Activision CEO on helming the industry's 'Death Star'

DICE 2010: Outspoken executive Bobby Kotick laments passing on The Sims, Harmonix, explains "taking the fun out of making games," and announces $500,000 indie game challenge.

LAS VEGAS--Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick has no problem speaking his mind. The executive's outspokenness was on full display last year, when he threatened to cease support of the PSP and PlayStation 3 and raised the idea that "someday peripheral-based Activision games might bypass consoles altogether. Though those comments ruffled publishers' feathers, it was developers who took umbrage at Kotick's declaration that one of his management goals "was to take all the fun out of making video games."

Activision CEO Bobby Kotick.

Since Kotick's words made a splash in the press, Activision has sought to reassure the industry that it fosters a work environment hospitable to top game creators. Indeed, the subject of Kotick's keynote address at this year's DICE Summit, "How Creative Talent Drives The Video Game Industry," appears to be an olive branch of sorts to any developers stung by his earlier comments.

Unfortunately, though, Kotick's address comes the week after Activision initiated a purge of its internal studios. The company--one half of megapublisher Activision Blizzard--confirmed that it had pared down the payroll of Prototype developer Radical Entertainment and shuttered Transformers studio Luxoflux and Guitar Hero: Van Halen shop Underground Development altogether. Unconfirmed reports have original Guitar Hero publisher RedOctane being primed for closure and the Guitar Hero IP being taken away from Neversoft, which was also reportedly hit by layoffs.

With recent events still hanging in the air, DICE attendees shook off the after-effects of the previous evening's opening night party and assembled in Red Rock Casino's Summerlin Ballroom to hear Kotick speak.

[11:50] There is hardly an empty seat in the house as OnLive CEO Steve Perlman wraps up the preceding presentation of his company's online service. Many in the audience were visibly impressed.

Kotick's room on the Death Star at least has a nice view.

[11:51] AIAS president Joseph Olin takes the stage and relays an anecdote about how he applied for a job at Activision. He didn't get the job, but Kotick said he liked him.

[11:51] Kotick takes the stage and makes a joke about his small stature. "I think you had this mics setup for [former EA CEO] Larry Probst," he cracks as he pulls down the mics.

[11:52] "Now all my life I've seen myself as flying an X-wing with the Rebellion. Then, one day I woke up and I'm on the Death Star."

[11:52] Now, Kotick talks about how he bought Activision more than 20 years ago by spending every single cent he owned--about $440,000.

[11:53] He said he was sleeping on a couch with not a cent and then realized he needed money to actually buy the company, which was then called Mediagenic.

[11:54] At the time, a venture capitalist asked him why he wanted to buy Mediagenic. "Buy Mediagenic? I don't want to catch Mediagenic," he joked. "I want Activision."

[11:55] He then talks about how he loved Activision from its inception, when a bunch of disaffected developers left Atari in 1979.

[11:55] "That was the birth of the independent developer."

[11:56] "I liked the concept, but as a business guy, I thought that maybe one day down the road it would offer financial independence and creative independence." He says that film and music were too established.

[11:57] Kotick was actually a developer at Electronic Arts for five years before he bought Activision at the ripe old age of 26. (Anyone over 30 may begin a period of depressed introspection...now.)

[11:59] Kotick was also told by the person--actually the head of Mediagenic, not a venture capitalist--that his background in art history wasn't very impressive.

[11:59] The man then asked him, "What do you know about the video game business?"

Kotick wanted to buy a Commodore...the company, not a system.

[12:00] He then talks about his fruitless yearlong effort to acquire Commodore.

[12:01] Kotick said it was very hard to raise capital, since the spectacular failure of Atari had many convinced that "video games were just a fad, like the pet rock."

[12:01] Even the heads of Commodore thought as much, saying they didn't want to compete in the "consumer space."

[12:02] They wanted to compete against Sun Microsystems, even though Kotick was convinced the Amiga could be an ideal gaming platform.

[12:04] After pointing out he is a single father of three daughters, Kotick pokes fun at his weight, saying, "I like to eat. It's an addiction, you could say."

