This link is making the rounds of a couple of different mailing lists I’m on.
When he wasn’t promoting the company’s games or technology, Kotick was celebrating its laserlike focus on the bottom line. He pointed to changes he implemented in the past as being particularly beneficial, such as designing the employee incentive program so it “really rewards profit and nothing else.”
“You have studio heads who five years ago didn’t know the difference between a balance sheet and a bed sheet who are now arguing allocations in our CFO’s office pretty regularly,” Kotick said.
He later added, “We have a real culture of thrift. The goal that I had in bringing a lot of the packaged goods folks into Activision about 10 years ago was to take all the fun out of making video games.”
Oh, goody. And…
The executive said that he has tried to instill into the company culture “skepticism, pessimism, and fear” of the global economic downturn, adding, “We are very good at keeping people focused on the deep depression.”
In a way, I do understand. We are all in business to pay for our housing, our food and our health insurance. If we are lucky, we get to put some away for retirement, and even get to enjoy some of life’s little pleasures (many of which, despite the claim that the best things are free, often seem to require money). We have to look at things like costs in our planning, and we have to be aware of global changes in the market for our products to ensure that we remain employed. That kind of planning isn’t always the funnest thing to do, nor does cheerful optimism keep companies afloat.
But seriously, it needn’t be a death march. Fear can be a strong motivator, but it’s not sustainable, and it’s no great muse when it comes to creativity and innovation. Kotick’s entire strategy is to acquire and market sequels to existing products, and to milk them on every platform in every way possible. I can understand why bean counters like this: it’s essentially a low risk way to maximize profits. And, in fact, he’s been pretty darned successful doing precisely that. And, he’s not alone: a great deal of the film industry works precisely this way.
I’ve recently gained a slightly more charitable view toward sequels. They are successful, and it’s not entirely because people are sheep. It is because they saw something in the original work which they liked, and they want more of it. Their desire to slap down money on sequels is a compliment to the original work, and to their trust in you to continue to deliver that kind of positive experience that they originally remembered. But here is the tricky thing: it doesn’t last. We see this time and time again in the film industry. A great movie becomes a good franchise, then an okay franchise, and ultimately peters out into a dreadful mess. Occasionally, these franchises can be resurrected, but it usually takes a completely new approach by a completely new director/producer who isn’t afraid to bring something new to the table and take risks. Witness Abrams’ revival of the moribund Star Trek franchise if you need a recent example.
Great movies (and great games) are the result of great direction and great technical staff doing the work they love. People who are that good at their job aren’t going to be content with just doing the same thing over again: they are going to be looking for ew challenges and new opportunities. Hence, you generally end up with paler and paler imitations of the original painting, until it’s just something to wrap your fish and chips.