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 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 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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Latest comments (20)

Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game7 years ago
I wouldn't say it was "prescient" merging with Blizzard when WoW was already an all conquering monster. Maybe if it had merged in 2004 rather than 2008 or 2009.

The thing with guitar hero being scrapped, most of us can see why, in the state it's sales were in, it was scrapped, but would argue the reason it was in that state was from the way it was milked, 5 titles in 18 months or something, with a constant drive to update peripherals. It could have possibly sold a lot more for longer had they spent 18 months between disc releases, and released the band specic packages as premium 15 DLC packages rather than even more full releases.

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Aleksi Ranta Category Management Project Manager 7 years ago
Everyone, including the neighbourhood cat and dog, already had bought a guitar/drum-set earlier in the franchise. So Mr Millers comment, "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." isnt really true. Seeing how popular the franchise was, is proof that the casual market was well into the product + peripheral setup.

The real issue with GH was that it tried to push new peripherals into the market with every game. The online component was fairly weak and focus wasnt on selling affordable songs either through retail or online.
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Kevin Clark-Patterson Lecturer in Games Development, Lancaster and Morecambe College7 years ago
Activision need some nice media PR people and get Kotick away from the public asap for them to even start improving their public image as the world and their dog despise Activision
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Show all comments (20)
"your objective is to make enough money to continue in the business and make new games"

This depends on what you mean by "New Games" By new games if you mean up to 4-5 studios developing the call of duty series so they can re-skin the IP every year and driving the product right into the ground, just like guitar hero, then yes.

And also "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"

That maybe so, but as a consumer, I have a new found respect for EA, purely for the fact that they're trying to release new ips to keep the company fresh. Even though Dead space and Mirrors Edge was seen to perform poorly in sales, they're still keeping the franchises going and still trying new one ambitious ones - see Bulletstorm.

Once Call of duty dries up, then what? I can't think of any multi million dollar hits Activision has that has the same impact of Call of Duty. Blizzard on the other hand however; Starcraft, WoW, Diablo, Magic and Warcarft (RTS version) - all hits. which raises the question.. why merge in the first place?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Khaled Al-Hurby on 21st February 2011 12:17pm

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robert troughton Managing Director, Coconut Lizard7 years ago
The issue that I have with all of this is that, again, publishers have zero loyalty to their developers. They simply drop them and move onto other developers whose current output is "working"... 5 years from now, they'll be dropping them and moving onto someone else as well.

Activision didn't just cull Guitar Hero... they culled the team that made it. The team that, for several years, created a product that would make Activision a lot of money.

Why not, rather than doing that, give that team a different IP to work on..? Why not show them a little bit of loyalty and gratitude by giving them the chance to create something new and innovative..?
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robert troughton Managing Director, Coconut Lizard7 years ago
Also... 'he feels some of the negative comment directed at the publisher in recent times is "a little bit strong"'

This is a little insulting to such as the excellent guys at Bizarre Creations... they had a lot more than just "negative comments" to worry about, didn't they?
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If it makes Activision feel better, whilst I loathe Blizzard with burning hatred, I am merely sad towards the rest of Activision hoping they become respectable again some time. Which, of course, won't happen because this implies they'll need at the very least some form of innovation in Call of Duty which seems to be the only cr** about which they give a **ap.
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@ Robert Trougton Well said mate, I couldn't agree more.

@ Jehferson How can you hate Blizzard? Granted their games aren't for me either, but you cannot hate them for products you don't like. As a individual thats entering the industry, you gotta appreciate the success that Blizzard Entertainment has generated. I dislike WoW as a game, not for its quality, just for the type of game that it is - Just not my preferred genre. But as a designer, I really applaud Blizzard for its innovative design choices, player hook, social and technological advancements that created the genre defining title to what it is today, most studios try to mirror in their own products to WoW, and that my friend, is something to be ridiculously proud at if you're working at Blizzard. 11 Million subscribed users and growing cannot be wrong.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Khaled Al-Hurby on 21st February 2011 12:56pm

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Terence Gage Freelance writer 7 years ago
I really agree with your comment #5 Robert - Activision will be allowed a little more respect when their corporate practices stop being so blinkered and cut-throat, and they invest in their development studios with more of a long-term strategy.

I mean, Call of Duty is looking like a golden goose right now, but franchise fatigue is inevitable and sooner or later its audience will lose interest entirely or drift on to another product -- and then what? With very little else in their roster outside of the Blizzard franchises (which, as far as I'm aware, are run entirely separately from Activision and Bobby Kotick), it's hard to see what Activision will fall back on when their crown jewel no longer sells 15 or 20 million units. I don't think Spyro and a few Hasbro/Marvel licenses will be enough to sustain the company.
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As a "professional businessman" I certainly can only fall to my knees and praise the golden egg chicken that it is, but as a gamer, Blizzard has spat and stomped on my face way too many times. Whilst once it was a childhood dream to work with them, and every lanparty would be pretty much all blizzard between starcraft, Diablo 2 and Warcraft 3, now Blizzard is systematically killing off those titles. Wow was the beginning of the end and it's like watching something you once love get even more brutally violated every year. Things just get worse. WoW completely killed Warcraft, what's left is a money making abomination that wears its name like a mask. If you don't want to get into the differences between game genres, fine, since I DO despise MMOs. But take a look at the atrocity that's been done to the story before anything. Although, who cares about such bs in a game, right, less words, more clicking right?

