Activision shows what’s wrong with the games industry (6/52)

No more music games for 2011, no skateboarding game, True Crime: Hong Kong has been cancelled late in development and anything that isn’t World of Warcraft, Starcraft or Call of Duty is worthless – that’s the verdict from Activision Blizzard’s latest announcements.

In fact any developer not working on Call of Duty is worthless too, as the company is forming Beachhead Studios, meaning a total of five studios are working on the franchise. The cow’s udders must be wearing thin to nothing now.

And what have they decided to fill the gaps with? Spiderman, Family Guy and [Total] Wipeout. This is one of the biggest publishers – with enough money to experiment, to lead the industry, to push new boundaries – and that’s the shit they propose.

Rather than producing anything exciting, it’s fucking Family Guy. It’s surprisingly easy to watch an episode without laughing. Alongside shows I’ve previously “discussed”, it’s on the reasons why BBC Three needs to be nuked from existence.

Alright, to be honest the Guitar Hero franchise hasn’t been strong for at least 2 years now mostly due to a factory production line style mentality pumping out a new game every thirty seconds and Tony Hawk’s skateboard peripheral turned out to be the worse anything ever.

However, cancelling a game that’s very far in development and in the week that it received very favourable previews because a survey said it won’t sell as many as CoD is lunacy.

Activision’s titles feel like they’re not chosen for creative merit, but from a robot that looks at trends and goes “MORE. MORE. MORE.” Of course profitability is important for a business, but no-one wanted that motion control Tony Hawk game – let alone a sequel.

But no, at the time the ROBOT OF GAMES decided GUITAR HERO IS POPULAR AND MAKES MONEY. GIVE EVERYTHING A PERIPHERAL. Design documents are put together by the results of surveys and sales figures.

Turns out a shit idea is shit, and so it gets scrapped. So what are Neversoft, the developers of the now scrapped Guitar Hero, working on? An online FPS. There’s more variation in my socks than that genre right now, even though my socks are all the same style at least they’re in more colours than brown or grey. There’s a quite colourful collection, some of them are red and blue stripes. This may be deviating from the point slightly now.

Activision’s new plans, they say, “will result in the separation of approximately 500 employees”. Aww, separation, it’s just a pity the relationship didn’t work. How sweet and soft to describe 500 people’s livelihoods damaged because of their corporate strategy. It’s good to know we’ve got a new term beyond “redundancy” to try and make being fired sound nice.

Though to be fair – separation is also the term used for someone leaving the US Military, and in this respect it matches Activision because they don’t care about the people they consider to be mindless drones to slave away at whatever misguided repetitive objective that they’re given with no regard given for their wellbeing.

Or maybe they’ll just tear each of them apart limb from limb. One axe costs much less than the redundancy pay for 500 people.

But however much I criticise, Activision can’t be doing everything wrong as with Call of Duty they are doing phenomenally well, but they don’t seem to be considering a future beyond that. How long is it before “too many cooks” takes over the franchise and it fizzles out?

The cancellation of some brilliant titles could be problematic. Guitar Hero, which they turned in to a blockbuster franchise, didn’t start big. You need to try, sometimes fail, but come up with the new ideas that stand out. Modern Warfare stood out because it wasn’t World War 2. But it seems such a change would be unheard of at Activision now.

There seems to be a mentality that if a game doesn’t cost £40 then it’s worthless. You don’t have a range of prices, lengths or styles – every game MUST be aimed as a blockbuster. If it’s not top 10, kill yourselves now.

This sentiment seemed to be echoed by Reggie Fils-Aime, president of Nintendo of America, last week when he said: “I actually think that one of the biggest risks today in our industry are these inexpensive games that are candidly disposable from a consumer standpoint.”

It’s no secret that mobile games, primarily from the App Store, have been the biggest disruption to the games industry since motion sensing. Particularly the notion that games can be cheap, they can be small and they don’t have to be a 400 hour RPG that’s only completed by people with more time than sense.

But those small games are what this industry needs. Consumers can’t always spend £40, and don’t want to. The iPhone and Android title Game Dev Story has been a personal highlight recently, and despite it only costing a few pounds I managed to spend the good part of a day playing it when I bought it. And Fruit Ninja? Few days go by where I don’t try and beat my high score. I’m buying more and wanting to buy more small games than I do big titles.

People don’t have the money or the time to play each and every one, and if every game tries to be that, no wonder we see spectacular flops and companies going bust. There seems to be a misguided belief that if a game costs £20, that’s because it’s shit. A change in culture is needed to get this mentality to consoles, but there is huge potential with cheaper, shorter but still brilliant games.

There are download services on consoles, but they’ve not taken off in the same way with audiences and the Xbox Live Marketplace still uses the fake currency of space-bucks that can only be bought in large chunks which is as consumer friendly as Amazon using Wingdings as their primary font.

Fils-Aime also had the audacity to describe many of the $1 games as “overpriced”. Has he seen the price of the 3DS?!

In the conference call, one exec noted “Sales of mid-tier titles are being squeezed out” as the reason for Activision for pulling out from everything that isn’t THE VIDEO GAME EVENT OF THE DECADE.

Activision tried to increase the price of Call of Duty games. It’s no wonder that they don’t understand mid-tier titles.

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