Activision Absorption: A Once Great Publisher Bleeds the Industry Dry

Activision is pretty much synonymous with Call of Duty right now, and that’s about it. Yeah, you could also include Skylanders since it is bringing in more revenue than Call of Duty right now, but Skylanders doesn’t exactly fit the Activision brand. Well, not the old brand. Activision’s new slogan sounds a lot like, “Make lots of DLC and yearly installments until we run a franchise into the ground.” The reason I’m bringing up Activision is because of their latest in house decision to merge Neversoft with Infinity Ward. This brings their current developers down to just 7 main teams, and 3 of them all work on the same IP. Of those that remain(Beenox, Vicarious Visions, High Moon Studios, and the 3 CoD teams), the 4 non-CoD teams are 1 flop away from either being shoved into CoD DLC duty or being merged with one of the CoD teams. Don’t believe me? Just look at Singularity developer Raven Studios or Tony Hawk’s developers Neversoft. High Moon is even reported to be working on the PS3/X360 port of CoD: Advanced Warfare and their Transformer titles are stellar hits. Their most recent game, Deadpool, didn’t do too well and now they are working as a side team for CoD. 12 studios have been shut down or merged under Activision’s watch, including big names such as Bizarre Creations, RedOctane, and Sierra Entertainment.

Just for comparison lets take a trip down memory lane to a time when Activision meant quality. A time when Activision had a beta test team called the Activision Visioneers. A time when Activision was scooping up tons of development teams that had fantastic ideas, not only advancing current genres but re-imagining older ones. A time called the ’90s. Activision was actually a developer then and made fantastic games. MechWarrior 2, Interstate ’76, Zork: Grand Inquisitor, and Battlezone were all developed in house and the genres couldn’t be more different. Aside from that, Raven released Hexen 2 and Heretic 2, Kalisto released Nightmare Creatures, id released Quake II and III, Ritual released SiN, and Neversoft released Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1. And those were just the highlights. Vigilante 8, Tenchu, Civilization 2, Pitfall 3D, a large amount of adventure games, and a few licensed Disney titles round out the rest of the year. Activision was on a roll and the first half of the 2000’s made it look like Activision was the company on top. Neversoft, Raven, id, Grey Matter, Vicarious Visions, Treyarch, and Infinity Ward led the way with very successful franchises. Soldier of Fortune, the Spider-Man games, Star Trek Elite Force, Star Wars Jedi Knight, Vampire the Masquerade, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, True Crime, Call of Duty, X-Men Legends, GUN, SW Republic Commando, Quake 4, Ultimate Spider-Man, Guitar Hero, and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance all prospered and made Activision a force to be reckoned with.

About the time that Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam came out, though, Activision began its decent downhill. 2006 introduced the new consoles and with them came the FPS craze that PC was already seeing. Raven, a seasoned FPS team, had just finished the X-Men Legends and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance titles, which saw rising scores, but was tasked to make another FPS. Their next two titles were the 2009 Wolfenstein and Singularity, both of which saw mediocre sales. Since then Raven has been a support team for the CoD series. Harmonix was kicked off of the Guitar Hero team after making GH2. Having produced several lackluster Tony Hawk sequels, Neversoft picked up with GH3 and created a new Guitar Hero games every year(as well as some focused expansions like GH: Metallica) until the series met its death with Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock in 2010. Their latest work was an extra mode on CoD: Ghosts. Bizarre Creations, best known for Metropolis Street Racer/Project Gotham Racing and Geometry Wars made James Bond: Blood Stone, which garnered poor reviews, before being shut down. I still have no idea why a team best known for fantastic arcade-y racing was given a shooter IP.

Activision has killed off so many talented teams in the last few years. What was once a company with great vision has been reduced to a withering husk of its former self. Between yearly iterations and continuous team reductions and redundancies Activision has proven that it cares not about the consumer, just its bottom line. While many may see the merger, and loss, of Neversoft as a simple name change I can’t see it that way. Too many companies have been merged, reassigned, or lost to the Call of Duty franchise. While there are the three main branches that develop Call of Duty(Sledgehammer, Infinity Ward, and Treyarch), there are many more that work on DLC, mulitplayer, and additional modes. About 9 teams work on Call of Duty titles. Call of Duty: Ghosts, the lowest reviewed CoD game, had 5 teams work to create it. Innovation has been lost, and with it an era. Activision had its hand in tons of genres during the PS2 generation, most of the titles were to cream of the crop too. While their logo hasn’t really changed much in the three and a half decades they have been around, their ideals and methods have. For the worse, I’m afraid. RIP Activision 1979-2006

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