Activision Goes Indie

By Adam Smith on July 26th, 2013 at 12:00 pm.

It’s finally happened. Activision-Blizzard has bought out the majority of its shares from Vivendi, leaving Bobby Kotick as the CEO of a basement-dwelling bedroom-coding indie studio. Will Call Of Duty: Sepia Ops claim next year’s IGF Grand Prize? Can the next WarCraft’s block-based image change see it taking on the might of independent mega-hit Minecraft? Will Spryro return as a pixellated retro-dragon, starring in a side-scrolling puzzle-platformer about pacifism, divorce and the decline of the LP in an age of easily consumable digital music? Yes, yes, yes.

Nathan points out that this news may make it acceptable for people to admit how much they love Skylanders. I don’t know a great deal about that, but I do know about all the numbers involved in the deal because I am good at reading press releases.

The company itself has spent around $5.83 billion to reclaim 429 million shares that were held by Vivendi following the 2008 merger between the companies. Kotick will stay on as president and CEO, and along with chairman Brian Kelly, he led a separate purchase of 172 million shares for $2.34 billion. A lot of money has changed hands – or accounts, I guess, since I doubt they actually handed it over in a large stack. Imagine if they had though – a picture of Kotick sliding two and a half billion dollars across a table toward some men in suits. The internet would generate enough of its accursed memes to keep reddit afloat for six hundred years.

The Financial Times points out that “the agreement came soon after Vivendi gained new powers to force Activision to take on debt and pay out a sizeable dividend”. Sounds like a good reason to cut the cord.

At some point after completing the transaction, Kotick morphed into a PowerPoint presentation and projected these words into the sky:

“We should emerge even stronger, an independent company with a best-in-class franchise portfolio, and the focus and flexibility to drive long-term shareholder value and expand our leadership position as one of the world’s most important entertainment companies.”

There was also mention of “attractive financing markets”, at which point everybody in the room made their excuses and headed straight for the coldest of corporate showers.

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90 Comments »

Top comments

  1. golem09 says:

    Can’t wait for their first kickstarter.

  1. distantlurker says:

    Didn’t Vivendi used to publish all of Valve’s games back in the day? I have this vague memory of them suing valve for starting steam, not, you know, investing in the idea, no. Suing to stop it.

    They’re clearly a very forward thinking organisation and I’m sure this will end well for them…

  2. Fox89 says:

    The question is, now they’re independent will Call of Duty make it through the gauntlet that is Steam Greenlight?

  3. Noodlemonk says:

    The most staring of eyes!

  4. Cryptoshrimp says:

    “long-term shareholder value” A year, then?

  5. zachforrest says:

    A best-in-class portfolio suggests to me a selection of kennel club registered dogs

  6. Moni says:

    Mind boggling that Bobby Kotick and Brian Kelly invested $100 million of personal funds. That’s a lot of zeroes in those bank accounts.

    • Wedge says:

      Well you didn’t think people doing any of the work for those companies got any of the profits, did you?

  7. golem09 says:

    Can’t wait for their first kickstarter.

    • FhnuZoag says:

      Maybe we’ll see CoD in the next Humble Indie Bundle.

    • Lambchops says:

      Top comments? Top comments? What is this?

      Nothing against your comment, it is indeed tip-top, but top comments?

      As long as no one calls them tomments, I can live with it.

    • Highstorm says:

      Grats on the tomment!

  8. cocoleche says:

    Also WoW is down to 7.7 million subs. If anyone still cares.

    • cpt_freakout says:

      WoW killers everywhere.

    • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

      …But the power of the Ring could not be undone.

    • Jeremy says:

      $77 million a month? Weak.

      • anduin1 says:

        With the majority being in china, they don’t even pay half of what we pay for a sub. Their pay model is way better than ours by charging by the hour which works out to be like 6 cents after the conversion rate. Even at 40 hours a week of gameplay, not half of the $15 we pay.

        • xao says:

          $ 0.06 per hour * 40 hours / week * 52 weeks a year = $124.8 per year
          $15 / month * 12 months / year = $180 per year.

          Using your figures, a Chinese player actually pays more than two-thirds the cost of a US player.

          • darkChozo says:

            Everyone knows that the Chinese year only lasts 9 months. Duh.

          • stampy says:

            yeah, but the days are 32 hours long, so it comes out the same in the end.

          • MacTheGeek says:

            32-hour days? I think this explains how Foxconn can work its minions 90 hours a week without paying overtime!

  9. serioussgtstu says:

    “One of the world’s most important entertainment companies.”

    Oh and they’re so modest as well. Great to see these little indie startups being so confident.

    • Adam Smith says:

      Warms the cockles, doesn’t it?

      • scardb says:

        This business doesn’t sit well with me – I like my cockles frigid, I mean refrigerated!

        • SomeDuder says:

          I’m confused, are we talking about penises?

          • lowprices says:

            When are we not?

