Activision In Australia: Modern Warfare, Game Prices And Caring About Your Reputation

One week before the release of Activision's holiday Trojan Horse, Modern Warfare 3, we sat down for a rare interview with Ben Graetz, the Managing Director of Activision Blizzard in Australia. No question was out of bounds as we discussed game pricing, Activision's reputation, and its future as a publisher.

“Yeah look, you know you can feel free to ask me anything,” begins Ben. “I'm a pretty open guy!”

And Ben Graetz is open. He’s also the Managing Director of Activision in Australia. Managing Directors from Activision don’t normally give out interviews, not in the past at least. They're not usually open guys.

Among those that care about video games -- those in the bleeding niche, ie us -- Activision has a bad reputation, there’s no denying it. A reputation for milking franchises, for making life difficult for its development studios, for being behind the curve when it comes to online -- considering Activision remains the number one video game publisher in the world, you’d understand if it decided it couldn't give a single solitary damn what we thought, but it does. Well, Ben does at least. Otherwise why would he be here, talking to us?

"For most people, Activision has a positive brand"

We begin our interview with a concession -- something Kotaku Australia has in common with Activision locally. Often we get tarred with the same brush. If Kotaku US does something readers don’t like, often we, at Kotaku Australia, have to bear the brunt of that. It strikes us that Ben might often feel the same way about Activision

So we ask him, does he feel the actions of Activision as a global company impact on his business locally, in a similar manner? What does he think about the perception of Activision as a brand?

“I think if you were to talk about Activision's image,” he begins, “to the majority of the population Activision's image is very good. Call of Duty is very well known and liked brand. And the company has a pretty good history of bringing innovation to the industry."

According to Ben, negative perceptions of Activision as a brand are limited to a minority and in a sense he’s right. The vast majority of the 20 million + users who inevitably buy a copy of Modern Warfare 3 won’t be aware of Activision’s negative perception, they’ll most likely have no idea about the drama at Infinity Ward, or its reputation as a publisher.

“For most people, Activision has a positive brand,” he continues, “but there are a small percentage of people who tend to be a bit more vocal. -- who have a negative reaction. So that's one of the things we've been talking about internally since I started my job this year. We want to be a great brand and deliver a great experience to fans of Activision -- we want to put our fans first. So that's actually a focus for us, delivering a great experience. We already deliver great products, we want to deliver a great experience as well.

"This sort of thing is personally important to me, and our team here as a whole. When I look around our office, at our local staff, there's a team of people there who love games, love gaming and really want to do the right thing by all of our customers. We want to do things that cement that."

Cementing a solid reputation, for Ben at least, means focusing on consumers of Activision products and building communities around a handful of key properties.

"There are things that we've started that we want to build upon," claims Ben. "At the start of this year we were charging for some of our customer phone calls -- not all of them, but some of them. So we want to do the right things by our fans, by our customers, and this didn't seem consistent with that, so we made the decision to make all those calls free, regardless of where you're calling from, regardless of how long it takes to resolve. So that's one way.

"Another example is that we have a really engaged community, particularly around the Call of Duty series. There are 30 million people playing online at any given period of time, those are some pretty good numbers. It's a pretty engaged community -- we want to do more to reach out to that community and engage them. "

"Elite is a whole new level"

When Ben talks about reaching out to the community, we suspect he's referring to Call of Duty Elite, a paid service that attempts to add a new layer to the Call of Duty Experience. The announcement of Elite earlier this year resulted in a small backlash against Activision, among fans who felt that they were paying extra for something that other games often provide for free -- but according to Ben, Call of Duty Elite takes community engagement further than any of those titles.

"Elite is a whole new level," claims Ben. "You have a great single player experience with Call of Duty, and you have a great multiplayer experience as well, but for those that want to take things further we're providing the Elite service. We think that's the appropriate model -- you're giving people something they're familiar with and building on top of that experience.

Elite is part of Activision's complimentary digital strategy.

"Take Call of Duty as an example, you'll be able to walk into stores, buy a copy of the game, go home, play multiplayer as part of the value you get in the box. But we'll also provide additional types of content that is paid for as part of a complimentary experience."

In a difficult period for the games industry as a global whole, Activision has decided to focus its efforts on what it knows will work, and use that safety net to take risks in a few key areas.

