kuchera's comments stand out because unlike most industry criticism, this is aimed not at Activision but at Bobby Kotick himself. EA honcho John Riccitiello may not be anyone's Gamer Dude of the Year, but I don't recall him ever taking personal heat like this, either. "The idea of looking at those beady eyes every time I write about the man gives me enough incentive to hope for someone - anyone - to come in and love the children that Kotick wants to beat until they work harder," Kuchera wrote. "Until then, the company will have to be happy with a nearly infinite cash stream, delivered by a man who seems to proudly refuse to handle a controller."

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