Your Activision Boycott Will Never Work


(This is another edition of “</RANT>,” a weekly opinion piece column on GameFront. Check back every week for more).

Gamers are very selective about the causes they wish to champion. To be more specific (not to mention insultingly blunt), they’ll be activists about anything, provided they don’t actually have to be active. When it comes to politics and the legality of game sales, you won’t find too many gamers on the frontlines. When the ESRB has crossed a line, very few are the gamers who write to them in an attempt to appeal. But if Final Fantasy XIII goes to the Xbox 360, heck yeah they’ll sign a petition!

There are many battles to be had in this industry, and I worry that we often pick the wrong ones to fight. We go for the silly, meaningless ones, like a sequel being released early, an aesthetic change to a playable character, or a previously console-exclusive game going multiplatform. Usually these fights see the angered parties doing the one thing they know they can do that requires little effort — organize a boycott. Unfortunately, I fear that boycotts not only fail to work in almost all circumstances, but they have serious potential to turn disastrous if successful in the wrong way.

Now, I could easily use this column space to pick on some of the more stupid boycotts we’ve seen in recent years — Sonic the Hedgehog 4 fans who are enraged over Sonic’s green eyes, or Left 4 Dead players stamping their feet over the “early” launch of Left 4 Dead 2. These boycotts are inane at best, but they’re not the real issue. Ironically, it’s the sensible — sometimes even noble — boycotts that run the risk of posing a problem. More specifically, those boycotts in which gamers disagree with a certain publisher, thus refuse to buy any of their games.

Transformers: War for Cybertron was released this summer and it was, in my opinion, one of the best multiplayer games released in 2010. Not only that, but it was one of those rare licensed games that had been made with love and respect by people who knew and appreciated the franchise. I’m a Transformers fan anyway, but High Moon Studios’ enthusiasm and ability to craft a legitimately good game really made this a must-have title for me. I wasn’t the only one, either. In covering this game, I spoke to many fellow fans who were also incredibly excited for the game, or at the very least interested. There was just one problem …

Activision was publishing it.

Now, if you’re reading this, chances are good that you’re a follower of this industry, and if you follow this industry, you know all about Activision. My appreciation for that corporation’s business practices could be described as “non existent” at best. In fact, I don’t usually talk about Activision without prefixing the company name with, “Evil Publisher.” From its decimation of original IP to the many verbal crimes of Bobby Kotick, Activision has done very little to endear itself to the community, and it’s understandable that there are folk out there who want to vote with their wallets and ignore the company’s games.

The problem with this endeavor, however, is that the boycott of an Activision game will invariably send the wrong message. In the case of Transformers: War for Cybertron, you have a quality game that bucks the trend of licensed titles, coming from a publisher usually averse to taking creative risks. The good news is that Cybertron sold enough to get a sequel, but what would happen if a mass boycott had somehow occurred and the game undersold at retail? Do you think Activision would get the hint, realize it’s been wrong all these years, and abolish the Guitar Hero series while pumping money into some new Tim Schafer project?

Of course not. When a game doesn’t perform well, only one message is sent to publishers like Activision — “This game has no appeal. Let’s not make any more of these.” Then it’s right back to Harmonica Hero or whatever crap they’ve got Red Octane working on right now.

Boycotts don’t hurt publishers. Unless the publisher and the developer happen to be the same entity, any successful boycott would do direct harm to the studio who poured years of sweat and effort into the game. Do you think it matters to Activision that it hasn’t sold enough copies of an original IP? It’ll make back any potential loss with Call of Duty, Guitar Hero and World of Warcraft. If Activision only published three games in each of those franchises a year, it would still be on top of this industry.  In fact, those franchises are what allows Activision to take risks on titles like War for Cybertron or Prototype, and if the risk turns out to be a failed effort? Activision can happily move on with nary a dent in its profit margins.

The only ones being punished are the developers. If a game flops, the publisher holds the studio accountable. They’ll be less likely to trust that developer with a new title, and even less likely to greenlight any sequels. You could make the argument that these studios shouldn’t deal with publishers like Activision, but come on. If the biggest company in this industry comes knocking at your door with a suitcase of cash and an interest in your projects, I defy any of you to sit atop your moral high horse and shut the door in its face. These developers, some of which have talent and passion beyond reason, will take what they can get in order to not only survive, but create original and unique games that deserve to be in your hands. If you choose to turn down a developer’s work because you disagree with the publisher, then you’re only punishing a studio who has absolutely no say in what that publisher does.

Obviously, if Bobby Kotick murdered a child and his executives helped bury the body, I wouldn’t expect anybody to keep buying its games, but then I wouldn’t expect many studios wanting to associate with it either. This goes back to what I said about picking your battles at the beginning of this article. Turning down a potentially good game because Bobby Kotick once said something won’t change a thing. It’ll just take money out of the hands of people who actually deserve it. Even if your actions indirectly support Activision, believe me — you’re never going to harm them. Wait until they do something really evil, not just “bad company rawr” evil.

