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Activision: We're not a "monolithic empire"

Kotick has built a studio model that allows retention of culture; company steering brands to market is the "magic sauce" - Winters

Activision's Dan Winters, head of developer relations, has spoken out about what he feels are misconceptions of the company's image, telling GamesIndustry.biz that it's not so long since his company was the plucky underdog.

Winters' comments come as part of an exclusive interview about the general state of play at Activision, in which he is keen to point out that the company has a great deal of respect for developers, something he hopes is reflected in public perceptions of the publisher.

"I would like to think that we spend a lot of time, and I individually spend a lot of time thinking of ways to reach out to the development community and show that we have respect and complete admiration for what they do on a daily basis," Winters argued. "I hope that there aren't any hard feelings and I hope there isn't any reluctance - I've certainly not felt it directly.

Before our merger with Blizzard we were always known as the warm and cuddly Activision; the scrappy, loveable number two.

Dan Winters, Activision

"A business is a tough thing to manage on a number of different fronts, especially when you're dealing with a creative community like video games or interactive entertainment. Any time that I do hear anything of concern I do try to dispel it. The overall message that I would love people to get out of any time they actually get detailed information about us or my personal approach is that we have admiration and respect for the talent in this industry.

"We recognise that the success we've had as a company comes from the talent of those individuals and those teams. We would like to think that we're able to compliment that talent and high-quality product with the ability to move things through the right channels, and that's great, I think that's part of our magic sauce. But without really high quality product, and without the passion and talent behind it, we recognise that the business is only the business. I hope there's no reluctance, I certainly haven't felt it directly."

Recently, in an interview in Edge magazine, three high level ex-Bizarre Creations staff spoke about their experience during the notice period and subsequent closure of that studio by Activision. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, there was an impression that the process had been handled with a sensitivity and tact, with the offer sitting on the table to buy back the studio as an independent concern.

"I'm sorry that people were surprised by that," Winters responded when the interview was raised. "With all of our internal studios we have built a process, Bobby [Kotick, CEO] has really done this directly himself, built a process for the independent developer model, that allows them to retain their own culture, their own visibility, their own leadership, really to drive the stewards of the brands. I think those are important pieces of ownership, as it's loosely defined.

"I think that's an important part of people coming in and having a passion and being able to exercise that passion as opposed to going in and being called publisher's name plus location. That takes some of the individuality away from that studio, and maybe some of their ability to personalise, to put in passion and ownership into their studio process. So I think we've done a good job of that through the years."

A large part of the negative perception of Activision's behaviour doubtless comes from its success. As Winters points out, it's wasn't too long ago that EA was sitting in Activision's current position: number one in terms of revenue, and wearing the heavy badge of the 'Evil Empire'.

"It's interesting, before our merger with Blizzard, becoming the number one publisher from a revenue perspective, we were always known as the warm and cuddly Activision; the scrappy, loveable number two. As soon as we become the number one and we develop broader perspectives, perceptions started to change a little bit.

"We've worked very hard, and continue to do so, to let people know that, you know, we're the same guys, we really are. We haven't changed! I'm the same guy that I was before the merger, as are most of us. We're the same organisation. We haven't gone out and hired 3000 people. Our ability to scale and move quickly is the same as it was before. We're not this big, monolithic empire that's making decisions in a dark room, we're still very collaborative. We still have the same healthy respect and appreciation for talent that we ever did."

The full interview with Dan Winters can be read here. He will also be speaking at the Festival of Games, taking place April 28-29.

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Dan Pearson