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Anti-Activision angst "a little bit strong" - Miller

Company co-founder sad to see Guitar Hero go, but move reflects massive change in industry

Activision co-founder Alan Miller has told GamesIndustry.biz that he feels some of the negative comment directed at the publisher in recent times is "a little bit strong" - and that while he is sad that the Guitar Hero franchise has closed, it was symptomatic of the way that the business is changing right now.

Miller, who was part of the publisher's original line-up, left Activision in 1984 to set up Accolade, but now serves as strategic advisor and head of North American operations at GamesAnalytics, added that the task of the publisher wasn't an easy one - and that companies didn't have the luxury of putting out games that weren't expected to be profitable.

"Well, I think it's a little bit strong, that reaction," he explained, when asked about his thoughts on why people seemed happy to take a shot at Activision Blizzard, and its CEO Bobby Kotick. "It's very difficult to be a games publisher - your objective is to make enough money to continue in the business and make new games. I know they're not a very extravagant company; I know several people that work there who don't have plush offices - and they try to create wonderful products.

"But as a publisher, you're taking the risk - and it's not just the development risk, it's also the marketing risk. It's a very expensive proposition, and you don't have the luxury of putting products into the market that you don't think are going to perform and be profitable."

Referring specifically to the Guitar Hero franchise, he added that it was a shame to see its end, because it was entertaining and helped bring new people into games.

"But it's hard to be a game publisher, and constantly create entertaining products," he reiterated. "Activision has actually been pretty prescient about the importance of online through the merger with Blizzard - that's the most highly-valued independent publisher now, with a stock market valuation of $13 billion as of last week, which is two or three times more than others such as Electronic Arts.

"The problems that Activision is having right now in the limited area of Guitar Hero is reflective of the massive change going on in the games industry, as it transitions from retail to electronic distribution.

"Guitar Hero specifically had a big problem in that it required pretty expensive peripheral prices to really enjoy it - and that's a much more viable sale at retail, where the peripheral can sit right next to the box. It's hard, in my opinion, to get a lot of the more casual players to spend $100 for a guitar, just to play a game."

The end of the franchise, first reported by GamesIndustry.biz hours ahead of the official announcement, marked a retrenchment around the core business pillars of Blizzard and Call of Duty.

The complete second part of the interview with Miller, in which he also discusses the challenges of new IP and online marketing, is available now. Meanwhile, part one deals in more depth about his latest role, and the importance of understanding your players' experience in games.

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Phil Elliott

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