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An Open Letter to Robert Kotick
Posted on Monday, July 12 2010 @ 17:16:06 PST

Dear Mr. Robert Kotick,

While I know you are a busy man as the CEO of Activision-Blizzard, I implore you to take some time to read this open letter to you, sir.

As a gamer for over twenty years, I have seen many trends come and go in our industry, some good, some bad, and some just totally unexplainable in terms of their popularity. From this, franchises were born through great perseverance and clever designs by the developers and publishers that you both control and represent in your company.

And a fine company it is. Activision has been a fixture since 1979, and that is over thirty years of producing and  developing great games. Hell, video game aficionados probably have nothing but the utmost respect for Activision as an entity since it was the first independent video game developer in the United States. And no doubt that Activision will be a continued pillar of the video game industry, one that I doubt will be shaken too much by any criticism that the company has, or will, receive in the future.

But I must admit, the purpose of this letter is to list a series of complaints of your current business model. Ever since the announcement of the merger between your company, Viveldi, and Blizzard,  I admit it was perhaps the most lucrative and interesting deal since the merger between Squaresoft and Enix back in 2003. The excitement of seeing great franchises such as “Warcraft III” and “Tony Hawk” under one roof meant for a powerful entity; a kind of super-corporation that possibly only rivaled a company like Electronic Arts in terms of it’s publishing power. It was an exciting time.

But I must admit in the past few years, the excitement has deflated into a mere roll of the eyes as it were to what has been presented to us. Since the merger, there has been much publicity of the dropped excess that your company decided to cut. From that list were a slew of new I.P’s and a number of risky movie games, including “Ghostbusters“, “Brutal Legend“, “Wet“, and “Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena.” While I admit that these games are not million dollar seller’s in retrospect, at the time many gamers on the more creative side were fairly upset over the dropping of these new titles.

However, what exacerbated this was your own comments on the new direction Activision is creating. You have been quoted in saying, on a cited source on wikipedia at least, that your goal for the company  are games that“…have the potential to be exploited every year on every platform with clear sequel potential and have the potential to become $100 million franchises.”  An admirable goal indeed that will no doubt make the company rich in the short term. This narrow field of vision however is rife with pro’s and con’s that I do wish to address.

For the most part, you are looking at a rather substantial profit increase for Activision-Blizzard and it’s subsidiaries. Profit margins have increased steadily, and the market for your game franchises has no doubt tripled in the past three years, effectively harvesting more gamers per franchise than any company in existence, possibly surpassing the diehard fans of Nintendo franchises and the Halo Universe.

And from this have come some really good games and some impressive innovations have come with it. “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare” has effectively revitalized the multi-player world with it’s level up/role playing style of customization. “Guitar Hero” had previously revitalized the rhythm market, and despite some criticism, the creating of games like “DJ Hero” have effectively brought more talent from the music world into video games. You also attempted to innovate with  the “Tony Hawk” series, and you continually generate influence for Massively Multi-player Online games thanks to the updates and released of “World of Warcraft.” This is a really good track record, one that is overlooked by many who sharply criticize you.

However, from this narrow view of million dollar franchises, a few things are lost in the process. The first is what everyone cites; innovation becomes stagnant and almost non-existent. Since the merger, there has only been one noticeable new I.P created, and that is “Prototype.” Other than that, the constant releasing of the same core franchises, namely “Guitar Hero”, “Call of Duty”, “Starcraft”, “Diablo” and “Tony Hawk” has done something to these franchises that is a potential killer to sales, and that is over-saturation.

Consider this.  Ubisoft’s “Splinter Cell” series was, back in the early 2000’s, released once a year for three years straight at one point. The “Prince of Persia” series, when it was rebooted by Ubisoft, ran from 2003-2005, releasing games yearly, with two handheld versions both coming out in 2005 at the same time as “The Two Thrones.” The reason why I bring these two franchises up is because as time went on, the quality of the two games began to wane on gamers. While the metacritic scores would show the series holding steady, that is the very problem with the games being released once a year. It becomes stagnant, boiler plate, run of the mill, as it were. It becomes generic and gamers become jaded.

Franchises that become jaded lose their luster and gamers begin to turn on them for something new or innovative. They won’t abandon them because of what made them great, but they become aware of this stagnancy for the most part. Note that I am taking about gamers, and not the general audience. I admit, we are a small and motley group, often quick to criticize and stubborn to change, but we make our opinions known, sometimes loudly, when we feel that there is a chance for something to change for the better.

Your dropping of “Brutal Legend” for example showcases this. Dropping the title, then sueing Double Fine for a breach of contract after you readily dropped the game for $15 million dollars, claiming that the developer was still in contract. What is worse, your newest “Guitar Hero” game, “Warriors of Rock,” seems to have gleamed a similar art style seen in “Brutal Legend”, a game that has you play heavy metal songs in a heavy metal fantasy world. The similarities are a bit too jarring, to be frank. Even worse is your current predicament with Infinity Ward, the former developer of “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” and “Modern Warfare 2.” While I will not discuss the issues of this here because I do not know all of the details of this case, but it is turning into a media quagmire for your company.

As it stands though, your narrow focus as I have said seems like a short term grab for profit over the long term rooting of franchises and fostering innovative titles in the coming years. Video Games is a business that was forged on risks and creativity. Your own companies history shows this, and I hope that in the future you forego this current model of business and take more risks in the future. Over-saturation and lack of innovation can keep franchises, and gamers, constantly yearning for more changes to them, and eventually turn their backs on what they once beloved. I do hope that my words reach you, Mr. Kotick, and that at the very least, you take some of these words to heart, as unlikely as this may be. I do hope to see great things from Activision-Blizzard in the future, and new I.P’s in your pipeline to revitalize your hardcore fan base.

Thank you very much sir,

Robert “LinksOcarina” Grosso

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