The tangle of lawsuits surrounding the release of Brutal Legend meant that Activision was unfairly cast as a villain, says CEO Bobby Kotick.
The tussle over who had the rights to publish Double Fine’s heavy-metal inspired Brutal Legend was an ugly episode, and one that earned Activision no small amount of negative PR. As is so often the case in the business world, the dispute was over money, but according to Kotick, not in the way that Double Fine and EA let people believe.
When Activision merged with Vivendi to become Activision Blizzard, it dropped a few of Vivendi’s projects, including Brutal Legend. When EA picked up the game, Activision responded with a lawsuit, not because it didn’t want anyone else playing with its toys, even the ones it had discarded, but because Double Fine owed Vivendi money. Kotick explained that Vivendi had advanced Double Fine somewhere between $15 million and $20 million for Brutal Legend, and when Double Fine signed the deal with EA, Vivendi’s successor wanted that money back.
“Unbeknownst to everybody,” Kotick said, “[Double Fine] didn’t have the rights to sell. So all we’d said is, ‘Look: If you go and do a deal with somebody else, pay back the money that was advanced to you.’ That was all we were looking for. We ultimately got a fraction of the money that had been advanced to [Schaffer], and as far as I know, that was the end of it.”
He added that the decision to drop Brutal Legend was taken because Activision didn’t think that they game was going to be successful, a position somewhat vindicated by the lackluster sales and mixed reviews. Interestingly, Kotick said that he was hands-off with the entire affair, from the decision to drop the game, to the subsequent legal proceedings. “I had very limited knowledge of what we were even doing with him,” he said. “The guy went off and signed a deal with Electronic Arts for millions of dollars and owed Vivendi money.”
“I could honestly tell you, sitting here,” he added. “I never saw Brutal Legend … the judgment of the people who I trust and respect about the quality of the game, and whether or not audiences would be excited and enthusiastic about this game, was ‘No.’