Archive for January, 2009

In case you missed it, this month’s issue of Forbes features none other than Activision CEO Bobby Kotick on the cover.  It’s a weird, weird feeling to see a guy like Kotick on the cover of such a popular mainstream business mag.  On the one hand, it’s a validation of how important the industry is to the entire entertainment landscape.  Especially in these times, when you see how healthy it is.

Friend or foe?  Depends who you ask.

On the other hand, it’s Bobby Kotick.  You’d really hope that one of this industry’s brightest stars, like a Miyamoto or Wright, would answer the call for a mainstream, upper crust book like Forbes. It’d even be great to see an up-and-coming developer like Jonathon Blow or the guys from 2D Boy.  But  Kotick’s the opposite of those veteran auters and bright-eyed talent.

Kotick freely admits that he doesn’t play games, and is very public about not wanting to do so.  He demands annual sequels of every one of Activision’s franchises, and as the CEO of the #1 publisher right now, really doesn’t seem too interested in moving the industry forward.  He’s an eye-on-the-bottom-line, coffee-is-for-closers guy in an industry that lives and dies by its creative output.  And that’s why the Forbes crowd loves him.

The fact is, this big Forbes spread is written for them.  Not us.  And it’s only natural for it to rub a guy like me the wrong way, especially with lines like: “EA also teamed with MTV to sell Rock Band, a shameless knockoff of Guitar Hero that added drums, bass and a microphone to the world of make-believe rock stars. EA says it is returning to an “auteur model” of designing games, taking bigger chances on fewer ideas.” A shameless knockoff?!  Really?  So what does that make Guitar Hero World Tour? For his part, author Peter Beller came back with a semi-backpedal a week later.

Around the same time the Forbes piece hit, Ars Technica published *their* Bobby Kotick profile.  A decidedly gamer-centric pub (especially copared to Forbes), even I think the their piece might’ve gone a little too far into smear territory, having never met the guy.

If nothing else, it’s really intersting to see two well-respected, well-read outlets put out such opposite profiles about the same man, when the company he oversees is top dog.

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Fellow marketer and WordPresser Doug Meacham tied together some stirring evidence to back up a thought I’ve been chewing on for quite a while: popularity of music games will lead to greater interested in playing actual musical instruments.  It makes perfect sense.  While there were a few sky-is-falling critics of the genre early on, Guitar Hero and Rock Band allow a whole new audience to interact with music in a very real way.

Beyond trading up for real instruments, the Guitar Hero audience has shown plenty of love to previously obscure bands from the game during a dark time for record sales.  And I’m willing to bet there are quite a few GH fans that “discovered” older bands (that totally play, like, their dad’s music) through the game, and really learned to appreciate them.

Rock music games give us a nice, tidy package to study the direct correlation between games and non-game merchandise sales.  The genre was created well after gaming moved from a niche hobby to mainstream entertainment, it consists of only 2 flagship series, and interest can be tracked through solid sales numbers on (mostly) tangible products that are tied to only this one genre: guitars, and records and downloads of  music from featured bands.  There’s no spillover data from other genres here, because no one rushes out to pick up a new guitar ’cause they had an awesome time playing Left 4 Dead.

It would be interesting to see what other games had similar effects, if only it were trackable.  I’m sure there are plenty of guys out there who learned the rules of football (and eventually an interest in the sport) from Madden.

Licensed NFL merchandise continues to move at a steady clip despite the young male audience move away from watching TV, but it’s a real leap to call an uptick in sales of footballs, helmets and jerseys “the Madden effect.”

So when I see a team like the Yankees loading up their luxury boxes with PS3s and copies of MLB 09: The Show, it’s clearly a deal designed to

benefit Sony.  But I think MLB might be pleasantly surprised with how much interest a wider reaching games initiative could generate in the sport.  At the very least, it would bring some of the cool factor they despereately need to make the very worthy RBI program a success.

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As nerds our people are wont do this time of year, daily games sites, magazines, and even some members of the mainstream press have spent the last few weeks compiling their “Best Of” lists and presenting their choices for game of the year.

Overall, the industry’s at a very weird place for awards season.  We don’t have one be-all end-all award like the Oscars or Grammys.  Some sites and magazines poll their entire editorial staff, but you still have the occasional lone wolf mainstream reporter that publishes his personal top ten.  And there’s really no way to weigh any of these objectively.

Most sites’ awards lists read like a console specific “must buy” list specific to each console.  That’s certainly useful for consumers, and even some marketers.  But I don’t think it recognizes the people behind the games as well as the Oscars or Grammys.  Of course, Spike TV’s VGA’s have been tinkering with that concept for the last few years, with pretty awful results.

The incomparable EDGE Magazine’s quirky, developer-focused awards hit the right spot, but I really thought the most useful wrap-up for industry types was Leigh Alexander’s Gamasutra piece on the year’s top dissapointments.  Every point really hits home, especially the part about the holiday glut.

Perhaps it’s just the competitive nature of gamers (and by extension, game developers), but I can’t understand why hardly anyone in this industry has the fortitude to release a big game in any part of the year other than the fourth quarter.  I understand a ton of games are bought around the holidays, but isn’t the industry mature enough by now to support at least one other hot season?

I don’t know any hardcore gamer that isn’t sitting on a huge backlog of games from the last 3 months.  I know I’ve still got a few retail discs in the shrink wrap, and a ton of games on WiiWare, LIVE and PSN that I meant to download but never had a chance.  The fact is, these games get short shrift for the simple fact that their publishers saw fit to drop them within a week of Gears 2 or Little Big Planet, simply because that’s the way it’s always been done.

Madden always has the shelves to itself in August, and there are plenty of gamers that don’t pick it up.  Why not give them a reason to go into the store in the summer as well?  Wii Fit launched in May and still managed to do killer numbers for Christmas.  Granted, Hollywood releases its strongest Oscar contenders in one big bunch at the end of the year, but what would July 4 weekend be like without popcorn bockbusters?  The industry is changing.  The audience is changing.  Isn’t it time to change the release schedules as well?

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