That’s the thing about only fighting fights that take little effort. They take so little effort because they’re not worth fighting.

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21 Comments on Your Activision Boycott Will Never Work

Tobbii

On December 15, 2010 at 4:02 pm

Great text Jim, I’ve been saying this a lot to people boycotting companies like Activision or Sega. For example, a lot of people that I knew decided to pass on Resonance of Fate this spring only because Sega was publishing it and they hated Sega, I don’t really get that since they seemed to be enjoying the hell out of the trailers for the game. Oh well.

nesto

On December 15, 2010 at 4:31 pm

long time comicbook fans know to support their favorite writers and artist teams whether they stay indie or sign with the big two.

Porno fans support their favorite stars after they hit it big, got a huge boob job and signed with Big Studio X.

gamers continue to be idiots.

JW

On December 15, 2010 at 4:46 pm

Well written, Sterling. I would comment further, but when you’re infallibly correct, you’re infallibly correct.

HammerShark

On December 15, 2010 at 7:28 pm

Don’t stop buying games that are awesome and hope those talented developers get the support they need to make more. Damn fine read.

Basil Craig

On December 15, 2010 at 9:25 pm

If our boycott won’t work, let’s stop buying their games and that should work and may cause Activision to bring them to their knees, and even more possible, All games that belong to Activision that was developed by it’s subsidiaries i.e. Treyarch and Infinity Ward will also defunct.

Farenhiet

On December 16, 2010 at 9:11 am

It seems gamers have an unrealistic view that not buying from Activision will hurt it. I don’t buy from Activision for simple moral reasons, I’m not expecting the company to go under and I don’t think I’m being an “activist”. And I never try to tell other people to stop buying from Activision either (mainly because most of my friends are casual gamers).

LoopyChew

On December 16, 2010 at 9:12 am

I’d like to point out that RedOctane cannot work on Harmonica Hero, because Activision shuttered RedOctane back in February, as well as cut Neversoft–the developers who made the best-selling Guitar Hero game (even if I believe it was riding on Harmonix’s coattails)–down to size.

I quite honestly don’t think it really matters what we do or do not do; look at how Activision treated Infinity Ward, and consider that they are, as I understand it, looking into another beta studio for CoD titles to work under Treyarch. Looking specifically at how the GH and CoD franchises have been run, I have no doubt Treyarch’s only a couple of CoD releases away from being shuttered out, no matter how successful they are.

You’re right in that the public at large will probably continue to buy the Call of Duty or Guitar Hero games and not really think twice about it, but I don’t think that matters much anyway, if your argument is “not buying games only hurt the developers.” I could very well be wrong–both of these franchises are beset by unusual circumstances–but I’m not particularly positive about it at all.

Zapdu

On December 16, 2010 at 9:55 am

I’m curious how releasing a licensed game based on a 26 year old franchise currently enjoying the success of not one but two hyper popular if absolutely horrendous Hollywood movies could be considered a huge financial risk.

Jay

On December 16, 2010 at 11:00 am

There’s another side to it that the author is missing.

Let’s assume Activision does release an new IP that’s particularly good from a newly acquired indie studio and the IP tanks because of mass boycott. Activision then axes the studio and A) said studio is acquired by a decent publisher or B) goes indie.

Either way, I can’t see that as a bad thing because in situation A, the studio still gets to produce games with publisher-level funding or in situation B, the developer will be free of Activision and garner attention from their previous game by word of mouth thus gaining followers and sales on subsequent games in similar vein to Minecraft, Braid, etc.

The point is, good developers always find their footing in the end, regardless of the level of publisher involvement. Take a look at Clover Studios and Ensemble Studios, just to name a few.

I remember in university where I once asked guest lecturer who was a developer about what he thought regarding the state of dev studios during the recession. The answer I got was more or less “Studios come and go, but developers are eternal”.

My apologies for a long post.

ThunderBear

On December 16, 2010 at 3:16 pm

I happen to agree with the boycotts. Good developers can find themselves a more responsible distributor. What makes boycotts fail are the “half measures” in which they are executed. Years ago, had we boycotted Electronic Arts effectively, sporting organizations in general would have looked towards a broader range of developers for their franchises. Now there is little competition, and that hurts gamers in the end.

We are the buying public, and without our money, none of it rolls. Yes, they may turn to another license, but in the end the ones we care about can survive, and as the bullies’ market share drops, the people making bad decisions will be replaced. No one likes to lose money. So if you want to hurt them, the only way to do it is to affect their wallets.

If a developer is dropped because of this, and their product is good, other publishers will jump at them immediately. We have seen this in the past. Good development teams do not grow on trees. They are rare, and publishers do actively seek to patriate them aggressively.

