Since the next generation has started, Electronic Arts has been looked at by gamers as the “evil empire” of the gaming industry. Not only has the company been accused of buying up developers and shutting them down to avoid competition, but they’ve also been accused of attempting to monopolize the industry. We’ve seen them attempt to acquire Take-Two Interactive, which simply put, would have been a huge blow to the industry in the sports genre. Furthermore the company was allegedly going to release a console of their own – crippling the industry in its entirety with its vast lineup of titles and exclusivity on half of the sports genre (especially had they bought Take-Two). Also, who can forget the 2006 Madden commercial featuring the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants? If that wasn’t the most overhyped look into the future of gaming this generation, I don’t know what was. However, we all know the type of train wreck Madden 2006 was in general, right?
Fast forward three to four years and we’re looking at an entirely different company. Electronic Arts has helped evolve the industry through this generation unlike any other publisher. Through amazingly unique titles such as Dead Space and Mirror’s Edge, EA has brought to the table title after title of critically acclaimed hit that just can’t be ignored. No longer do you see this company trying to buy up the little guy in order to make a quick buck, but instead they’re trying to grow their company to that next level of super power that the industry has yet to see. One of the biggest examples of this turn around, in my opinion, is the Need for Speed series. Who could have predicted that Need for Speed: Shift end up so successful and offer such a great experience? I didn’t see it happening. Next up we can look at the evolution of their FIFA franchise and how it not only caught up to Pro Evolution Soccer but in some people’s eyes, surpassed it. The same can be said for NBA Live and a myriad of titles released under the label over the last couple of years.
So, this brings us to the question of, “Who is the new bad guy of the gaming industry?” Surprisingly, I believe that Activision Blizzard has turned a blind-eye to the industry in favor of milked franchises and blinded greed resulting in the company earning the title of Evil Empire of Gaming. I realize that this editorial may not go over well with Activision’s supporters and fans of the Call of Duty franchise, but when it comes down to it, I don’t think this could be pegged on any other company in the industry. Over the last year, Activision has been plagued time and time again with one of the worst public relation moved I’ve ever seen in the industry. Allowing Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision, the opportunity to voice his opinion has to be one of the monumentally densest decisions known to man. Of course, it’s not like we can blame anyone other than Kotick himself. After all, he is the CEO and decides who speaks up on what. Bravo, Bobby, Bravo.
So – Without further ado, let’s just into this past year of gaming and truly nail down how Activision plans to not only attempt to hold back the industry, but to hold it for ransom as well. Since we’re a PlayStation website, we’ll start off with his memorable quote in regards to Sony, the price of their console, and the ridiculous notion of cutting off support for not only the PlayStation 3, but the PlayStation Portable as well.
“It’s expensive to develop for the console, and the Wii and the Xbox are just selling better. Games generate a better return on invested capital on the Xbox than on the PlayStation. They have to cut the price, because if they don’t, the attach rates are likely to slow,” he continued. “If we are being realistic, we might have to stop supporting Sony. When we look at 2010 and 2011, we might want to consider if we support the console — and the PSP too.”
Let us get this straight, not only does Kotick believe that an install base of 27 million isn’t enough to warrant production of his products (which sell extremely well on the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable), but he feels that if the company doesn’t lower its price point, the attach rate is sure to dwindle? Not only is this ludicrous, but it’s absolutely mind boggling how this can be the same dude who is pushing forward with the idea that raising Modern Warfare’s 2 price point is great business and does so on the belief that the attach rate will only continue to improve. I’d personally like to know what the difference between the two is, but I’m sure we’ll never truly know.
In case you haven’t heard this great quote from Andrew Brown, Activision UK Managing Director, we’ve included it below in order to continue our reasoning behind Activision taking sole place as the dirtiest and evilest company in the industry.
