Tunneled Vision: The Upper Floor of the Industry

Tunneled Vision: The Upper Floor of the Industry


Now that the dust has settled down around the Bobby Kotick vs. West/Zampella scandal, it is worth it to examine the question a little further. The turmoil around the CEO of Activision and his crazed lust of power has to do with the video game industry's problem with vision.

A guy I know, after getting knocked out in a cage fight told me: "In a second, my eyesight became like a long dark tube with the referee waving at the other end." At the heart of the Bobby Kotick vs. West/Zampella scandal, that quote came back to me like the ghost of Christmas past. Now that the dust has settled, it's worth it to examine it all a little further. The turmoil around Bobby, CEO of Activision, and his crazed lust of power has to do with the video game industry's problem with vision. Let's not concentrate on the symptoms but think about the cause of that eyesight disease so this article might be a baby step in the direction of an eventual cure.

Bobby Kotick is a handsome man. With a larger-than-life smile and a tight-curled hairdo, he looks like the proverbial capitalist on a U.S.S.R propaganda poster. Anybody having a fiber of leftist thought in him finds it very hard not to hate him at first glance. That's why Jason West and Vince Zampella, like Fidel and Che, were applauded when they had the guts to stand tall and call their ex-boss "Orwellian," which is one hell of an insult in the lingo of the polite and educated. You couldn't not take sides. Or "you're with us, or you're against us," as ex-President George Bush once said when talking about war on terrorism. Is it really that easy? Of course not. The feral reaction of Bobby showed us that despite sitting on two of the most beloved franchises of the industry (Call of Duty and World of Warcraft), the only thing that interests him is to have our money, all of it, right now. Bobby Kotick is one of those self-destructive creatives that cannot sense their impending doom. The anonymous wrecking machine that is the market will let him know sooner than later that he's not a god.

Let me explain myself. Bobby has one thing going for him. He knows who to hire. He can spot a creative mind among a million sheep. But Bob is a salesman at heart; he doesn't have a vision or concepts, he has products. Good ones. Guitar Hero, Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, these are gold mines for any publishing company. Let's stick with the Call of Duty franchise in my example. There are a few factors that made this IP so strong. For one, the game was always trusted to the best developers possible. The definite victory of Call of Duty over its arch-nemesis Medal of Honor was the first Modern Warfare game. The way Activision brought this title up was nothing short of genius. They didn't made a fuss about it at first and handed the development to a company at the time with nothing better to do than to make it rock. Infinity Ward made Modern Warfare rock solid.

The novelty and the fact that Infinity Ward took two full years to dedicate themselves to the game made it a surefire hit. Same thing happened with Modern Warfare 2. This time, the game was expected. For two years Activision and Infinity Ward built some anticipation around the title, basing themselves on the success of the first game. No wonder it pulverized records. What people didn't know was that behind the curtains, Bobby was not paying his people and showering in a pile of money in front of them himself. That's probably a part of his culture of fear and pessimism or whatever.

Now that Fidel and Che are standing up to him, Call of Duty games come falling out of the sky. Sledgehammer Studios get handles a contract, Treyarch gets another game, there are talks of an adventure game, of a MMO. No more expectations for you fans. Uncle Bobby makes it happen. What will become of Call of Duty then? Annual franchises, tighter deadlines, overworked people, WORSE GAMES. There are humans working behind your beloved medium of entertainment. The conditions they work in are more often than not ugly and hard to bear. They work a hundred hours a week with no overtime paid, they get rushed, pressured and they almost lose their mind with every title. No wonder why the lead and seniors positions are always open for hire. Expect a massive exodus and a quality drop in the Call of Duty games. You will get sick of it, you will want to play something else. Like back in the days, that was cool to play Guitar Hero, now there are so much of them out there that you don't even want to play them.

Bobby is just one big symptom of this mentality that rages on right now in the video games industry. What is important is money. There is no vision. Modern Warfare 2 made one billion dollars. West and Zampella are talking about 36 million dollars royalties. Not even 5%. Sharing five percent of your billion in order to keep your milking cow happy and make another billion. Multiply by ten more titles… Bobby Kotick spit on billions and billions of dollars, while West and Zampella might just win their court case and take their concept elsewhere. What is it to think outside the box, to see the big picture. People in other businesses they do it all the time.

Microsoft pays crazy benefits to their employees in order to keep them happy and hard working. Wherever you are in the world, if you are attentive, you might hear them whistle on their way to the office in Seattle. That's a lot of money spent on employees, but these guys are cohesive and work as a team, that's why Microsoft is still on top after more than twenty years. Competition with Google is raging right now, but targeted and workmanlike efforts will keep them surviving. Who closes offices and fires people? Not them.

There is a huge market for video games and making money off them isn't hard at all. Be smart and hire the right people, money will flow in your pockets. Rockstar Games, particularly Rockstar North are reputable for putting out the strongest titles time after time. They have been on the spotlight lately for the development of Red Dead Redemption, but there is nothing in their behavior that wasn't in the rules of engagement. People worked hard and their will get paid a fat bonus for their efforts. Their wives will be able scrape their husbands faces out of milk cartons I promise you.

Video games are entering a crisis in their evolution. Hardware has never been pricier and some of the people at Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo are calling the end of console gaming. Will that happen? With an avalanche of titles plagues by short term vision it might very well be. Cost will outgrow revenues and your favorite games will go down the drain. So do your console a favor, don't buy games from individuals such as Bobby Kotick. You might make a step towards the cure for tunneled vision.