[12:04] He says the only thing that he has less control over than his appetite for food is his appetite for video games.

[12:04] Now, Kotick is returning to the thesis of his speech. He said the lesson he's learned over the years is to empower "people who really know how to make games."

[12:05] He said that sometimes it's easy to forget how games are made "when you're 50,000 feet above the action."

[12:06] He admits that his disconnection from the day-to-day process of development has cost Activision--and Activision shareholders--"many opportunities."

[12:06] An an example, Activision almost bought Maxis at a time when the studio was dealing with Sim City 2000's troubled development.

Sim City 2000, and Will Wright's Maxis, almost belonged to Activision.

[12:07] Will Wright invited him to check out a secret project called "Jefferson," but he was so put off by Sim City 2000's problems he passed.

[12:07] Yes, Jefferson was The Sims. Oops.

[12:07] Kotick also regrets not buying Harmonix when they were developing Guitar Hero.

[12:08] "The thought of going up to Boston to check out this crazy developer didn't even occur to us."

[12:10] Kotick was also offered the chance to buy Blizzard in the 1990s for $7 million, and then in the early 2000s for $700 million.

[12:10] "I took a look at World of Warcraft and I thought, 'Who would want to buy a subscription to that?'"

[12:10] "So, of course we ended up merging with them in 2008 when they were worth $7 billion."

[12:12] Activision also had the chance to buy Jamdat but couldn't raise the capital. EA would end up buying Jamdat for $680 million.

[12:12] Activision also had a chance to buy Pandemic but instead just gave them some seed money. EA bought BioWare/Pandemic in 2007 for $860 million.

[12:13] "Activision is a great mothership, if you want the opportunity and support that provides. If you want to sell out and move on, there's some other companies out there who can help you." Raucous laughter and a few isolated claps.

[12:14] "I think you're seeing a pattern here."

[12:15] "Now, you need some ego in this business...and often I can come off as kind of a dick."

[12:16] "Now, when I said 'I want to take all the fun out of video games,' I was talking to investors. And what I meant was that our development isn't some disorganized Wild West mess."

[12:17] "So what I was trying to say is by putting in established processes, we're actually keeping the fun in making video games... All good development teams know the importance of processes and discipline. And they can implement those processes in ways which are fun."

[12:18] Now he's reminiscing about starting out in the game business at age 19 in 1983.

[12:20] He said he began programming in his dorm room, and the only kinds of games that would allow for such programming these days are on platforms like Facebook.

[12:21] So, to foster independent development, Activision is announcing a new independent game challenge with a $500,000 grand prize.

[12:21] Now he's wrapping up, expressing thanks to "everyone who works at Activision Blizzard who put their heart and soul into our games."

[12:21] That's it! Check back later today for more happenings from the DICE Summit in Las Vegas.

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Discussion

230 comments
IRoxxorUrSoxxor
IRoxxorUrSoxxor

People will scoff when I say this, but it's a great big goddamn shame that it was activision who acquired Blizzard - excuse me, merged with Blizzard - and not EA.

chaplainDMK
chaplainDMK

Wow, Sims, Diablo, Warcraft and Starcraft were a lucky bunch...

VarietyMage
VarietyMage

It's only money to him, whatever his history may have been. At least Firaxis is still making "Civilization" and Bethsoft is still making The Elder Scrolls series. If it doesn't make mega-millions, it won't get made anymore. Tell you what: you make a DirectX GUI that abstracts out all the syntax mumbo-jumbo, and does the mathematics in a mouse-driven style (i.e., drag-and-click matrix manipluation for graphics), and everybody will be making games like the days of old; companies like ActiBlizzard and EA will die because there will be a flood of cheap games that will run the mega-corps out of business. I'd love to remake Firebird's space-flight game "Elite", but I can't comprehend DirectX on my own, and classes are too expensive ($2000.00+) for my being unemployed. I'm willing to bet that there's hundreds of thousands of us who could write killer games, but are kept out due to the arcane crap required to make a game. I know the logic of what I want to do, but I can't do anything with DirectX, and that's the bar these days. And a PS3 dev kit is really, REALLY expensive. Honestly, I think they make it expensive and complicated so that they can keep their salaries, and thus their prices, high. Which makes arrogance like this guy's really, really annoying. He spits on the intelligence of everyone who ever wanted to create a video game. It also makes me wonder if Diablo 3 will really be worth buying, know what I mean?

