– September 16, 2009:

Last weekend, Activision CEO Bobby Kotick gave details on what he believes represents the future of gaming—and managed to become the poster child for unhappy workplaces.

Kotick’s real bombshell of a statement didn’t hit until he stopped talking about gaming technology and started discussing his views on corporate culture. According to Gamespot, Kotick “pointed to changes he implemented in the past as being particularly beneficial, such as designing the employee incentive program so it ‘really rewards profit and nothing else.'”

According to the CEO, studio heads now regularly argue with CFO’s over the allocation of funds, each competing with the others for cash. If this doesn’t sound like much fun—and it doesn’t—that’s Bobby’s stated plan. “We have a real culture of thrift,” Kotick said. “The goal that I had in bringing a lot of the packaged goods folks into Activision about 10 years ago was to take all the fun out of making video games.”

The CEO’s long-term vision, in his own words, is to instill the corporate culture with “skepticism, pessimism, and fear…We are very good at keeping people focused on the deep depression.” You’d think the man might’ve learned his lesson when indivuals and press organizations decried his plan to strictly focus on games that “have the potential to be exploited every year on every platform with clear sequel potential and have the potential to become $100 million dollar franchises.” Evidently not. In Bobby’s world, the best games are produced when every employee is in a constate state of fear, projects are always on the brink of being killed, the ability to generate profit is the only yardstick by which an employee’s value is measured, and—let’s not forget—making video games is not fun.

Great comment from reader GetSmart: “Industries are started by visionaries. And then finished off by douchebags.”

  1. fordprefect says:

    Scum like that always rises to the top.

  2. Game Boy says:

    Whatanass. Getim a job @ Goldmann Sachs.

  3. chris says:

    People like this destroy companies.

  4. jbenson2 says:

    What a complete jerk. Activision / Blizzard’s “World of Warcraft” – see ya’ around.

    Hello Aion! – a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) launching this month.

  5. Ah_Yea says:

    This little article is worth a look-see. Really!

    And it even relates to this post!

  6. Olo Baggins of Bywater says:

    Guys like this make a ton of money for themselves and shareholders, short-term. Long term, they bounce around to lots of different companies.

    They are also the reason unions exist.

  7. Meatball says:

    He should listen to this-

    Dan talks about how motivation by reward or fear DOES NOT WORK.

  8. amodedoma says:

    Not to worry, his bonuses are safe regardless of how poorly his company does, or how many people he has to exploit and then fire, they’re guaranteed by contract. Somewhere along the line it beccame necessary for corporations to become constant profit generators. As soon as they stop generating profits, investors start losing confidence and selling out. Now there’s very little room for innovation (innovation is expensive and bad for short term profits) and competition has turned into a kill or be killed game. Seems to me the problem is too many rich people think they have a right to make money without working for it, speculating, investing, and above all avoiding risk. Hey I’m all for the motivational qualities of the capitalistic system. But if they don’t figure out what’s wrong with it and soon, things are going to get much worse.

  9. echeola says:

    WTF??? Screw this guy. I do have to admire his honesty. Most CEOs would just do this and deny that they were.

    We all know that the best games come from people that are having no fun in a soulless, spirit crushing corporation. This is incredibly short sited and a great way to lose your best employees. I expect to see a renaissance in small gaming houses founded by ex-Activision employees.

  10. LtSiver says:

    The sad part is these douchbags that run companies like this are more and more prevalent. They all don’t understand the primary rule of business: make your customer happy. If you can do that, you can not only make a profit, but your business will be sustainable. This starts by keeping up employee morale (after all, unhappy employees will take out their frustrations on the customer, which will make them unhappy), and focusing on customer service. Too many companies now are run by accountants. You cannot innovate because that will cost money. You can’t be good to the customer because that will cost money. Too many businesses are like this now (big content is a primary example – they will do anything to “protect” their IP, but don’t realize that they are pissing off the customer, as the customer that buys the content will do what they want with it anyway, regardless of law or DRM.)

  11. Floyd says:

    #7: Unfortunately, the ass running Activision would simply fire all union and non-union employees, and send all the jobs to a country where he can pay people 50 cents a day. It happens…

  12. amodedoma says:

    #10 Pedro, Hmmmn, I can see your point. But is there a brand of douche bag ‘leader’ that can make a difference? Far as I can tell, nope. I’m thinking maybe it’s time for human values to evolve from the the obsession to compete to the obsession to cooperate.

  13. Ron Larson says:

    Sad. This crap will leave them vulnerable to small smart competitors who will eat their lunch.

    This reminds me of the fall and decline of Ashton-Tate, once the top software company for PC databases (dBase III), and a top selling word-processor (MultiMate). Harvard MBA Ed Esber was appointed CEO and ran Ashton-Tate just like Kotick is running Activision.

    Esber started obsessing about protecting Ashton-Tates IP and sales of existing products and failed to focus on developing better products. All the company’s energy was focused on suing people instead of making better products.

    He sued anyone who developed adds on for their top-selling DBase product. So the developer community, who loved dBase, abandoned it, and more and more customers left for other database products (such as Foxbase).

    He implemented PITA copy protection schemes for their word processing product in order to thwart piracy. This only succeeded in pissing off paying customers and did nothing to stop pirates. Nor did it convert pirates into paying customers. The customers left for Microsoft Word, which was getting better and better all the time.

