Bobby Kotick: The Supervillain of the Games Industry

The image seen at right is taken from a Facebook group called “Gamers against Bobby Kotick & Activision“.

The description of the group says the following:

Bobby Kotick CEO of Activision, now famous for his apparent hate of video games. He has said a lot things that would make any gamers blood boil, words like ‘when I first became CEO of Activison, my aim was to take all the fun out of making games’ would discourage anyone from working Activision and who could forgot his infamous quote regarding the MW2 price rise ‘if it were up to me i’d raise prices even higher. We must make him realise that treating his customers in horrible manners will not be tolorated and we must stop him before other companies decide to copy him.

Bobby Kotick has said some really dumb things, the above poorly formatted quotes being the most egregious examples.  Quotes like this have gotten him vilified throughout the gaming community.  A Google search for “Bobby Kotick” turns up his Wikipedia page first, but the other results are hilariously titled:

My particular favorite is the Ars Technica link that says “Bobby Kotick has opened his mouth again, if you were wondering where the smell of brimstone was coming from.”

Now I can understand where these people are coming from to a certain extent.  He’s come to represent everything that’s wrong with the game industry, and with quotes like the above I’m not surprised.  But perhaps because of this vilification, I’ve started to find some sympathy for the guy.

What gets me is the sense of personal injury that comes through in the paragraph quoted up above.  It moves seamlessly from “if it were up to me i’d raise prices even higher” to “We must make him realise that treating his customers in horrible manners will not be tolorated”.  I can’t figure this.  Mr. Kotick has said some ridiculous things, but how exactly has he “mistreated his customers”?  Activision-Blizzard is a game publisher.  They publish games.  They’ve published a lot of games that I’m really excited about.  They’ve published games in some ways that I didn’t necessarily like (that was a lot of Guitar Hero games), but so has virtually every game publisher.

But every game publisher doesn’t have a Bobby Kotick at the helm mouthing off, do they?

Is Bobby Kotick a bad CEO?  I have no idea.  Activision seems to be a successful company, though that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s a good CEO—see Wall Street.  But what does that matter to me?  All that matters is the games.

It’s possible that Bobby Kotick’s influence may even be a negative one on the development studios that Activision owns. But boycotting Activision games, or spreading nasty rumors, or starting defamatory Facebook groups because of Bobby Kotick’s big mouth would be doing a disservice to the hardworking game developers that, for good or ill, threw in with him and with Activision for the long run.

Let the games, and the game developers, speak for themselves.

Published by Malgayne

Community Manager at Google. Formerly at Sourcebits, Spark Plug Games, Zynga, and I like chiptunes and hefeweizen.

8 thoughts on “Bobby Kotick: The Supervillain of the Games Industry

  1. You know, I think one of the important points in the development of this sort of nerdrage is the point at which a person stops thinking of himself as a customer and starts thinking of himself as an audience. Audiences expect more than goods – they expect an experience.

  2. The reason gamers hate Bobby Kotick, as far as I can tell, is that he favors proven money-making franchises instead of innovation or risky IPs. It’s the main reason the Guitar Hero series is up to number 6 (not to mention the plethora of side games including Aerosmith, Metallica, Van Halen, Smash Hits, etc.) while Rock Band is only up to 3.

    Now, as you point out, this does not make him a bad CEO. Activision has had plenty of success under Kotick and will likely continue to do so for the forseeable future. But gamers love their underdogs, and Kotick is just about the biggest anti-underdog I can think of.

  3. I think that’s fair statement. But if gamers are looking for an “experience” from the CEO of the publishing company, I think they’re looking in the wrong place.

  4. Obviously the above was directed at Natalie.

    Brian: I can understand that criticism. But in that sense Kotick is just a lightning rod for a problem that is pandemic throughout the game industry–in fact, throughout all of entertainment.

    Moreover, other companies which behave similarly don’t get the same hate. Blizzard has been milking the same three IPs for 15 years, and yet they’re one of the most beloved game studios in the world. And how many Street Fighters has Capcom made?

    I recognize Activision is an egregious example of this. But ultimately, I think all the Kotick-hate comes down to “he says dumb things in public”.

  5. Personally i like Kotick and guess what CEO’s are supposed to be concerned with one main thing…the bottom line. If he fail the entire house comes down. My favorite quote of Kotick was in response to Warner brothers or some music publisher whining that they were not getting enough royalties to which he responded that the bands should really be paying them to be in the game. I think hes right. Many of the kids now a days would not have even given Aersomith or the red Hot Chili Peppers a passing glance had it not been for the “band games” out there. These games are the reason for their re-entry into the mainstream music landscape. Thats exactly how a CEO should think…like it or not.

  6. I agree with the other posters here about what a CEO should be concerned about. I also think a CEO should be concerned about fostering the right work environment, and I think a lot of anti-Kotick sentiment is fueled by the sense that he’s oppressing his development teams … but you know, I’ve never been a developer, so I can’t say. My own boss is keenly aware of the bottom line and he’s fantastic to work for, so it’s not like the two are mutually exclusive.

    Re: the Blizzard comparison, I think that goes back to the experience. Blizzard’s been milking the same three IPs for the past 15 years, yes, but in that time they’ve released a total of seven games, with no more than four per IP on a famously when-it’s-done-it’s-done timeframe, and they’ve [i]canceled[/i] two for not being good enough.

    That behavior makes Blizzard feel like an artiste. It also makes Blizzard feel like “one of the guys” – how many gamers have devoted fifteen years of their lives to a single IP? My guess is lots, whether it’s their own or somebody else’s. By mentally “supporting” the Blizzard brand, I allow myself the experience of believing that one of the guys has managed to stick to its artistic guns in a cutthroat industry. Kotick also believes in milking IPs, but his behavior doesn’t let me construct the same type of fantasy. I think that’s one of the major reasons why Kotick is an easy figure to hate and Blizzard is an easy figure to love.

  7. Agreed on both counts—and good to see you posting here, Scott, I’m flattered that you’re reading.

    I suppose my concern comes from this: it seems that the hatred for Bobby Kotick is oriented around that fact that, judging by his behavior and soundbites, he must therefore be oppressing the developers who work for him. I’ve seen no evidence of that.

    The fact is that sometimes you don’t WANT a CEO who is a gamer. I remember reading a Seth Godin blog (sadly I can’t find the link) where he pointed out that for most jobs, I’d rather have someone who loves the WORK than who loves the product. If you were hiring an accountant for your game company, you’d much rather have an accountant who loves accounting than one who loves games. The only profession where that isn’t true, Seth claimed, was marketing. A good marketer has to really love the product that he’s selling.

    A lot of CEOs have been put in the position (unwittingly) of being marketers for their own products. Bobby Kotick’s statements are bad marketing. But he’s not a marketer—he’s a CEO. His responsibilities are to investors and board members, and to his employees. I’ve seen no reliable indication that he’s mistreating his employees, and he’s clearly not mistreating his investors. Raging against Bobby Kotick for not being a good marketer is like raging against the blue posters at Blizzard when servers go down for maintenance.


  8. His responsibilities are to investors and board members, and to his employees.

    Not, which is a point that fans of any IP routinely miss, to his customers. I’m reminded of a post by Neil Gaiman where he points out (and I’m paraphrasing here) that the only responsibility an artist has to his customers is to provide the product that pay actual money for, at that time they pay. That’s true of companies, too, even game companies that we want to think are producing “art.”

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