          • stupid_mcgee says:

            Folks, I’d like to sing a song about the American dream. About me, about you, about the way our American hearts beat way down in the bottom of our chests. About the special feeling we get in the cockles of our hearts, maybe below the cockles, maybe in the sub-cockle area, maybe in the liver, maybe in the kidneys, maybe even in the colon. We don’t know…

    • Liudeius says:

      I beg to differ, COD of Duty is one of the best games of all time.

      Oh wait, Activision? What games do they make again? I’ve never heard of them.

      • stupid_mcgee says:

        What did they make? Are you kidding!?!? Only a little something called Fishing Derby, the greatest motherfucking game of all time! *cue radical guitar riff*

  10. gunny1993 says:

    And in 10 years Rod Serling will appear in front of a still image of the Activision director, drowned in liquid gold, and tell us that it was they who were holding Blizzard back all along.

  11. Raiyan 1.0 says:

    I’ve played one of those CoD games. Shitty fucking art game for pretentious little twats.

    • brulleks says:

      Too true. “Life is just one long corridor full of doors you cannot open yourself.”

      Blah blah blah. Get off Richard Taylor’s dick, Activision.

    • chargen says:

      The whole point, which was obvious almost immediately, was that you are in a war zone, but you never actually have to shoot anyone. The message is “free will exists” or something, which is a pretty simple allegory to spend $100 million to convey.

      Also the ironic gameplay (har har you regenerate damage like a goddamn troll) gets old pretty fast.

    • Liudeius says:

      I know a guy with an art degree who just wasted away playing CoD.

      Imagine how much good he would have done if he had put his degree to use rather than spending hours engaged in philosophical discussion, contemplating the depth and complexity of phrases such as “lol i did ur mom last nite.”

    • stupid_mcgee says:

      lol “Another iPhone-like invention…” The iPhone was a fucking iPod Touch with a phone. Apple’s been pushing the iPod Touch, in different shapes and sizes with minor alterations, for years.

      I also love how that article completely fails to mention the now-forgotten milked-to-death franchises of Tony Hawk and Guitar Hero, as well as the financial turmoil that the crashing of those franchises created within Activision.

      Please, Forbes, tell me more about how awesome your rose-tinted portfolios are.

  12. tnzk says:

    I can’t wait for their new indie game Call of Duty: Ghosts.

  13. Jerppa says:

    Look at him. He looks like Satan. Also, that picture is strangely mesmerizing. I’m going to sit here and stare at it for a while.

  14. Bloodoflamb says:

    This excites me only because ATVI is part of my stock portfolio. It’s already up more than 15% in pre-market trading.

  15. SanguineAngel says:

    Well, they’re still a publisher aren’t they? Have I misunderstood?

  16. cunningmunki says:

    Maybe someone at Activision will find the rights to No One Lives Forever in a bottom drawer while they’re clearing their desks out.

    • bleeters says:

      As much as I’d love to see NOLF games return, I feel like their absence is preferable to the shambling mockery of life that Activision would conjur with their foul magics if they tried to make more.

  17. Lemming says:

    I can’t wait for EA to try and one-up them to prove their indie credentials. I expect nothing less than them claiming charity status.

  18. GameCat says:

    So we will have Call of Duty 2D sad platformer where War Dog must find his human companion?

  19. Lawful Evil says:

    We should emerge even stronger, an independent company with a best-in-class franchise portfolio, and the focus and flexibility to drive long-term shareholder value and expand our leadership position as one of the world’s most important entertainment companies

    I am starting to like Kotick. No, really.

    • Shooop says:

      You do know the quality he’s referring to is all about sales numbers and not actual quality as in “this game is good” right?

  20. Don Reba says:

    Who needs Vivendi when they can self-publish on Xbone?

  21. strangeloup says:

    Skylanders combined Activision’s powers of charging £12 for a tiny bit of DLC with the marvels of a ¥200 capsule machine toy.

    Genius. Evil genius, but still.

  22. rockman29 says:

    Who is Spryro?

  23. crinkles esq. says:

    Kotick came from the packaged goods industry; he only cares about profit, not gaming, not art. As someone who has worked with Activision in the past, I can say that as long as he’s still around, Activision will remain just as awful.

    • Halbarad says:

      He did come from that but he ostensibly has to care about gaming as a medium due to being in it. Incurring such debts in buying the rest of Activision from Vivendi does not scream of a man who doesn’t think the industry matters or has it’s strengths.

      I don’t like the man’s outside words, not a bit. He says the wrong things at the wrong times. Only sounding good once or twice. However, gaming is still an industry and as an industry we need games that make money and are cash cows to be able to make the ones that push the boundaries.

      Let’s face facts, if they weren’t good at making those type of games we wouldn’t now have the umpteenth million CoD game. CoD4 was an outstanding game and that was under Kotick’s Activision. Skylanders is a good game and for that reason they can leech it.

      I don’t approve of leeching every game as a franchise, but I do approve of leeching some of them if only to keep the money there to take risks on others.

