Activision Fire 30, To Make Fewer Licensed Games

By John Walker on February 20th, 2013 at 11:00 am.

Activision has promised to stop making terrible games. Well, okay, that’s not quite true. But they’ve said to Kotaku that this year they’re planning to release “fewer games based on license properties”, which is publisher speak for, “Good lord, that James Bond game was terrible.” This coincides with the announcement that the company is laying off 30 employees, thought to affect CODBLOPS developers, Treyarch.

The lay-offs are apparently split between Treyarch and their licensed games developers. Sorry, not “lay-offs”, I mean, “aligning its costs with its revenues” and “realigning our structure to better reflect the market opportunities and our slate”. You’ve not been fired, you’ve been realigned! And to further reassure those who lost their jobs, “Approximately, 30 full-time employees have been impacted globally, which represents approximately one half of one percent of Activision Blizzard’s employee population.” So, you know, you barely count!

Of course, licensed games don’t necessarily mean bad games. I mean, it’s a good rule of thumb, but actually Activision’s Spider-Man and Transformers games last year were pretty decent. 007 Legends was not, and nor was the utterly hateful Family Guy. 2013 still has a Walking Dead game, a console-only (for reasons I cannot fathom) Deadpool title, and they’re jumping on board the resurgence of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with a game of that too. But from the announcement it seems likely that we’ll not see many others added to the list, and almost certainly not another Bond game – the last was such a disaster, and there’s of course a likely four year gap before the next movie.

And calm yourself – CODBLOPS DLC will not be affected by the human-shedding.

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48 Comments »

  1. Kobest says:

    (seeing the cover for the article)

    Dear Activision Employees,

    Consider that a divorce.

    Regards,

    HR

  2. Simon Hawthorne says:

    This is kind of big news. Although licensed games tend to be terrible, they also tend to sell well. Far better than they deserve as games, at least.

    In some ways that’s the problem; if you have a game that is going to sell well no matter the quality, why would you spend resources increasing the quality when this will have a negligible impact on sales?

    Perhaps if poor quality licensed games aren’t selling quite as well as they used to sell this will mean that we’ll see more high quality licensed games.

    The license is no longer a guarantee of sales. A license is a boost to your game – but you now also need to construct a decent game for it to sell well.

    • Prime says:

      Yeah, it used to be a lot easier to chuck out something vaguely resembling the licence and sit back to count the monies. I vividly recall trying to sell Spice Girls ‘games’ for the original Playstation, feeling utterly wretched looking mothers in the eye who knew full well that £20 of their hard-earned was going towards complete cash-in shite just to appease their wailing offspring, and hating me for not just telling their children it was cash-in shite.

      Nowadays, though…with development costs being so high it’s harder to chuck out that kind of crap deliberately because more and more people can see right through it. You have to put in the effort these days or it won’t sell, which, as you say, seems to be an improvement.

      • Maxheadroom says:

        I feel your pain. I worked in a computer shop for a good portion of the 90′s and have many a similar story.

        I was also solely responsible for ordering in about 100 copies of Rise of the Robots, 97 of which are probably still somewhere in that shops basement

      • BooleanBob says:

        I wish it were true, but…

        • solidsquid says:

          In fairness that was underfunded and didn’t have sufficient time for production after Gearbox apparently spent all the money on Borderlands 2 and put off work for it until the last minute. Also it was subcontracted, which often doesn’t help with quality

          • BooleanBob says:

            In fairness to whom? Not the poor saps who bought it, presumably.

          • Hmm-Hmm. says:

            In fairness, it was bad because.. well, they had their reasons not to want to put their utmost into it?

            No, no. That won’t do. That won’t do at all.

      • Hoaxfish says:

        I think there has actually been a move recently to put out good licensed games.

        At least some of them have achieved this by not trying to be “AAA” (e.g. putting out decent auto-runners, sold cheaply).

        There’s also the move in the games industry to basically set up its own blockbuster franchises (Modern Warfare, Halo, even Bioshock), so there’s no longer a reliance on “Hollywood” tie-ins to bring a well-known name to your product.

  3. Old Rusty Dusty says:

    I agree. What not a better way to thank the developers of one of Activision’s most financially successful franchise than firing them. Hopefully they can move on to work somewhere else an actually work on decent games instead of the semi-annual codblops fodder.