"I think if you look at our business as a whole, Activision's strategy is to focus on fewer bigger titles, and take some opportunities to break through on some other innovative titles," says Ben. "We have Call of Duty, some good licensed properties, and then we try to break through on titles like Skylanders, which is very unique."

"Look, I think we overdid it there"

We bring up an event we attended years ago, just after the success of Call of Duty 4. We distinctly remember stumbling into a retailer presentation, where Activision boldly stated that, from that point on, it would only rarely invest in new IP, and shift its focus towards established brands such as Call of Duty, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater and Guitar Hero.

Fast forward to the present, with both Tony Hawk's and Guitar Hero on hiatus, we ask Ben: is he worried about the lack of new IP in Activision's roster?

"It's interesting you mention that event," he laughs, "that is going back a few years!

"I think we are worried about that, but it is part of a strategy -- we want to enhance the properties people know and love but at the same time put some weight behind some big bets. Skylanders is a great example of that and the market reaction has been very positive. We've also announced a partnership with Bungie, that's obviously a strong developer and the future of that looks very positive. It all fits in with the theme of focusing on a couple of big things. It has to be something we believe can truly be great, a great experience."

We ask -- isn't there a worry that Call of Duty will eventually suffer the same fate as Guitar Hero?

"Look, I think we overdid it there," admits Ben. "We overdid the releases relative to the innovation we delivered. One of the things I've learned during my time at Activision is that the company is very good at learning from what it's done in the past -- both in terms of amplifying the things it's done well, and learning from areas where it could improve. Talking to my counterparts in the US, they're really conscious of that. We really want to continue to deliver innovation around key themes.

"I actually think in a lot of ways Activision doesn't get enough credit for its innovation, in many respects it's like -- well I see you have an iPhone there. An interesting thing that Steve Jobs said is that, with the iPhone, he created a device people didn't realise they needed. Look at Skylanders -- it's a similar thing -- who would have thought of toys and video games and combining them in this unique way. I give Activision a lot of credit for taking the risk there.

"I think if you are asking us if we learned from Guitar Hero, the answer is yes," he continues. "The vocal minority might question the release cadence of Call of Duty but, for the vast majority, they can't get enough of Call of Duty. We're releasing one a year -- in terms of major releases. I finished playing Modern Warfare 2 and I couldn't wait to play the next one! I think an annual release cycle makes sense. People can't wait to get their hands on the next Call of Duty.

"It's a brand that people love. We've looked at the cadence and an annual release is something our customers want."

"The Aussie dollar has been on a real tear..."

With Modern Warfare 3 now in stores, breaking sales records, it's difficult to argue with the cadence of an annual release -- consumers clearly want a new Call of Duty game every year. But do they want to pay $100 plus for the privilege? We asked Ben about the cost of games in Australia -- does he think Australians are paying too much for games locally?

"Well, the cost of most things, when you benchmark overseas, tends to be a bit high here in Australia, and there are reasons for that," begins Ben. "Speaking specifically about games, there's a number of factors -- it's not quite as simple as doing a match on exchange rates.

"I'm very proud of the fact that we manufacture locally, we're helping to create and stimulate jobs. We have options on that, but we chose to do it locally for those reasons. We distribute locally as well as through our partners -- so that's two things already that are independent of exchange rates. In addition to that, the way we go to retail is different compared to overseas, and the cost structures are different. So it's not quite as simple as looking at exchange rates."

Ben was happy to admit, however, that the sustained strength of the Australian dollar has forced Activision to look at its pricing policy.

"The Aussie dollar has been on a real tear in the last 12 months, and that does give us reason to look at this," says Ben. "So it is something that we're looking at, and it's something that's important to consumers.

"We have to make sure that we're delivering value."

According to Ben, Activision expects that the competitive nature of the local retail market will do a fair amount of discounting on video games regardless.

"I think actually that the Australian market is different compared to the US," he claims. "In the US the prices tends to be stable -- it's a very big market obviously. The retail environment in Australia, for games in particular, is quite different. For us, when we look at our pricing going into the Christmas period, we expect that our pricing on Modern Warfare will see heavy discounts, because that's the market in Australia. Consumers will ultimately get great value."

That kind of discounting, however, is less likely to occur on Steam. Activision, along with many other publishers in Australia, has been notorious for increasing the US price of its titles in the lead up to release. We ask Ben why that's the case.

