Tag Archives | Activision

Hey, What Happened to Video Game Company Rivalries?

Over the last few months, Electronic Arts and Activision have been fighting a war of words over their respective shooters, Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, which are set for a showdown this holiday season.

A small sampling: EA CEO John Riccitiello said he wants Call of Duty to “rot from the core.” Activision’s publishing boss Eric Hirschberg responded by saying EA’s negativity was “bad for the industry.” Most recently, EA spokesman Jeff Brown fired back: “Welcome to the big leagues Eric — I know you’re new in the job but someone should have told you this is a competitive industry.”

The bad blood has been good publicity for both games, I think (although EA’s Battlefield 3 probably needs it more, hence the harsher attacks). But it makes me wonder, where have the good old game console rivalries gone?

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Guitar Hero Will Make a Comeback

Back in February, Activision announced that it was stepping away from the Guitar Hero franchise. The publisher dissolved its Guitar Hero business unit and cancelled development on a game that was supposed to launch this year.

Now, Activision CEO Bobby Kotick says that a comeback is in the making.

The publisher has formed a new studio to reinvent the Guitar Hero franchise, Kotick told Forbes. There’s no word on when the next Guitar Hero will launch, but it seems like the project is in its very early stages, with the new studio exploring “a variety of different prototypes,” Kotick said.

The general consensus on Guitar Hero games — and games where you wield fake plastic musical instruments in general — is that they saturated the market to the point that people stopped caring. Kotick’s take is slightly different, but it touches on a similar theme: Activision failed to innovate with the Guitar Hero franchise. And although the spin-off series DJ Hero was innovative and critically praised, Activision overestimated how many people really wanted to act out a video game DJ fantasy.

Activision tends to be a polarizing company, and Kotick a polarizing figure. But from the Forbes interview it’s clear that he has a strong grasp on what people want, and why Activision eventually failed to deliver with Guitar Hero. The publisher gets a lot of well-deserved flack for milking its franchises dry, but I have a feeling that whenever Guitar Hero returns, it’ll be something to watch.


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Call of Duty: Elite Will Offer Subscriptions, and That’s Okay

Inevitably, Activision is creating a subscription service for its Call of Duty games, called Call of Duty: Elite. Also inevitably, some people are upset about that.

I fail to see the problem. Call of Duty: Elite is an added service, on top of the multiplayer action that Activision includes for free with its popular first-person shooters. It will let players create groups with other like-minded players . It will host tournaments, in which players can compete for real-world or in-game prizes. It will offer a stat-tracker for studying strategies. Users will be able to access Call of Duty: Elite through their web browsers and smartphones, and they’ll get a career record that tracks their progress from game to game.

Some of this stuff might cost money — Activision won’t specify which parts, or say how much premium membership will cost — and some will be free. Premium members will also get exclusive content and all-inclusive access to downloadable content that non-members must pay for.

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Rock On: Guitar Hero Not Dead Yet

Activision gave the wrong impression when it announced in February that it would disband the Guitar Hero development team and stop working on a Guitar Hero game for 2011.

Most of the press (myself included) assumed that this meant Guitar Hero was finished, but now Activision is clearing the air. In an interview with GamesIndustry.biz, Activision’s Dan Winters clarified that the series is on “hiatus.”

“We’re releasing products out of the vault – we’ll continue to sustain the channel, the brand won’t go away. We’re just not making a new one for next year, that’s all,” Winters said.

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Activision Gives Guitar Hero the Hook

Having milked the music game genre with endless iterations on Guitar Hero, Activision is bailing out.

Activision announced that it has dissolved its Guitar Hero business unit and cancelled development on a Guitar Hero game that was supposed to launch this year. The publisher blamed declining sales in the music genre as a whole.

DJ Hero may also be in jeopardy, with Eurogamer reporting severe layoffs at the franchise’s developer, Freestyle Games. DJ Hero 2, which launched in October 2010, was considered a flop.

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Activision Allows Website to Relive Sierra Classics, But Not on iPad

The good news: Sarien.net, a website that hosts free HTML5 ports of classic Sierra adventure games, will continue to operate with the blessing of Activision, which owns the rights to the games.

The bad news: The iPad adaptations of these games, which I wrote about in October, have been removed, along with any sequels to games that are part of a series.

That was the outcome of a back-and-forth between Activision and Sarien.net owner Martin Kool. When Activision got wind of Kool’s operation, the publisher’s lawyers sent a cease-and-desist letter. Then, they offered to authorize Sarien.net as an official publisher of the first game in every Sierra adventure game series. For sequels, Kool will refer players to Steam or other venues where the games are sold as complete series.

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No Sign of Decline for Call of Duty

I’ve been trying to wrap my head around Call of Duty: Black Ops’ staggering sales, which outperformed every other game in the series on its first day and set records for the entertainment industry.

Activision’s claim of 5.6 million copies sold shouldn’t be a suprise, I suppose; last year, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 set entertainment records, with 4.7 million sales in the first day. Still, I didn’t expect Black Ops to come out on top. Treyarch, the studio that developed Black Ops and 2008’s Call of Duty: World at War, was living in the shadow of Infinity Ward, which developed both Modern Warfare games. Also, video game sales as a whole are on the decline this year, suggesting less fertile ground for a yearly refresh.

So why did Black Ops prevail? Simple: Call of Duty is the blockbuster first-person shooter that no other developer is making.

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Call of Duty 3D Won’t Be Gaming’s Avatar

By several accounts, Call of Duty: Black Ops looks pretty awesome in 3D.

The raves are already in from journalists at USA Today, Kotaku, UGO, and Joystiq, all of whom sampled Call of Duty’s 3D effects at a preview event, and gave their approval despite a few complaints of mild discomfort. Activision announced today that the game, which arrives November 9 for Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC, will include a 3D option for all platforms.

Enthusiasm from the press will certainly help to push interest in 3D televisions, but Call of Duty: Black Ops isn’t as gifted a 3D salesman as the film Avatar. Unlike movies, video games don’t have a theater for selling the experience.

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Why I'd Never Pay for Activision's Video Game Cutscenes

Activision-Blizzard Chief Executive Bobby Kotick has a novel idea, which he shared at a recent entertainment industry conference: Scrape up the cinematic interludes from video games, string them together, and sell them back to video game fans as standalone movies.

Kotick believes his company could charge $20 or $30 for the entirety of a game’s non-interactive content, according to Gamasutra. This isn’t something he expects to happen in the near future, but with improvements in computer animation, cutscenes-as-movies could become a reality within five years, Kotick said.

What a terrible idea.

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The Case for Call of Duty Subscriptions

Every time an Activision executive talks about charging money to play Call of Duty games online, there’s a chorus of gamers who say the publisher’s digging its own grave. I don’t think Activision is that stupid, but I also don’t think the publisher’s detractors have fully considered how Call of Duty players might be lured to pay extra.

Subscription-based Call of Duty seems like question of “when,” not “if.” Activision-Blizzard chief executive Bobby Kotick told the Wall Street Journal in June that he’d like to have CoD subscriptions “tomorrow,” if he could snap his fingers and make a change. Chief Financial Officer Thomas Tippl confirmed last November that the company’s looking at more ways to monetize multiplayer. Most recently, a forum member at Xbox 360 Junkies posted video of an inactive “memberships” section while playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 on Xbox Live.

Certainly, you could interpret this as evidence that Activision will at some point cut off free, online multiplayer and demand monthly payments from the millions of people hooked on the game. But I think what’s really coming into view is a freemium service, one where the average player can still enjoy Call of Duty for free, while those who wish to pay can enjoy extra features and benefits.

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