Monday, July 25, 2011

The Self-Evaluated Genius Of Bobby Kotick

Bobby Kotick gave an interview to Forbes last week, and it's quite amusing.

The title of the article is Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick: How To Be An Innovator.

The correct answer: be someone other than Bobby Kotick.

Instead, though, the article is a fawning fellatio of an interview. It's painful to read, really, particularly when Bobby is spouting off about how innovation is all about "letting people fail".

What? What about this_?
While explaining the decision to drop several marquee titles, including Brutal Legend and Ghostbusters, Mr. Kotick gave up this quip:
“[They] don’t have the potential to be exploited every year on every platform with clear sequel potential and have the potential to become $100 million dollar franchises. …

Does that sound like games are allowed to disappoint or fail?

Interviewer David M. Ewalt (the "M", apparently, is important) doesn't even mention this staggering contradiction, instead letting Kotick blithely wander down the path of his own imagined enlightenment.

In the interview, though, there was a jewel, and it seems to have been largely ignored by almost everyone. Kotick was talking about the Guitar Hero Franchise, and he said this:
...Guitar Hero became unsuccessful because it didn’t have any nourishment and care. So we made what I think was exactly the right decision last year. We said you know what, we need to regain our audience interest, and we really need to deliver inspired innovation. So we’re going to take the products out of the market, and we’re not going to tell anybody what we’re doing for awhile, but we’re going to stop selling Guitar Hero altogether. And then we’re going to go back to the studios and we’re going to use new studios and reinvent Guitar Hero. And so that’s what we’re doing with it now.

This quote generated a ton of headlines at gaming sites along the lines of "Resurrecting Guitar Hero". Gee, maybe Bobby Kotick IS an innovator.

Hold on. I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.

No one seems to be noticing the incredibly obvious analogy here, which is oil. Successful oil companies, even as they pump oil from successful wells, are always conducting research into additional drilling locations, and they drill new wells, even though many of them will turn out to be dry or of almost no commercial use.

They do that because even their highest-producing wells have limited capacity.

Sure, maybe it's not limited right now, but eventually, the oil pumped from a well will start to decline. And there have to be new wells to replace that production.

That's not how Bobby Kotick does business.

The way Bobby Kotick manages Activision is that he's taken his half-dozen highest producing wells, focused on substantially increasing production from those wells, and almost completely stopped drilling new wells. Yes, there was D.J. Hero, a solid game that was utterly idiotic as a commercial idea, but at least it was a new well. But there hasn't been much else.

So it's been several years now where there haven't been any productive new wells for Activision. Oh, and look what's happened: a huge well has suddenly run dry.

Guitar Hero.

In the interview, Kotick claims that Guitar Hero died because it was neglected in favor of D.J. Hero--spit take--but it actually died because it was being pumped 24x7x365. It was overproduced. It's dry.

No problem. Just take some of the other new wells that have been discovered--oh, shit. There are no new wells.

See? Of course he's going back to the Guitar Hero well, so to speak. Of course he's going to try to pump more oil out of that location. There are no wells to replace it.

This is why I've said that other companies adopting Kotick's strategy (almost all major publishers have, unfortunately) is a suicide course. It cannot work in the long term.

And if another one of Activision's wells run dry? Ghost town.

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