Robert Bowling on Activision: Creativity Should Win Over Business


NOTE: This is Part 2 of a five part interview series with Wil Wheaton. Check out Game Front’s E3 Channel for more news, previews and Wil Wheaton videos!


Robert Bowling has been in the news a lot recently, both for founding a new company and for leaving Activision, where he was the face of the biggest game franchise in the world, Call of Duty. While he was chatting with our correspondent Wil Wheaton at E3 last week, he had some interesting things to say about just what he learned during his tenure at Activision.

Wil Wheaton: Your mission statement from Robotoki is what I wish everyone’s mission statement was. About creating an environment that nurtures and fosters creativity. It’s really difficult to read that, and not think, “Well you just left a huge mega-publisher.” It’s hard not to read that and think, “This seems a little reactive.” So, what about that?

Robert Bowling: I worked on Call of Duty for seven years, one of the biggest publishers in the industry. With some of that experience behind me, you learn a lot about what you don’t want. You learn a lot about what works well, like what makes a successful franchise, you learn a lot of great lessons. And part of that is learning “ok, this doesn’t work. This is not how you do it.” I think as an industry as a whole, we have a lot to learn about how we treat creative talent.

At the end of the day, what you learn is we’re in a creative field, just like film and television. Anything that you create, it’s not black and white. It requires emotion, it requires passion, and it requires people to be happy–because if you’re not happy with what you’re doing, it’s going to show in the quality of your work. That’s why with Robotoki, our entire design philosophy is focusing on [the creative team] first, and everything else second. We’re not focused on the project, we’re focused on the team creating the project. If we nail the happy team, you’re going to get a good project.

WW: That almost sounds like the philosophy that drove the original Activision guys to leave Atari in like ’79, or whenever they did that. They were very successful. They were making awesome games that everyone loved, but the corporate culture overwhelmed the creative culture.

RB: Right. There needs to be a difference in that. You can’t let business objectives guide your creative decisions, no matter what. We came out running with Robotoki. We announced, and we’re like, ok. I’m self-funding out of my own pocket the start of this company, so that our foundation isn’t being shaped by those business objectives. We’re not taking someone else’s money to risk setting up this company. We’re doing it on our own, so that we can set the foundation, the way we want to build a company. Now that we’ve done that, we want to find partners who want to come in and be a part of that.

Check out the full video, and be sure to look out for our complete E3 video coverage.

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