"I can't speak for other publishers," begins Ben, "I can only discuss how we work. The percentage of sales for us that go through Steam is very small, and we have made a decision to price steam for simplicity at our recommended retail price. We know that, given the promotional nature of the Australian market, that consumers can get a cheaper price buying at retail, which is what most consumers tend to do.

"For us, our steam pricing we set it at the RRP for the market we're in."

"There are three key themes for our business..."

It's probably the only unsatisfactory answer of the whole interview. We push, but get a similar answer. We wonder if Activision would get better traction with its Steam sales if it either maintained the US dollar price, or kept it consistent throughout. It is, after all, the visible increase in the weeks leading up to release that irritates customers. Clearly, however, the impact on local sales isn't substantial enough for Activision to make a change locally. However, if Activision is willing to look at local retail pricing, there's a good chance it'll be willing to look at the cost structure on Steam.

But, for now, Activision is content to focus on brick and mortar retail.

"It's exciting," claimed Ben. "There are three key themes for our business. First, we want to delight our customers and create great experiences -- we'll continue to deliver great games and we want to make sure everything we're doing on a local level is consistent with that.

"The second is that we want to be a great partner to our retail partners. And the third is that we want to be a great place to work. Our team here - our jobs are pretty cool! So those are the three key themes.

"For the region as a whole I see a chance to enhance the experience our customers get at retail and augment that with an ongoing digital experience."

And with that, we end it. I leave the interview with a handful of thoughts, mostly about Activision and its future as the global leader in video games publishing. EA has spent the last year vigorously future proofing itself as a company -- investing in Firemint, Popcap -- whilst Activision appears far more conservative in its approach. Is this the right way to go, I wondered.

Then yesterday, the headline: Activision Nearly Triples Profits In Surprising Q3, another barnstorming release for Modern Warfare 3 -- Activision is now planning to increase its annual revenue forecast.

It occurs to me: regardless of what we think, Activision is doing just fine.


Comments

    Should have asked why that despite slapping the game boxes with movember stickers why they only donated $1000 to a worthy cause instead of for example 1% of sales.

    Seems a bit cheap to be honest.

      Wow, did they really only donate $1000? I really hope thats not correct. If so thats pretty darn ordinary.

        Mount Franklin does the same with those bottles of water with the pink caps. They donate a set amount to the Breast Cancer foundation for the right to use their branding. Not a big fan of that sort of thing, it seems deceptive.

          Yeah but they donate 50k pretty much every year.

        Didn't the creators of Penny-Arcade, a webcomic that barely earns any money, donate something like 10,000 to charity?

          http://www.mcvpacific.com/news/read/activision-partners-with-movember-for-modern-warfare-3/086725

          as you can see its 1k from them and then 1k for the top team, all in all 2 grand. sweet bugger all compared to what COD would make them. I calculated 1% of expected sales yesterday would have already been about $2400 donation.

          I think Penny Arcade makes a decent amount of money. They are a full fledged business that supports staff beyond just Gabe and Tycho. Not only do they run their own convention (PAX) but they have a charity that makes millions of dollars for children's hospitals (Child's Play).

          That $10k was because Jack Thompson, the idiot lawyer who has since been disbarred, made a bet saying that if any game developer made a particularly obscene game of his own devising, he'd donate $10k to charity. Some indie devs put it out, Thompson backed out on the bet, Penny Arcade donated the money to a charity and Thompson tried to sue them because of it.

          Yup, tried to sue them for giving money to charity on his behalf.

            Yeah I know the whole backstory. I was pointing out that they do a better job then the company running the biggest franchise this year.

              It's a helluva misrepresentation to say that Penny Arcade is a webcomic that barely makes any money, so them giving $10k isn't a big thing.

          Penny-arcade through their Childs Play charity have raised and donated 8.9 million dollars worth.

          http://penny-arcade.com/2011/11/02/childs-play-2011

      To be fair to Activision, their involvement in Movember is a fair bit bigger than that - the $1000 is just an incentive for all the teams trying to raise money. They've invested quite heavily in this from what I've seen.

        yes i know its about awareness mark but that sticker makes you think that perhaps some of the money from the game is going to movember. Tends to be the way with these things......

        Donation (significant) plus awareness, is better. Yes they did something, awesome, but given the size of COD i think its a bit cheap as i said :)

    3...
    2...
    1...

    "The percentage of sales for us that go through Steam is very small, and we have made a decision to price steam for simplicity at our recommended retail price."

