Tonight, against my better judgment, I went to the Activision Preview Event at the Staples center. I watched in something akin to awe as scantily clad dancers danced, DJs spun and a whole host of performers were trotted out on stage to sing the praises of the videogame company that makes the most money by making the worst games. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against the spectacle – it was a bloated, improbable affair, but it was still entertaining.
Just take the weird mishmash of artists who performed. There were DJs Deadmau5 and David Guetta, followed by Usher, followed by more Usher and Chris Cornell and Jane’s Addiction and N.E.R.D. and Eminem (backed by Rihanna and Travis Barker?). Oh, and Maynard from Tool sang Bohemian Rhapsody backed by an orchestra and choir but no one had any idea who he was till well after the fact.
What I really wanted to see was Activision’s slate of upcoming games. All of those performers had some kind of tentative link to a particular title coming out this fall (God only knows why Usher was there, though). I would tell you about the games, but I’ve already forgotten most of them. Oh, except for the part where a doppelganger of Eddie Riggs from Brutal Legend is a playable character in the new Guitar Hero (you may remember that Activision passed on Brutal Legend, then sued when it was picked up by EA). And they’ve taken the rubbish skateboard peripheral from Tony Hawk Ride, painted it red, and renamed it Tony Hawk Shred. Of course, I’m sure they took the last six months making sure the new one isn’t rubbish. Right?
I’d say something snarky about the new Call of Duty installment, but I left before those (literal) fireworks went off. Someone from N.E.R.D. started shouting about Activision making the best games in the world and it ruined the illusion for me.
I don’t fault Activision for exploiting the market and peddling garbage. Garbage sells and selling is smart business. I don’t begrudge the crowd for inexplicably cheering for said garbage, either, partly because it was a fun event, partly because sometimes garbage itself can be fun (Activision’s garbage just doesn’t happen to be my cup of tea). I can’t even complain about the rumored six million bucks the company spent on the event – even though the thought of blowing that much money on a single night makes me a little nauseous, if Activision has that kind of cash to throw around, more power to them.
What I don’t understand about Activision is its total unwillingness to invest some of that money into some quality titles. Take EA, for instance, the old Evil Empire, built on a foundation of shitty franchises. They still are, to a degree, but they also used their ill gotten gains to buy Bioware, the very definition of a critical darling of a developer. EA has even experimented in new franchises, some successes, like Dead Space, some failures, like Mirror’s Edge, but at least they’re trying something different.
I know, I know, you all say, “But Stu, what about Call of Duty? It sold a bazillion copies and the whole world loves it.” I say, “Who cares?” How much Call of Fucking Duty do we as a species really need? Black Ops is coming out in a matter of months and I still haven’t managed to scrub off the stink of Modern Warfare 2. Never mind the Infinity Ward controversy, does Bobby Kotick truly want his legacy to be series after series of sequels devolving into grim parody until there is nothing left but a desiccated husk?
It is a con that is only going to work for so long, so try something new. Be experimental. Get excited. Take inspiration for the trailblazing Activision of yore. Both Activision and the industry at large will be better for it.
But best of all, it’ll shut people like me up. That’s got to be a perk.