    • Heighnub says:

      So a company shouldn’t get rid of employees who are bad at their jobs because their product makes a lot of money?

      • lijenstina says:

        And how do you know that they are bad at their jobs ?

        They could be a bunch of apes that stole the CEO’s award winning selection of golden plated dildos and delete his collection of S&M visual novels – yes that is quite possible.

        On the other hand, they also could be the opposite – a bunch of good people and good professionals that got picked up at random.

        • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

          It wasn’t a bunch of apes, it was me and a hand-picked team of sloths.

        • Vorphalack says:

          You know, i’d always wondered what the opposite of a good, honest, hard working man was. Never would have guessed it was dildo stealing, porn destroying monkeys. You learn something new every day.

      • MOKKA says:

        Because everybody who gets fired has to be bad at their job right? Don’t get me wrong, this is often the case, but sometimes ‘bad’ just means ‘a bit less efficient then others’. On the other hand none of us probably has any idea how and why those people lost their jobs so threre really isn’t any reason to speculate on this further.

        • lijenstina says:

          Because it is meaningless until we know the facts of the case.
          Both ways are possible and also the huge gray area in between.

          Also it is an mantra that gets repeated a lot for ideological legitimization of the current system of mostly fake meritocracy (with, of course, notable exceptions). Usually combined with pitting us against each other – so we fight over bread crumbs while people in charge laugh their ass off.

          • Heighnub says:

            Yes, we don’t know the fact, yet everyone immediately blames the employer for the layoffs. I find it easier to believe that they weren’t very good at their jobs rather than believing “a bunch of good people and good professionals that got picked up at random.”

          • Simon Hawthorne says:

            Heighnub: I can only assume you’ve never worked in a large organization. Big companies are infamous for being unable to tell good employees from bad.

            With an SME the chances are the guy doing the firing knows the employees personally. With anything larger, redundancies are done through some kind of scoring system which is quite impersonal and usually subject to the arbiter’s whim.

            I find it far more likely that these people were, on average, no better or worse at their jobs than those who remain, but that they were simply in part of the organizational chart that a decision-maker thought was unnecessary.

            I don’t think there’s any evil here, but I don’t think there’s any moral goodness at work either.

          • Heighnub says:

            @Simon Hawthorne.
            Given that I work for one of the largest game development companies in the world, I assume that other large companies in the gamedev industry treat their employees the same way I’m treated, which certainly doesn’t involve a scoring system when it comes to redundancies. For me, this assumption trumps your assumption that a large gamedev organisation is similar to a non gamedev organisation, and even that all large organisations are not morally good.

          • Simon Hawthorne says:

            Fair enough. I won’t argue with you, but I don’t have to believe you.

          • lijenstina says:

            @Heighnub

            So let me get straight.

            You don’t like when the employer is almost always blamed for the layoffs. But , You still say that it is easier to believe that they’ve got what they’ve asked for ( a bit of dramatic exaggeration of your words from my part :) ). Well, just go along with the same bad reasoning software and only change one variable – for most people it is easier to believe the opposite – that the the employer is to blame, especially in a period of economic crisis when the mighty emperors run naked down the streets still screaming fashion advices.

            The lack of information both invalidates their and your opinion until the facts are known.

          • Vorphalack says:

            ”I don’t think there’s any evil here, but I don’t think there’s any moral goodness at work either.”

            It could be argued that choosing to be amoral is immoral, or evil if you prefer.

        • Bhazor says:

          Please, this is Activision

          What Activision call “bad” could easily mean “they asked for a raise after making the company a billion dollar game”.

          http://www.joystiq.com/2012/05/31/west-zampella-settle-with-activision-in-infinity-ward-lawsuit/

      • Baines says:

        Modern Warfare 3 was a bungled mess. Buggy game, broken subscription service features, multiple broken patches, I don’t recall the network code ever being fixed. (It wasn’t fixed ten months into the game’s life. IW denied there even being a problem with their code for around the first six months.) One of the guys involved got a promotion out of the mess, being put in a position of power over the whole Call of Duty line.

        Black Ops 2 released in better shape without the problems or controversy of MW3. Activision lays off Treyarch employees.

