Activision CEO Kotick Speaks Loudly, Carries Big Stick

Make no mistake, Bobby Kotick is a gifted man. Not just in his ability to lead Activision to its most profitable year to date as its CEO, but the man, the myth, the legend that is Kotick is willing to voice his opinions no matter how unpopular they may be. In recent days, Kotick has called Bungie the last remaining high-quality independent developer out there, pitched the idea of charging gamers for movies consisting of cinematic cutscenes that are included in games for free, and generally done his best to make the case for Activision being the best publisher in videogames today. And he's not stopping there.

In a recent interview with Edge Magazine Kotick voiced his opinions on a few different topics, including the controversy that many gamers will always relate to his name: the falling out of Activision with Infinity Ward's Jason West and Vince Zampella. While many still view the publishers as the evil corporation that grossly mistreated and pushed out the minds behind Call of Duty, Kotick explained how he saw the actions of West and Zampella as a personal betrayal:

"It shook my belief in two specific people, who were my friends... The frustrating thing about that is, the stuff that these guys did, I never would have expected them to do. We're a public company, we've got ethics obligations, and the things they did were... I would go to jail if I did them.

"You can't use the company and the company's assets for your own personal benefit, and you can't use the leverage that you might have for personal benefit - you're not allowed to do that! And so we didn't have any choice."

As for how he eventually arrived at the decision to force them out of Infinity Ward:

"That's one of those really difficult decisions as the CEO of a company, where you step back and say, 'No good is going to come of this. They're going to leave and probably have a really hard time ever being productive or successful ever again, and we're going to lose some talented people, and there's nothing we can do about it.' And there wasn't."

While the legal details of the event Kotick is describing have never fully come to light, this is the most Kotick has spoken on the subject in quite some time. While some people may find his comments somewhat insensitive, the fact is that we have still yet to see what Zampella and West will come up with next.

Kotick also responded to comments that Double Fine's Tim Schafer made regarding Kotick after the two had a falling out over Schafer's Brutal Legend. Schafer had made several attacks of a more personal nature than business, which Kotick feels have no credibility:

"Tim Schafer. The guy comes out and says I'm a prick. I've never met him in my life - I've never had anything to do with him.

I never had any involvement in the Vivendi project that they were doing, Brütal Legend, other than I was in one meeting where the guys looked at it and said, 'He's late, he's missed every milestone, he's overspent the budget and it doesn't seem like a good game. We're going to cancel it."

Schafer later admitted that while Kotick couldn't be hated for thinking about profits, it was the manner in which Kotick goes about his business that Schafer took exception to.

But the most notable comments from the interview came when Kotick spoke about the other publishing juggernaut in the videogame world, Electronic Arts. Seen as two of the  largest competitors currently operating, both have risen to their current heights by gaining rights to major titles, and slowly but surely absorbing more and more independent game studios. But that's where the similarities end, Kotick says:

"[EA's] been struggling for a really long time,

"It’s like, if you have no other option, you might consider them. They have some… the team that makes Madden is a really great team, it’s been able to manage, capture and keep some good people. But we have no shortage of opportunity to recruit out of EA — that’s their biggest challenge: its stock options have no value. It’s lost its way. And until it has success, and hits, and gets that enthusiasm back for the company, it’s going to have a struggle getting really talented people, which is going to translate into less-than-great games."

You have to appreciate Kotick's candor, regardless of how you feel about his statements. To Kotick, it's more than just how successful a publisher is, but how they go about business. EA was long seen as a cruel and evil money-making machine, buying out independent teams and forcing them to sell out to the almighty dollar; the same accusations that Activision now has aimed at them. But Kotick points out how Activision's success is due in large part to them taking the opposite approach when acquiring independent game developers:

"We always looked and said, 'You know what? What we like about a developer is that they have a culture, they have an independent vision and that's what makes them so successful.'

"We don't have an Activision anything - it's Treyarch, Infinity Ward, Sledgehammer. That, to me, is one of the unassailable rules of building a publishing company. And in every case except for two, the original founders of the studio are still running the studios today.

While it's easy to poke holes in Kotick's opinions, or accuse him of exaggerating the success and merit of Activision, you can't really expect him to not do his best to improve stock value, and make his shareholders feel confident. And with Call of Duty: Black Ops yet to be released, it still remains to be seen if the falling out with Infinity Ward will deal a massive blow to future earnings, and overall credibility.

With so many accusations thrown around in a single interview, it's hard to think that Kotick doesn't expect some major backlash headed his way. While his previous comments were inflammatory, sure, many of them appeared as good corporate spin, or based more on ignorance or ideals than cold, hard, facts. But this is the first time I've heard Kotick so openly attack another publisher, and speak so openly about a legal case the publisher is still reeling from.

We all look forward to the discussion this interview will no doubt spark.

Source: Edge (via CVG)

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