I should know, for years I was the director of an academy for game development technology, and have a team of my own.

Savage

On December 17, 2010 at 7:36 am

Of course….there is nothing requiring a studio to sign on with Activision as a publisher in the first place. While I agree that boycotting AV will never work (since the mindless console fanboys have long ago been brainwashed into thinking the shallow gameplay of the COD series is the epitome of video games), it will certainly be interesting if and when physical media goes away all together and game studios can self-publish without needing a middleman like AV.

This is why the only true innovation in games right now is happening on the PC – because platforms like Steam allow indie studios to put out quality work without having to sell their soul to Bobby Kotick.

XCWarrior

On December 17, 2010 at 12:47 pm

I’m sorry, but if the devs want to work with Activision, then they deserve what’s coming to them. My hate for Activision and their yearly (and monthly in the case of Guitar Hero) of games is sickening. Especially when most of thier stuff is recycled stuff from the previous year.

I own 49 Wii games, 2 are Activision. I own 26 DS games – 0 are activision. 22 PC games – 0 are Activision. It’s really not that hard to avoid buying from a publisher who doesn’t publish quality work.

And for what its worth, I signed that L4D2 petition and still have not bought the game, but I own the first. Some of us stuck to our guns, despite multiple $5 sales on Steam.

zanz

On December 17, 2010 at 2:05 pm

try playing war for cybertron on a PC (as u should for any shooter), it was capped at an unplayable fps had worse than ps2 graphics, and lagged on the controls and game. being a UT3 u have to mod the config to make it work (remove smooth frames, and mouse and input, among others) but they made it an encrypted or nonstandard file, and then they never patched it to make it work. i guess if u are a console monkey and like anything thats shoved at u and slow shooter controlls from the sticks the game could be good. though to any shooter enthusiast, the game was garbage.

what has AV put out that was even worth playing recently, COD has been downgraded COD4 with cod5, MW2 (unplayable) and black ops, and i cannot think of anything else from them other than GH, and they dropped good titles like brutal legend.

corpse

On December 18, 2010 at 2:34 am

If anything on how to boycott a game is not buying it is the money saving and best way to boycott a game if the game sells bad then the business corporate idiots get a little taste of getting no money, but the biggest problem is that your dedicated fans that will buy the title no matter what, and that is a big problem. But there are a few companies out there that actually listen to their fans like Eat, Sleep, and Play and few others like Evolution Studios. I’m not buying activision titles for a long time now since the release of Black Ops and Modern Warfare 2, but I’m a sucker for helicopter games so my Bro picked up a copy of the Apache attack helicopter game. That title is actually fun with a few arcade things in it but its a very good sim/arcade title weapons and helicopter fly great. But other than that title I don’t see anything activision that will put out will ever make me buy for a long time. Plus I can’t wait to see what the boys that were from the Infintyward team that left create, yet alone what their company name will be I’m excited to see what happens next year when Brink and Twisted Metal(huge fan of the twisted metal series) come out. Just can’t wait!!

whatever

On December 18, 2010 at 2:06 pm

hey f**k yourself fat ugly pig !!!

William Usher

On December 18, 2010 at 3:15 pm

Great read, Jim.

I will have to disagree that boycotting Activision will cause original games to tank. I believe the boycott should be focused on their hard-hitters like CoD, Tony Hawk and Guitar Hero.

People pouring money into franchises like Transformers: War for Cybertron and Prototype sends a different kind of message: We want good games and we’re willing to pay for them. It’s more-so a boycott on Activision’s practices and not just every game they release.

Other than that, good article.

Zed

On December 18, 2010 at 3:50 pm

Jim, please write more stuff like this on Dtoid

tom

On December 19, 2010 at 7:32 pm

look at ea people stopped buying their games and look what happened, we got dead space so companies do get messages…
if activision goes broke then thats a bonus

ThunderBear

On December 20, 2010 at 11:37 am

Compelling arguments, but I’m not sure that attacking the developer tier alone would cause a significant change. Unfortunately, the really bad decisions seem to take place at the executive level. Looking back to large corporate blunders, like Nintendo not moving to a disk based system, trying to force their cartridge sales on us, or Sony attempting to tack another 6 dollar per disk fee on the backs of its developers. Those were both ended by word of mouth, and frantic press. I fear that only something on a large scale will keep Activision from attempting to sell an empty box with a pretty cover.

Mike

On December 22, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Isn’t World of Warcraft a Blizzard Title…?

Ron Whitaker

On December 23, 2010 at 7:28 am

Mike, the company is actually called Activision/Blizzard now. Both are owned by parent company Vivendi.

Check this out for more info: http://www.gamefront.com/activision-vivendi-merger-is-now-officially-complete/