At a keynote presentation during DICE 2010, Activision CEO Bobby Kotick discussed his reputation as the industry's Darth Vader and said that he felt it wasn't really deserved.
If you took the average hardcore gamer (you know, the sort that follows all the news and reads sites like this one) and asked them who their three least favorite gaming-related people were, it's a safe bet that you'd probably wind up with the following three: Michael Atkinson, Jack Thompson, and Bobby Kotick. It's a bit of a strange juxtaposition, seeing as how two of the three are fervent anti-game advocates while the third is the head of the largest videogame publisher in the world, but there's no denying that Activision CEO Kotick is seen by many as gaming's "big bad."
In keeping with recent attempts to try and soften his image, though, Kotick took the stage at DICE 2010 to discuss his reputation in the industry and some of the remarks he'd made in the past, reported Gamasutra. Recounting his history as a developer of Apple II for companies like EA as far back as 1983, Kotick said that he'd been thrilled as a gamer to take over Activision two decades ago: "These were properties that I really had a great affection for... [and there was a] great amount of opportunity, both financially and creatively."
Unfortunately, as Activision swelled to become an industry giant, Kotick admitted that he'd had to divorce himself from the development process - that he "can't really get too involved" in individual games, since he needs to keep the big picture in mind. But that lofty perch as overlord has its downsides, too: "When you're 50,000 feet above what's going on... you get insulated from that creative passion," admitted Kotick, who said that not being as engaged as he could be with the people who were making the games under his banner had cost him - and the very shareholders he'd been attempting to please - some incredible opportunities.
In particular, Kotick named the sale of Will Wright's Maxis as a mistake, because he and Activision executives had never even taken a look at Wright's work on Jefferson - better known to all of us as The Sims. He also admitted that Activision had backed the wrong side in the Guitar Hero wars by purchasing RedOctane in 2006. "We knew about Harmonix... [who had] lots of good ideas, but nothing that was really commercially viable," said Kotick. If he and Activision had offered something to the Boston-based music studio that went on to make Rock Band, things might have turned out differently.
But beyond the successes and failures as Activision has grown, Kotick isn't sure when he became such a villain. While he'd always thought of himself as a Luke Skywalker figure or Han Solo flying the Millennium Falcon, "suddenly I wake up and I'm on board the Death Star," he joked before the crowd. Kotick addressed at least one of his infamous remarks - saying he wanted to take the fun out of game development - and defended it as being something he'd said "in a humorous way" to assure would-be investors that the company wasn't the sort of "Wild West" culture that had been the downfall of Doom creator John Romero's IonStorm.
Kotick regretted that he'd come off in such a way, but said that that kind of brash, glib off-hand remarks made it easy to "come across as being like a dick".
Still, the Activision boss attempted to set the record straight - as he saw it - saying that the passion in game development was something that was important to him. To support that, Kotick announced that Activision would be sponsoring an "independent video game competition" worth $500,000 to reward small developers "using new platforms and technologies" in the hopes of finding and promoting new "super-compelling and engaging" titles.
I'm going to go out and say it: I honestly don't mind Bobby Kotick in the way that many gamers do. Yes, sometimes he comes off as a bit of a Darth Vader figure, but that's part of his job, and I think the gaming community has a tendency to vilify him and paint him as more evil than he actually is. Brash, dick-ish statements or no, I think he's necessary in the industry.
And hey, giving $500,000 to aspiring independent developers never hurt anyone.
Update: Now we have video of the keynote! Thanks, G4!