Hydrolix
Hydrolix

Some of the below comments are hilarious. Not going to buy Activision games any more. Yeah, right. As soon as the next call of duty hits you all will run right out and fill Activision's pockets.

mpeg3s
mpeg3s

Onlive is not the solution.

Glade_Gnarr
Glade_Gnarr

So Activision could have sucked the life out of a lot more companies, thank god Kotick passed those offers.

darklight4
darklight4

"take the fun out of games" thats it I am done with Activision for good

BetardxFoosier
BetardxFoosier

He knows what he's talking about and how to speak well for his company. I respect the man for acknowledging the missed opportunities and giving his confidence that the future will be a good one. That's what good CEO's do: take hits sometimes, but always make sure to learn from them and move on.

alglach
alglach

its simple I boycott all Activision games because of this idiot

AuronTsubaki85
AuronTsubaki85

[12:01] Kotick admits being a junkie [12:02] Kotick admitted that he dresses in his mother undergarments. [12:03] Kotick admitted that he gets naked with horses. [12:04] Kotick admits of eatiing all the cakes. [12:05] Kotick believes in quanity over quality. [12:06] Kotick admits he is a racist.

Inconnux
Inconnux

I didn't think that there was any company that I could hate more than EA... then this idiot started to open his mouth. I won't purchase any Activision titles because of this idiot. If you want him to go away, please stop buying Activision titles!

Skargamer
Skargamer

what is wrong with this guy? his company is dying and he announces a competition of 500,000 thousand dollars?!?!?!?!?!?!?! nice move. :P

UrbanMessiah
UrbanMessiah

*[12:15] "Now, you need some ego in this business...and often I can come off as kind of a dick."* ^^^ Well, at least he told the gods honest truth there...gotta give the guy props for admitting his personality flaw. -=x

Darkman2007
Darkman2007

im not buying it, for years the guy acts in a pompous, annoying way, and suddenly changes. unless I hear a story where a vase has fallen on his head and he became a different person, im not falling for it

UnknownForm
UnknownForm

I really do not like this guy...does anybody else agree!

LordRaymond
LordRaymond

Lol Activision will go down. A company with someone like Robert Kotick as CEO makes Americans look like crap. Lets see how long he can last.

HylianWolfe
HylianWolfe

So...he goes on about his life and his mistakes for a good 20 minutes, takes 2 minutes to explain what he "meant" about taking the fun out of games, and then talks some more nonsense and throws money around. Yup I can see why I should believe his words ::rolls eyes::

maverick_76
maverick_76

I'm not buying this guy's crap. I felt the same way when he started talking about taking the fun out of video games, then he said that it meant he is bringing the fun back into them? ZUHHH??? What I don't get is if that was the case then why did he not say exactly that when the statement was first made? Total imbecile.

Oni
Oni

This guy is an idiot. He passed on Harmonix, Blizzard and Maxis. My opinion of Blizzard had waned tremendously since their merger with Activison.

Yazu13
Yazu13

Kotick is such a tool. This is damage control 101. Try to explain yourself and twist around your douchebag comments into something they aren't. Then, once you've skewed your mouth-diarrhea into pretty little words, make amends by doing something like "announcing a new independent game challenge with a $500,000 grand prize" to make people forget. Kotick knows that he screwed up and has to do something about it, but that doesn't mean he's apologizing for what he did.

mjnoir1
mjnoir1

this is all pretty scary for those in the game industry its almost like the video game crash of the 80s is going to repeat itself. with so many people went to school to become a game developer only to get laid off after your project is over makes me never want to go into the game industry its like your a temp employee unless u work for a mega succesful company. even then your not going to be immune to a layofff. just awful

yman173
yman173

Can this guy be nominated for the 2010 "Biggest Douche In The Universe" award?