“At the end of the day, there is a spectrum of what people can afford and what people are prepared to spend. These things are key,” claims Brown. “This is an industry where things cost a lot to develop and it’s a risky business. We talk about building franchises; it is very expensive to do this from every respect. What we are finding is that for the right products, if you look at the time someone will spend playing something and compare it to something else, people are saying it’s worth it”
Now it’s alright to raise the price because they expect the consumer to still demand it and they also consider Call of Duty a risky franchise to developer and put on retail shelves. Now, I’m not rocket scientist, I’ll be the first to admit it, but how the hell is Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 – the direct sequel to a Game of the Year winner – a risk to develop? Hasn’t CoD: MW2 already accumulated over 2.5 million preorders alone? And I believe this is just in North America. I’m sure the preorders around the globe are just as astonishing. The notion that this company has just confuses me to no end. By Koticks former logic, wouldn’t this price hike only diminish the attach rate per console in the UK due to the differential in price in comparison to other titles? What happens when half of the UK crowd decides to import the title for $15-20 cheaper from North America? Will the company step forward and say their decision was ridiculous and that it completely hurt UK sales? Probably not, but we all know a small percentage of gamers are already thinking about taking that route.
What really throws me off is that Kotick isn’t even happy the price hike as is, he’s been quoted as saying “And Tony, you know if it was left to me, I would raise the prices even further.” Seriously? You’d hike the prices up even further, diminishing the respect that your user base has for the company as a whole? Don’t worry – We’re sure that Guitar Hero 12 will recoup all of those fans lost in the quest for money. Which brings me to my next point; what ever happened to Ghostbusters and Brutal Legend being published by Activision? Don’t worry – the answer is simple. Kotick only wants the company to deliver titles that they can exploit the gamer with through yearly releases, you know, like Guitar Hero and Call of Duty (though developed by different teams).
“[Those games] don’t have the potential to be exploited every year on every platform with clear sequel potential and have the potential to become $100 million dollar franchises. … I think, generally, our strategy has been to focus… on the products that have those attributes and characteristics, the products that we know [that] if we release them today, we’ll be working on them 10 years from now.”
In case some of you reading this just aren’t figuring it out, Kotick is basically saying that certain gamers are too stupid for their own good and they’ll just continue to buy the same recycled product every year. Sorry to lay it out so bluntly, but if you’ve bought the last 5 iterations of Guitar Hero, you fall into that black pit of stupidity and you should climb out as soon as possible so that you can purchase Guitar Hero: Van Halen when it releases – Wait, you guys probably mailed in the voucher with Guitar Hero 5 to get it for free – you tricky gamers, you!
If that wasn’t all bad enough, Activision is actively attempting to prevent the evolution of gaming and if it wasn’t for developers under their label fighting for the right to get creative with certain titles, we wouldn’t even be enjoying a Modern Warfare 2, let alone the original. I’m sure you’ve heard by now, it did create enough buzz anyways, but Activision didn’t even want Call of Duty to leave the played out universe of World War II. Can some of you even believe that? I know I can’t be the only one tired of killing Nazis. I mean, you can only take one down so many times before you realize you’ve killed more of them than what actually existed (which probably happened 2-3 World War 2’s ago).
“With Call of Duty 2, we were dead set against it being World War 2,” Zampella told OPM, “but Activision really wanted it, the compromise sort of being that we’d get some dev kits for consoles in exchange for doing a World War 2 game. We always wanted to be on consoles and Activision saw us as more of a PC developer,” he said. “And something I’ll add to that, Activision also did not want Modern Warfare. They thought working on a modern game was risky and [thought], ‘oh my god you can’t do that, it’s crazy!’ They were doing market research to show us we were wrong the whole time,” he said.
“We had to fight for everything,” chimed in CoD project lead, Jason West. “They wanted it to be World War 2. Again. It just blows us away. I’m still reeling from it,” Zampella said of the success.
The point this all pretty much makes, is that it confirms that Activision has turned into everything we feared Electronic Arts was going to turn into four years ago. The only difference between the two is that EA took a complete 180 and changed the industry for the better while Activision sat back on its laurels and went to work on the recycled, re-shrink wrapped business model that has made them millions upon millions of dollars over the last couple of years. This hasn’t been achieved through the art of evolution or bringing something new to the industry in the form of a standard, but at the cost of the gamer and at the cost of stupidity from the select few who continue to buy repackaged software so that they can get their gaming “fix.”
The only question left is how far can this continued to be allowed to go on before the vast majority of gamers step up and speak out against it? Online petitions won’t work, the only thing that will is your wallet. And look at it this way – if you’re not buying their product, you can either save the money while putting it to good use or you can support another publisher that’s actually trying to bring you a new experience in gaming and make you never regret your purchase…
PS: I’m a sucker and I’ll still be buying Modern Warfare 2…but that’s it. I promise.