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Activision's Dan Winters

On Beachhead and digital roads, Guitar Hero and why the publisher isn't the evil empire it's made out to be

GamesIndustry.bizThe interview with the Bizarre staff was interesting in that it depicted the process as open and very much two-way, especially with staff being given the opportunity to buy the studio back. I think people were a little bit surprised by how good-natured it seemed to be.
Dan Winters

I'm sorry that people were surprised by that. With all of our internal studios we have built a process, Bobby 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.

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 2. 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.

GamesIndustry.bizIt seems to be something of a Western foible, to support the underdog and somewhat romanticise that second place position. To think that, if you're winning, you must be doing something slightly underhand.

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.

Dan Winters

That's true. Nothing has really changed except that we have a bigger number and broader responsibility for more products, for more people. Not people we've gone out and hired, but more people playing our games. We went from being a very successful company, in fact in terms of the market share perspective we were teetering on the number one, number two before the merger and then we went to delivering 25 million copies of Call of Duty to consumers at a time when we had Blizzard expanding on the World of Warcraft front. There's a greater responsibility for a broader audience now.

That doesn't mean that we've changed our perspective at all. We have the same sensibility and we're still the same small town folks that we were before, just with a lot more work to do.

GamesIndustry.bizHas there been much cultural bleed between Activision and Blizzard?
Dan Winters

Well we've learned a lot from them! That's for sure. They're really smart folks. They've learned not only how to stay committed to quality but how to sustain a community of people - and how they do that is, using virality and a consumer program that allows loyalty to be the primary driver to their product, and they respect that by delivering continued quality to their audience.

With Blizzcon, things like that, it's all about community and being part of that special club. We learned a lot from those guys. I'd like to think that there's a good collaboration on both sides of the coin, but I've gotta tell you, those guys are really wicked smart. Any time we get a chance to go over and pick their brain on anything, we certainly take advantage of that.

The facilities they have down there are special. They have built a home for their workforce that is unique and very personalised. The campus they have down there is not overblown by any means but it certainly feels like home. That creates a real special creative environment, to tie it back a little bit to the talk I'm going to give, I believe very strongly in a creative environment being a big part of everything we do, whether you're in finance or an artist or in business development, creative solutions are a big part of what we do on a daily basis. It also makes it a bit more interesting. If we have a tendency to try and figure out plenty of different ways to solve a problem, then we end of reaching out and broadening our perspective a great deal. I think that's a big part of how we create value.

Dan Winters is the head of developer relations at Activision. Interview by Dan Pearson.

Dan Pearson avatar

Dan Pearson