Gaming has a bogeyman at the moment; a leering spectre that's often described as "evil" or "unethical" by hordes of disgruntled gamers. I'm talking, of course, about Activision. Bobby Kotick's company has become synonymous with all that's cynical in our industry, and you don't have to wait long for plenty of aggrieved comments to appear on any article or news announcement that features their games.
But we're not sure that this anger and resentment is entirely fair. In fact, we're certain that Activision, at least in this last year, has inconsistently demonstrated a level of consideration and conscience that puts much of their competition to shame. Over the next few hundred words, we're going to explore exactly how our current perceptions of Activision's public image came about... and whether it's actually deserved. We're going to defend the devil.
We need to start at the beginning: the original nightmare that irrevocably tainted Activision's public image. I won't patronise you by rehashing the full details of the sensational firing of West and Zampella from Infinity Ward (you can read the full details here), but there was no excuse for swamping the studio with armed security guards and imposing a "climate of fear." The way in which Activision handled the situation was genuinely horrible - and they deserve to be taken to task for turning their studio into a prison camp - but the scandalous nature of the proceedings did somewhat blind us to the reasons behind it. The why.
These motives are still unclear and will be thoroughly analysed when the lawsuit goes to court in May 2012... but Kotick didn't get where he is today by being an tyrannical idiot (though it probably helped a fair bit). He wouldn't have beheaded his golden goose without a damn good reason - and what's a few million in royalties compared to the potential profits that West and Zampella's next game would have produced? Activision alleges that the two creatives were fired because they breached their contracts by conspiring with EA, and not to put too fine a point on the situation, they're now both working for (you guessed it) EA. It's a fact - and draw from this what you will.
We can't wait to see how the lawsuit plays out, but their public mishandling did more to sully their reputation than the act itself. And what's more, it has caused us to look poorly on everything they've done since... possibly unfairly.
We were as sad to see Bizarre Creations go as anyone, but Activision didn't just suddenly cull the veteran UK studio without warning. Far from it: they gave every publisher in our industry plenty of time to give Bizarre a new home while providing the developers with paid leave to pursue interviews and training courses.
And no one bought them. No one. Not even Microsoft, who have historical ties with the studio. Bizarre's demise may be tragic, but it came about because the industry itself doesn't believe that the demand for their wares actually exists. Making the decision to shed them, while regrettable, arguably an acceptable one.
Map Packs Versus Online Passes
1200 Microsoft Points for a downloadable map pack is absolutely ridiculous. Outrageous, even. Many gamers are up in arms about the stream of pricey Black Ops DLC, and yes, the retail price for these map packs is completely ludicrous. And they're also completely optional. I haven't personally bought a single one, and yet I play Black Ops on a weekly basis with millions of other players... using a PRE-OWNED COPY.
Apologies for the block capitals, but this point seriously needs to be made - and made much louder. I don't have to plug my account details into a third party server. I don't have to pay a tenner just to get online. You can just pop the disc in the drive and get your first noscope kill within two minutes. Of all the companies you'd expect to implement an online pass, the publisher most commonly seen as 'evil' or 'unethical' seems to be the least willing to do so. That doesn't sound evil or unethical to me.
Speaking of launch DLC, apart from a few Hardened Edition incentives, I don't see Call Of Duty supplying loads of downloadable weapons or expansions that roll out the day of release. They could have easily packaged the hidden Dead Ops Arcade mode as downloadable content, but it was right there on the disc as a complete, fully-featured package. Activision's current business practice contrasts massively with a certain other publisher - who will rEAmain nameless - and I'm not entirely sure where the hate is stemming from.
Elite: Stop Worrying And Love The Stats
Goodness me, people are really hating on Elite at the moment. It's evil! It's cynical! It's horrible! It's... free?
The bulk of it is, at least. At it's core, Call Of Duty: Elite is a totally free stats tracking portal that will function much like Bungie.net, only with greater depth. Players who want more can pay for it at their own discretion, and can choose do so once details about the downloadable content packs are made available, which they'll get as part of their subscription. Making it good value for hardcore fans, and an optional perk for everyone else.
Calm down, dear. We didn't rail against Bungie when they implemented their subscription-only Pro accounts that let you upload more files to the Bungie.net cloud. And it's not really fair to do so now. Call Of Duty: Elite is probably one of the least 'evil' things that Activision has ever done, ever. Relax, sit back and love the stats. It really is that simple.
Sure, Activision isn't some blameless innocent, and their handling of Freestyle Games and other outfits is testament to a truly ruthless business model. But when it comes right down to it, you've got to pick your battles... and Activision is possibly not the right target for your righteous outrage at the moment. We look forward to getting your take on the situation in the comments!