      • drvoke says:

        Yes, all that innovation and risk-taking at Bl/Activision. I remember how awesome COD4 was, so it was good of them to take the risk of remaking that same game 11 times. And let’s not forget about the innovation of WoW. It’s truly a testament to Kotick’s Galtian fortitude, brilliance and innovation that has allowed Blizzard to milk the same game for a decade. What would the world do without captains of industry such as this?

      • stupid_mcgee says:

        He did come from that but he ostensibly has to care about gaming as a medium due to being in it.

        Yeah, sure. Just like the CEO of TGI Friday’s cares about quality food and the CEO of Pasta Garden cares about Italian authenticity.

        You don’t really believe that, do you?

        However, gaming is still an industry and as an industry we need games that make money and are cash cows to be able to make the ones that push the boundaries.

        Yeah, no. See, Activison has zero interest in trying anything new. Kotick, himself, has repeatedly said that they only care about big blockbuster titles that they can exploit on a yearly basis. He cares nothing about creativity.

        The only people pushing the boundaries are those that put art and creativity above profit, not the other way around. That’s the way it has always been.

        Regarding CoD and Skylanders relation to quality and their huge market share being representative of such quality: Britney Spears has sold a bajillion more albums than Jeff Mangum ever will. Yet, I don’t think a single reasonable person would or could actually say that her music is of a higher form of musical quality and higher quality of artistic nature than Neutral Milk Hotel’s albums.

    • Phantom_Renegade says:

      Wasn’t Acti on the verge of bankruptcy when he bought it? Perhaps Activision won’t be good while he’s running it, but without him it wouldn’t even exist. Also, art? Yes games can be art, but the people who consider their own games to be art, are usually pretentious twats who hide behind ‘artistic integrity’ to not have to face up to the shitfest they created.

      • crinkles esq. says:

        Perhaps Activision won’t be good while he’s running it, but without him it wouldn’t even exist.

        I’d be quite fine with that. Sell off the IPs to studios that can actually innovate. Remember when Kotick came in and announced, “I’m going to take the fun out of making videogames”? That wasn’t just bluster; he wanted to make the process of making games like making Coca Cola. And he did, he ran several franchises into the ground. He and his type of suit are poison to the industry. The only reason he put his own money in is because he still sees a cash cow in more of the same, not that he’s had some spiritual rebirth.

  24. Megakoresh says:

    Maybe now they will make something with at least 5% innovation…

    Doubtful though. Their CEO is a fucking dick (Kodick anyone?), from everything I have gathered so far it seems he doesn’t know shit about videogame market and audience and just sits atop established franchises which 10 year olds keep buying. More to the point the decisions on the monetizing strategy is what CEOs do. Development of games has as much involvement as “No. Don’t do it.” or “…”.

    And I haven’t seen anything good from Activision for SUCH a long time that there is not question Kodick is a fucking jerk. Considering that in the last 6 years they haven’t even made anything remotely innovative, aside from publishing third-party titles, I have a feeling his involvement with studios is also mostly consists of “No. Don’t do it.”. No professional game developer wants to make the same game all the time. That’s the reason why indies never make iterative sequels.

    • Shooop says:

      …it seems he doesn’t know shit about videogame market and audience and just sits atop established franchises which 10 year olds keep buying.

      Actually that proves he does know a whole lot about the video game market.

      The problem is he doesn’t care to do anything else except make money. Not branch out and try anything new or interesting for the minority of gamers.

  25. Borsook says:

    I can only dream but… Blizzard classics on gog? Their games on Steam? Probably not, but…

    • The Random One says:

      I somehow doubt this ever came from Vivendi.

    • stupid_mcgee says:

      I like the Steam platform and I like how Valve runs their dev studio and how they run Steam, but Valve needs to stop making their stuff exclusive, too.

  26. solidsquid says:

    Sorry bub, but your “best-in-class franchise portfolio” means jack shit without developers to build games in those franchises, and I doubt most of the decent dev teams will want to work with you at this point

  27. MacTheGeek says:

    If “indie” is short for “independent”, then a publicly-traded company cannot be an “indie”. Activision still has armies of stockholders to answer to — greedy, money-hungry stockholders, who demand increased earnings Every Single Quarter, Forever.

    Activision may no longer have to answer to Vivendi execs, but they bought their freedom with billions of dollars in new debt. In order to repay that debt, they’re going to have to crank up the cash machines to a new fever pitch. If you thought ATVI was a franchise-milking money whore already, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

  28. Universal Quitter says:

    What’s wrong with memes?

    You tellin’ me you don’t like seeing the same captioned pictures plastered on message boards, or reading the same joke at least once a day, for years?

  29. Text_Fish says:

    Shareholders, profits, franchises, blah, blah, blah. That douche must go to considerable effort to avoid ever actually talking about producing quality games. If he woke up one day as the CEO of the worlds largest potato farming conglomerate I don’t think he’d notice the difference.

  30. geldonyetich says:

    “Bobby Kotick as the CEO of a basement-dwelling bedroom-coding indie studio.”

    Well, there goes any good that might have come of it.

    Seriously, I think Vivendi might have become slightly more indy by his exclusion.