    Perhaps these two points might be related?

      That can't possibly be true!

      Unless there was a way for people who play on PC to buy legitimate CD keys from other regions at lower prices to avoid paying the ridiculous RRP we have...

      Yeah seriously. Gabe's often pointing out how budget pricing and sales on steam equate to higher turnovers because a whole lot of people who wouldn't buy your game suddenly do and many times over more than makeup for the imaginary "money lost" because of pricing.

        Was talking to someone about this last night. During Steam sales, games that have a 25% discount make a decent increase in sales, 50% off gives them a really good increase in sales and 75% off gives them an absurd amount of sales. All of which result in a significantly larger chunk of money going into the pockets of the developers.

        It's amazing how people don't seem to understand the concept of price elasticity.

          Sale data from steam shows:
          10% sale = 35% increase in sales (real dollars, not units shipped)
          25% sale = 245% increase in sales
          50% sale = 320% increase in sales
          75% sale = 1470% increase in sales
          [From http://www.shacknews.com/article/57308/valve-left-4-dead-half ]

            Thanks. Those are the exact figures my friend mentioned yesterday.

        There is for some stuff.
        www.g2play.net

      I still call BS on their Steam pricing... They dare to say "we base if off the RRP as there is minimal sales"

      No shit!!! If Activision had an eye open on the digital market they would know that most smart ppl would go "Why would i pay $99 USD when i can infact get the same game at a shop for $80 or less"

      So their reasoning for steam price gouging is "simplicity".

      Excuse me while I go outside to yell a bunch of expletives.

      Also Serrels, next time you get a chance to talk to this guy ask him what he thinks about charging for DLC they would have previously offered for free in the past, thus generating goodwill amongst their customers and ensuring longevity in their games? Looking at the sales numbers it's pretty obvious that they're not short for cash - it's just plain greedy.

      I know this isn't just an issue with Activision though - it seems all the major successful publishers are joining in.

    I have to disagree with the idea that Activision is viewed as a positive brand. I think the majority of Activision's customers are basically ignorant of who Activision is. For them, the brand is Call of Duty or Guitar Hero.

    It's like saying that Doctor's Association has a positive brand image because people buy a lot of Subway. Subway has a positive brand image.

    I do agree that the people with negative reactions are a vocal minority though.

      This. I'd be surprised if the majority of people even view Activision as a brand at all. To most, Activision is just a logo they skip when they start up the game.

      That's life really. Most people are ignorant of whats going on and are quite happy to be that way. Ignorance truly is bliss.

      Maybe for people old enough to have played on an Atari system, when only the Activision games were any good.

    i can pay $AU100 for MW3 now or I can wait a few months and get it for half the price on zavvi

      You can pay 100, or wait a few months and still pay 100 at EB.

        I think you might find that in a few months you will be able to buy it from EB second hand with a significantly discounted price of AUD95.

        That is a AUD5 saving my friend COD and money leftover for two cheeseburgers!

        Or you can pay $30 NOW from an online site that gives you a key to redeem in Steam. Saving of $70, not that MW3 is worth buying (after watching my mate playing it).

          such as… ?

          In my experience, second hand pricing is still pretty high for games like CoD. Also; second hand games pretty much don't exist anymore for the PC.

          And one last point, CoD4 is over 4 years old now. Yet the retail price has only just reached $30 AUD, and the Steam Price is $50 USD. Expecting to see ANY kind of discount on MW3 in under 2 years is a pipe dream....

      Or you can buy it for $70-$80 by not shopping at EB Games, or forcing them to price match.

        I find a good store to go to for surprise discounts that you wouldn't expect would be Dicksmiths. Although note the nature of the word "surpise", but regardless they've got it out for about $80 on PS3 now if I've read their catalogue right? At least that's with free shipping online..

    Nothing says innovation like cutting features such as community mapping, private servers, and not-balancing-for-lean. Churning out DLC (Including old maps from old games). Oh and I'll just bet they're watching the price in Australia. It just keeps going up and they're laughing at the idiots who blindly keep hitting the food pelet lever. Oh look, they've even found a way to start slipping in a subscription fee to a game you pay double price for every year! Yeah its somewhat optional... for now.

    I used to like Activision games, but now they're just money grabbin' whores who are slowly squeezing the fun out of gaming.