    I remember (mid 80′) Esber ranting a raving about those horrible pirates and rogue developers that were taking money away from Ashton-Tate. It sure sounds a lot like the same crap I hear from music and film executives today.

    In the meantime Microsoft was quietly turning Word into the killer word processing app, stealing all of Esber’s paying customers. Database developers built better databases, leaving dBase in the dustbin with Esber ranting a raving about protecting what was now obsolete technology.

    His Harvard MBA training failed to teach him that it is your paying customers that matter. It is not the pirates. It is not the young hacker that wants to make things work better, or different. Serve your customers by being better, and making their life easier.

    Harvard’s MBA program must teach these bozos that customers are problems, not assets to be treasured. That is why so many companies like GM are either in the toilet, or circling the drain today.

  14. GF says:

    What a sad, sad man. I love – not – how these kind of CEO’s shift the blame to their employees for poor performance. It too would seem that the board doesn’t understand their business nor are they passionate about their products to allow this man to be the face of Activision. So, I’m out.

  15. KMFIX says:

    I know some absolutely brilliant programmers who left to work for their competition because of this prick.

    The best employees can always find better places to work.

  16. Jägermeister says:

    What a jerk… but at least, he’s an honest jerk. 😛

    #6 – Ah_Yea

    Wow! What a babe! 🙂

  17. Zybch says:

    Does Activision even produce anything of their own these days? I thought they were just a distributor of the products of other people’s talent, with absolutely none of their own.

  18. jopa says:

    I wonder what will happen to Mr. Kotick if gamers decide to boycott his company products because they were labeled as “abusive to employees”.

    It is true that the final benchmark for a game is the revenues it generated, but why terrorize your employees in the process? what is it good for?! This guy is playing russian roulette with his company. Just imagine what talented employees feel like when this douche bag comes out with such statements? Talented people always have options – they will just leave Activision for a sane competitor.

    What a jerk.

  19. Jägermeister says:

    #25 – jopa

    I wonder what will happen to Mr. Calderone if cokeheads decide to boycott his drug cartel’s cocaine because they were labeled as “abusive to employees”.

    I tell you what… Gamers do not give a shit!

  20. noname says:

    Does any one have a credible link for Bobby Kotick bio.

    I want to know which schools and degrees he has.

    All the sites that posits to having his bio, have nothing.

  21. RSweeney says:


  22. deowll says:

    What do you want to bet the best talent does not want to work for him?

  23. Ralph, the Bus Driver says:

    A few misconceptions.

    Fear and reward are short term motivators at best and long term trouble. Fear usually causes a drop in quality and rewards come to be expected.

    The best motivator is when the employee feels he has control over his job. When his input is appreciated. When he is made to feel important. It doesn’t matter what you pay someone, doing a repetitious job all day, all week, all the time will not motivate them.


    Most talent will remain. There is a small problem with American health insurance that hinders true employment mobility. People will remain in a job they hate with a passion solely for that reason. Others will remain as a new job might mean relocation.

    You do not need the best talent to succeed. The best talent is always a bonus, but seldom a guarantee of success. Just look at all the professional sports teams that sign the “best” player only to see the team fail to win the big one.

    Adequate talent will perform very well when motivated. Success is when management uses that talent to their best.

    And third, the CEO is there to earn a high return on investment. Period. If he fails to return a large profit then he didn’t do his job. Long term strategy in the world of computers is a waste of time. Today’s best games will be sitting idle on a shelf in two years or gathering dust in a second hand store. There is no profit in what you did for me yesterday, what are you doing for me today.

    Sad, but true life in business today. If you are interested, read some Dr. Edwards Deming.

  24. Floyd says:

    #31: There will be no return on investment if Activision browbeats their best employees by taking all the fun out of their work. No more improvements to Guitar Hero, or new games that increase sales, because the smart employees have moved on to happier workplaces. I’m not and never have been an Activision employee, but I’ve seen the same things happen elsewhere.

  25. Ralph, the Bus Driver says:


    Rule #1

    No one is indispensable.

    I’ve lost track but the NY Yankees payroll is around $200 million, by far the largest in MLB. Yet they don’t win every game and they don’t win the World Series every year. They are good, no argument, but they still lose quite often to lesser talented teams.

    Look at any F1 team. Most spend over ten million on each race and only one car wins. NASCAR is similar but they spend a lot less. The difference between the best F1 cars and the worse on the circuit is less than 1%. Much less.

    People have an amazing ability to accept poor bosses. How many interviews have you been to in a different city when your current boss expects you at work? Will you risk your current paycheck for a possible one somewhere else in a place you might also hate? Relocating means uprooting your family and usually your spouse quitting their job. Remember the fun trying to buy a new house? Sell your old one? Pre-existing health conditions will too often be dropped (yes, asthma and diabetics) or in jeaopardy. Then add in that people are more tolerant of the crap they have now then they are of accepting something blind (the unknown).

    As I believe bobbo pointed out above, this becomes fertile ground for a union.

  26. Rick Cain says:

    Corporate executives always destroy even the strongest of institutions. Remember what Scully did for Apple?

    Perhaps he should have stuck to selling sugar water which was his real forte’.

  27. jbenson2 says:

    Kotick’s facing a world of hurt in a couple days. His major competitor is launching Aion on 9/22/2009.

    Let’s hope that Kotick starts feeling a bit of his own medicine… “skepticism, pessimism, and fear…We are very good at keeping people focused on the deep depression.”


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