  4. Leper says:

    “aligning its costs with its revenues”
    You would think that would mean hiring more Treyarch employees given the commercial behemoth of CODBLOPS1+2

    • drewski says:

      Apparently even Activision can just about manage to restrain themselves from killing their golden goose by over-exploiting the franchise.

  5. drewski says:

    Given we’re now a solid 3 months past the release of CoDBlOps, isn’t it probable the 15 Treyarch guys are testing/support? Most of the bugs they’re actually going to bother fixing are probably fixed by now, so they can get away with a lower head count.

    Making games has it’s own business cycle, just like any other business…

    • Bhazor says:

      Testers/support would probably be working for Activision, not Treyarch.

    • Milky1985 says:

      If it was testing and support (probably not as that tends to be outsourced and/or handled by developer) and the cod games are now 2 year annual they would still be needed as work would be happening now on either DLC or the next COD game.

  6. The Sombrero Kid says:

    This is really suspicious, why would Activision make the right decision?

    • mouton says:

      “Even a broken clock is right twice a day”

    • Vorphalack says:

      Is it the right decision though? I mean, they could have said ”We will improve the standard of our licensed releases and no longer be making god forsaken cash grabs”, instead of ”we will no longer be making licensed games as we can no longer get away with god forsaken cash grabs”.

      • Jamesworkshop says:

        I’d take it as the right decision considering how expensive licences are acquire and the hassle of releases just to keep them extended, it’s not the same as an IP acti-blizz themselves own.

      • Brun says:

        I think that, realistically, they are the same decision. The only reason these things were “cash grabs” was because they could be produced at bargain-basement costs and still sell some copies from name recognition and the license tie-in. Improving the standard means the costs will go up and essentially turn it into a regular AAA release, from the business perspective. Increased costs means that they can’t make as many (which is exactly what they said), or that they won’t make as much money from the ones they do make (as licensed games have a reputation for being bad).

    • Shooop says:

      Because the customers might be getting smarter I hope.

      It’s like the arguments about PC gaming dying – it’s not that PC game sales have fallen, it’s that console sales have gone up far enough to meet them. Activision knows when they’ve milked a franchise until it’s partially decomposed, but now the customers are figuring it out sooner.

  7. Jason Moyer says:

    The newest Spiderman game looked kinda meh (the Amazing Spiderman or whatever) but the previous few by the same developer look pretty amazing. I’m kind of surprised the one that was published for PC never ended up on Steam as I’ve never actually seen it for sale anywhere. Shattered Dimensions was the title, I believe. Looked like a somewhat crappier, more lighthearted Arkham game.

    It’s been a few years, but I’m still kind of surprised that Bizarre Creations was closed as Blood Money, while short, was the only good Bond game I’ve ever seen besides Goldeneye.

    • Simon Hawthorne says:

      (Psst – Blood Stone, not Blood Money. Also Quantum of Solace was half decent, better than Blood Stone for my money.)

  8. SuicideKing says:

    You’ve not been fired.
    But,

  9. Jamesworkshop says:

    Fairly standard business, hardly rates as news.

    • Shooop says:

      It is news-worthy when it’s one of the largest companies in the industry basically admitting they’ve lost money on what were previously sure bets.

      • Jamesworkshop says:

        forgive me for not missing 20 years of crappy movie IP games

  10. Shooop says:

    This is actually good news.

    Not for the 30 who are now out of jobs, but for the industry and us, the consumers. And not because “Haha Activsion”.

    It means trying to make an objectively terrible game based on a license might no longer work like it used to. Licensed games are notorious for being cash-ins which sell really well despite their typically low quality. This news suggests maybe people are getting smarter and starting to look at what they’re actually buying (or asking someone to buy for them) first instead of seeing the logo and nothing else.

    With any luck, this will apply not only to movie-licensed games but game franchises too in the future because suddenly the name alone isn’t enough to get sales.

  11. stupid_mcgee says:

    Don’t forget the abysmal Tony Hawk HD remake and Ice Age 4: Continental Drift: Arctic Games. Oh, and let’s just throw in the Cabela hunting games, too.

    Activision: CoD is the only worthwhile game we make, and even that isn’t all that great.