Kotick: EA Is Suffocating Studios
Activision CEO thinks studio autonomy is essential to successful publishing, and that EA has failed to realise this.
Activision Blizzard CEO, Bobby Kotick, believes that the publisher’s success is due to allowing studios to retain their autonomy and personalities, rather than creating internal studios like EA. Speaking during an exclusive interview in issue 220 of Edge (available from UK newsagents tomorrow), Kotick says that EA is struggling to attract the best people due to unattractive working practices.
"The core principle of how we run the company is the exact opposite of EA," he says. "EA will buy a developer and then it will become ‘EA Florida’, ‘EA Vancouver’, ‘EA New Jersey’, whatever. We always looked and said, ‘You know what? What we like about a developer is that they have a culture, they have an independent vision and that’s what makes them so successful.’ We don’t have an Activision anything – it’s Treyarch, Infinity Ward, Sledgehammer.
"That, to me, is one of the unassailable rules of building a publishing company. And in every case except for two, the original founders of the studios are still running the studios today. The only thing that we try to do is to provide a support structure to make them more successful. If you do a really good job – and a lot of our studios do – you get to pick what is, in my view, the most difficult thing to pick in the industry: to make original intellectual property."
Asked whether he thought that allowing so much autonomy resulted in additional risk, Kotick feels that Activision is confident in the abilities of its studios and that the strategy poses no risk at all.
"Virtually all of our studio heads are serious, responsible people," he explains. "They want to make great games, they want to do it the right way, and I think one of the benefits we have [with] being a big company is that we don’t have the same pressures of, ‘Oh, we have to have it out for this particular quarter.’ There’s not a studio at this company that will tell you: ‘Activision is forcing us to get the game out.’
"We get in business with people who are responsible, they’re creative, they want to make great games. The incentive schemes that we’ve devised all reward success. But there’s not anything that is a ‘Hey, you have to get the game out on Thursday.’"
Though EA is coming round to Activision’s approach with its ‘city state’ structure, Kotick believes that the publisher is underestimating its ability to change.
"The thing is, it doesn’t work that way – you can’t be a floor wax and then decide that you’re going to become a dessert topping," he says. "That doesn’t work, it’s your DNA. [EA’s] DNA isn’t oriented towards that model – it doesn’t know how to do it, as a culture or as a company, and it never has… Look, EA has a lot of resources, it’s a big company that’s been in business for a long time, maybe it’ll figure it out eventually. But it’s been struggling for a really long time. The most difficult challenge it faces today is: great people don’t really want to work there.
"It’s like, if you have no other option, you might consider them. They have some… the team that makes Madden is a really great team, it’s been able to manage, capture and keep some good people. But we have no shortage of opportunity to recruit out of EA – that’s their biggest challenge: its stock options have no value. It’s lost its way. And until it has success, and hits, and gets that enthusiasm back for the company, it’s going to have a struggle getting really talented people, which is going to translate into less-than-great games."