Activision's head of developer relations Dan Winters says that perceptions of the company began to change after it became number one but the truth is that it's still the same lovable, hard-working bunch of guys it's always been.
No game publisher can arouse passionate, visceral anger like Activision. Even in its heyday, I don't think Electronic Arts ever stirred up such intense feelings of dislike as those expressed by a wide swath of gamers toward Activision and its much-reviled CEO, Bobby Kotick. That it's a hard-driving, profit-driven company is bad enough, but the way it's so unabashed about it is what really seems to drive people nuts; yet according to Winters, perceptions of the company have changed over the years but the company itself really hasn't.
Winters said he felt sorry that people were surprised by reports of the generally good relationship between Activision and Bizarre Creations, even after Activision shut down the studio down following the failure of Blur. Activision does what it can to allow studios to retain their own culture and leadership and to be "stewards of the brands," he explained, which also naturally tends to foster positive relations, but that gets overlooked because of the widely-held impression of the company as a soulless behemoth.
"It's interesting, before our merger with Blizzard, becoming the number one publisher from a revenue perspective, we were always known as the warm and cuddly Activision; the scrappy, loveable number 2. As soon as we become the number one and we develop broader perspectives, perceptions started to change a little bit," he said in an interview with GamesIndustry.
"We've worked very hard, and continue to do so, to let people know that, you know, we're the same guys, we really are. We haven't changed!" he continued. "I'm the same guy that I was before the merger, as are most of us. We're the same organization. We haven't gone out and hired 3000 people. Our ability to scale and move quickly is the same as it was before. We're not this big, monolithic empire that's making decisions in a dark room, we're still very collaborative. We still have the same healthy respect and appreciation for talent that we ever did."
There's no question that Activision isn't shy about dropping the hammer wherever and whenever necessary. After pulling the plug on the famed Bizarre, it cut 500 jobs shuttering the Guitar Hero franchise amid allegations that it "abused" the series and continues to wage war against the founders of Infinity Ward. Kotick, meanwhile, earned himself the kind of personal notoriety that never goes away when he said in 2009 that his goal at Activision is to "take all the fun out of making videogames."
That was presumably a joke but it sure didn't go over like one with most gamers, which Winters thinks is unfortunate. "We went from being a very successful company, in fact in terms of the market share perspective we were teetering on the number one, number two before the merger and then we went to delivering 25 million copies of Call of Duty to consumers at a time when we had Blizzard expanding on the World of Warcraft front," he said. "That doesn't mean that we've changed our perspective at all. We have the same sensibility and we're still the same small town folks that we were before, just with a lot more work to do."