Starcraft 2 sparked a hope after a week of playing an "evaluation copy". I went, bought the full game and it has been nothing but regret ever since. Not only by gameplay design issues but from from the whole marketing side. Blizzard does not help their users, Blizzard ASSAULTS their users. I log on, find out that my personal data gets exposed without any choice for confirmation or control. Then I decide to play with some friends overseas and it turns out I can't because it is "region-locked" and talking to them I find out that Blizzard sells them a forcibly localized version, with no option for original and the only kind of license available there is a six-month pass, rather than actually owning the key.

This trend will only get worse and buying Starcraft 2 served to make me save a lot of money on Diablo 3. It was once one of the games I most expected but now I know it's just a creepy man in a dark alley trying to lure me with some candy and I'm not going to suffer such treatment ever again.

Sorry Khaled, I DO loathe Blizzard after all
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I had a lovely reply for you, but i noticed our comments were being distracted from the actual topic it hand. I'll PM you my response and save the debate for somewhere else.

Carry on as you were gentlemen :)
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Andy Trowers , Zoe Mode7 years ago
@ Jehferson

There's some pretty strong feelings you have there. You sound like you feel that Blizzard have personally slighted you (stomping and spitting on your face). 'Loathing' and 'despising' a company for making choices about the IP that they own is an over the top response wouldn't you say?

I think this is where Miller gets ammunition for his line "Well, I think it's a little bit strong, that reaction,"

Why take it so personally? If the company is moving in directions you don't like, don't buy their games. Its simple really. Life's too short to get so angry about these things. Just think about the joy their games used to give you and be happy you got to experience that. There will be other games and other companies to fill the void.
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Sorry but I'm one of those: thinks we should strive for something better and likes to "believe" in things.
And treating these things like kleenex artists you like for the week following their win on X-factor and discard afterwards doesn't look right to me.

The thing is that this is a constant movement in a direction that, to my belief, is very wrong and I feel that it is equally wrong to let things go that way without voicing an opinion or taking a stance. A bit of that "all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good man to do nothing" kind of feeling. If they get offended by this kind thing, then from the "ragy" perspective: serves them right. And from a more reasonable one, perhaps getting offended by this is a sign that they themselves are not prepared to take on these changes and/or lack the determination to carry own their own decisions regarding their IP in a situation where customers actually DO care.
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James Prendergast Research Chemist 7 years ago
@Andy I suppose the counter argument is that games aren't just another commodity, they are investments on both sides (the makers and the consumers) and this leads to fans, perhaps unjustifiably feeling slighted when the company moves off in a different direction.

If Ford goes off and makes only minivans from now on (because all analogies have to have cars in them somewhere!) i won't care because there's a million car makers and so many good cars. If Blizzard stop providing decent access and features for Star Craft there is no one else.

I don't sign on to the thought that developers operate in a vacuum and owe nothing to their fans. I also don't feel that the fans can claim as much right as they often do. However, developers need to be cognizant of their impact on the lives of the people who consume these works of art and of their (these days) increased commitment they put behind these works due to DRM and other obligations that, six months down the line they would rather not have.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by James Prendergast on 21st February 2011 4:42pm

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Haven Tso Web-based Game Reviewer 7 years ago
The thing with Activision is that they don't respect creativity. They milk franchise to death and then spit them out like trash. That's the issue here. Also they publish games that are mediocre by milking other established franchises like the Marvel characters and if they don't sell blame them on the customers. That's what is wrong about Activision. I think everyone knows the simple rule of you need to make a profit to stay in business, but Activision is just a plain exhibition of corporate greed that couldn't care less about developers and customers. That is the problem here.
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Aleksi Ranta Category Management Project Manager 7 years ago
And at the end of all this...all of us will still buy the new COD. Its just how this works :)
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@ Aleksi

Only when it's on for a fiver on steam =P
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why would we want to buy COD? its incredibly unengaging
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Gregory Hommel writer 7 years ago
Exactly. It's good to read that so many people have their finger on the pulse of this problem and will not be swayed by any Activision employee's BS. The only problem with Guitar Hero and every other past and future failure at Activision is them trying to apply a maximum profit business model to their games. I don't know what's more insulting to me as a consumer. The fact that these big publishers try to milk these franchises so shamelessly, or the fact that enough consumers still buy this garbage to encourage them to do so.
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game7 years ago
The bizarre thing, is that if this guy is one of the Activision founders, presumably he was one of they guys who split off from Atari because of how they treated the developers. Now despite having nothing to do with the current Activision, he is defending them despite how they treat developers. Am I the only person who thinks that's ironic?
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