Activision is Not the Enemy

It’s easy to dislike Activision.

They’ve driven the creators of the Call of Duty franchise into the arms of Electronic Arts in the most high-profile publisher/developer spat in gaming history. They took the beloved Guitar Hero series and turned it into one of the most overexposed franchises ever. They dropped Brutal Legend and sued EA when the rival publisher picked it up. Brutal Legend’s creator Tim Schafer recently referred to Activision’s CEO as a “total prick.”

While Schafer quickly walked back from his comments, many gamers share his sentiment. There are multiple websites, Facebook groups and Twitter feeds devoted to Activision hate and boycotts.

While I’m certainly not a fan of many of the decisions Activision makes, I won’t be signing up for any of these groups or participating in any boycott. Why? Because Activision isn’t the enemy.

The various actions that cause gamers to dislike Activision are a natural part of business. Companies get involved with lawsuits with all their subsidiaries all the time, and spinning a successful product into as many additional revenue streams as possible is a natural part of capitalism.

I think Activision is especially disliked for a couple of reasons. First, it’s natural to dislike the guy at the top, the “evil empire” as it were. When Activision merged with Blizzard, it became the biggest publisher in the industry, knocking Electronic Arts out of the number one slot. Back when EA was on top, cries of “EA sucks!” were much more common.

Second, Activision hasn’t done much to improve the company’s image. The Call of Duty Endowment charity is a great initiative that does good work for veterans, but it’s not publicized enough to mitigate the public relations damage. It also doesn’t help that it’s intricately tied to the series that lead to the biggest barrage of negative PR in the last several years.

By contrast, look at Wal-Mart. The retailer is one of the most hated companies on the face of the planet, but the rage against them has lessened in recent years. Why? Because of a concerted focus on improving their image. Wal-Mart mandated that all packaged goods in their stores reduce their packaging – which is why Xbox 360 game cases are now lighter and use less plastic. This wasn’t done out of genuine concern for the environment. Wal-Mart simply wanted the good PR from “going green.”

For another example, take Apple. According to an article in Barrons earlier this year, Apple is the most respected company in the world. And yet the tech giant has initiated lawsuits against its competitors that are every bit as mercenary as Activision, such as multiple suits against Android phone manufacturer HTC. But Apple has spent years (and millions) crafting a carefully sculpted positive public image, so bad press tends to roll off its back. Activision definitely has not done the same.

I would never try to convince you that you should like Activision if you don’t. Most of the complaints gamers have about the company are completely legitimate. But I’d ask you not to judge the company by a different set of standards. Business is business, and oftentimes business makes a company seem like a bunch of, well, total pricks. So if you want to play Call of Duty, play Call of Duty. Play Guitar Hero. Play World of Warcraft. Doing so doesn’t mean you’re giving into the forces of evil. They’re not out to get you. They’re out to get your money. But that’s the same thing that every other publisher wants. It’s the same thing every other company in the world wants.

Jeremy M. Zoss is a veteran of the gaming industry. He’s written for Game Informer, OXM, G4 and many more. He’s also worked in games PR, but don’t hold that against him.

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Jeremy M. Zoss
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