Gamingcucumber
Gamingcucumber

Is it just me? Or does this guy just rubs you the wrong way from some reason?

VENOM192
VENOM192

Kotick is one greedy bastard.

deviant74
deviant74

I only read one lie in what he said. "I took a look at World of Warcraft and I thought, 'Who would want to buy a subscription to that?" Every one knew that was like giving blizzard a money printing press. If you want to know what really hurt computer video gaming that was it. blizzard is the only company that could bring it back starcraft 2 diablo 3 pc only games out in the same year. That would but a dent into that world of warcraft LOL.

BonsaiMet
BonsaiMet

Everyone who hates Kotick raise their hand....

absinthewfaust
absinthewfaust

@ payne6705 Bioware and Pandemic merged 2 years before EA came along.

GameShark9000
GameShark9000

Activision = The New York Yankees of the industry.

alexLmx6
alexLmx6

him talking makes me think of mr burns or something, whipping his employees yelling "chew on your own time!!"

xaos
xaos

Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've constructed, Admiral Kotick :x

payne6705
payne6705

well at least he is honest but wow look at all the bigger companies eating the smaller ones up..and then firing them the whole pandemic thing still bothers me what was the point in buying them and then firing them 2 years later? (and yes i know that was EA not activision)

atopp399
atopp399

Imagine if they had bought blizzard back when it was worth $7 million. Blizzard would not be known for the quality games they release and we would have missed out on some of the greatest gaming of all time.

brendanhunt1
brendanhunt1

"Sim City 2000, and Will Wright's Maxis, almost belonged to Activision" scary thought

daabulls23
daabulls23

Now, this doesn't make sense. Basically he said "When I was talking about taking all the fun out of video games, what I really was saying is that we actually keep the fun in making video games." Huh?

XeonForce
XeonForce

Who else wants to lay a big ol' fart in that smiling face?

punkpunker
punkpunker

well every one knows that if there is a death star, it will blow up

SicklySunStorm
SicklySunStorm

does anyone else think that photo of Bobby at the top in this article makes him look like Jack Nicholson as Joker in the '89 Batman flick? Especially the scenes where you see he's put on foundation make-up to cover his white face... I can hear that laughing joke bag in Bobby's pocket from hear lol

GAMERALL
GAMERALL

Kotick is just a tyrant. And like all those before him, he will fall. Different faces, colors, nationalities, ideals. Everytime and everywhere. Tyrants are all the same.

Sirbobislost
Sirbobislost

Lol how can he sleep at night knowing he could of had blizzard for 7millilon that would haunt me to the grave

The_Jackle
The_Jackle

@SolidTy maybe for rhythm games but I'd like to see Neversoft do so well with Skateboarders

CoolKidX
CoolKidX

Why does everyone hate him again? This is like the first time I heard of him kinda.

Hekynn
Hekynn

Well I'm not buying anymore of Activision games then since the ceo is such a greedy turd.

monco59
monco59

@ spOOoOOn: Yes, it does show dedication. But it shows dedication to get rich, not dedication to make great games or serve a greater purpose. I´m not saying people who want to make money are to be despised, but they certainly aren´t to be revered simply because they have ´´dedication´´. And I love how Kotick is trying to flip his remarks completely around. We all remember how he said he wanted to ´´take all the fun out of video games´´ and wanted developers to work in fear and uncertainty, but now he claims he was actually talking about investors and keeping fun in games. Sorry Bobby, no one intelligent enough to operate a toaster is going to believe you. Luckily we all know the Death Star is eventually destroyed.

Jackc8
Jackc8

My video game collection contains ZERO Craptivision titles. There's sooooo many great games these days, made by people who really love what they do and care about pleasing their customers. Why give money to this get-rich-quick scheme? Make the games as cheaply as possible, leave all the bugs and glitches in, milk the franchises to death, and advertise the living hell out of the resulting crap.

spOOoOOn
spOOoOOn

You can trashtalk the guy all you want, but putting every cent he owned into buying a game company shows dedication at least.

big-boss-91
big-boss-91

he should stay on the death star when it blows up :D