      I agree. Activision is not a positive brand, and they work hard at making sure they are not seen as a positive instead of their subs and studios. Blizzard is a perfect example of this. A lot of Blizzards poor actions are seen as Activision and not Blizzard. This seems to be deliberate as a way to prevent Blizzard from being tarnished.

    Quality Mark, quality.

    Activision/Blizzard's efforts toward the local market need an Australian Director?

    I guess someone has to figure out the price hikes and issue the "we'll totally improve local WoW service one day, so keep paying us" comments.

    There seems to be contradictory messages in saying "Hey guys, we want to show you what a great, consumer-friendly brand we are" whilst simultaneously saying, "You know what? We can't be bothered to set a reasonable model for pricing via digital distribution, and you're in the minority anyway. Suck it up." As someone who buys 90% of my games online, this is the kind of thing that's really alienating.

    "... we want to do more to reach out to that community and engage them. ”" I think by engage he means charge...

      Now that you mention it, I do too.

      I wonder what kind of loot the community would drop if you managed to beat them?

    I keep hearing how amazing elite is with its heat maps and stat tracking and basically everything bungie did for free with halo anyway?

    I was in the minority that respected them for running Guitar Hero into the ground - I thought it was a conscious bet that there wasn't any future in fake plastic rock, that it'd die out no matter what they did, and so they'd milk it for all it was worth before people inevitably got tired of it.

    Now that they've gone back on that and said, oh our mistake, we shouldn't have made so many Guitar Hero games, I'm as pissed as people probably were six months ago. Although I still think there's no real future in fake plastic rock.

      While it's true that there is probably no future in plastic guitars.

      Thing's like rocksmith will take it's place but not in as big a way as it did when GH first hit the scene.

      The real issue was the same one that plagues Call of Duty today. You get a year out of those maps and then any content/DLC in it is rendered mute by the sequel personally i think that the option for every map since CoD 4 should be in MW3. It would give a great range, and they don't really need to be upgraded. But then i still play CoD 4 on a regular basis so maybe i'm biased. But so long as map packs are stuck to a single title(much like songs and DLC was with GH) i will refuse to pay for them

    if Activision have a Australian Director then can't the ACCC take action over the price fixing ..I think they bloody well should!

      Price fixing actually requires there to be proven collusion between competitors however. There really isn't any evidence for that though.

      Publishers are setting RRPs that the Australian market will bear and the market isn't big enough that any publisher feels the need to undercut the competition. Lets face it, while there's a vocal minority who "won't buy games from X publisher" most of us buy games based upon our interest in the specific game, not the publisher. As such they aren't going to really get more market share by undercutting the competition - so why do it?

    why dont they give steam permission to price it how they want with them getting the same cost that they sell it to distributors for. Only seems fair to do it that way .

    What's their reasoning for charging the same price on Steam then? They've justified the retail price by explaining different manufacturing and distribution models, as well as local costs, however none of those apply to Steam. It's pure and simple price gouging, there is no justifiable reason to charge a different amount for a downloaded product based on physical location.

      Although it's complete bs the guy did give Acti's reasoning;

      "The percentage of sales for us that go through Steam is very small, and we have made a decision to price steam for simplicity at our recommended retail price. We know that, given the promotional nature of the Australian market, that consumers can get a cheaper price buying at retail, which is what most consumers tend to do."

        That doesn't explain why they charge the price they do, it explains why they've set they price they have, but not how they got to that price. There's specific costs associated with the manufacture and shipment of goods that effect pricing, these costs are not applicable to digital sales as such it's not acceptable to simply charge the same amount for digital products as they are not the same thing.

          Because that's the RRP from before the AUD was strong :P

      That argument only holds if RRPs were set based upon cost price plus fixed markup. That's not how things work in a free market. RRPs are set based upon what the market is prepared to pay. If a significant chunk of gamers stopped buying at the current RRP then it would fall - but that isn't happening because while may of us here don't like it, the current prices are the Australian "market price".

    The percentage of sales for us that go through Steam is very small,
    “For us, our steam pricing we set it at the RRP for the market we’re in.”

    Except that you haven't priced it at RRP for the area, because it's still in USD. Sure the dollar might be good now. But when it dipped for a week or so a couple of weeks back to 95 cents on the dollar.

    And maybe the real reason the percentage of sales through steam is so small is because you force everyone to source it from other location's.

    I know 15 people who have bought digital copies of MW3, not one of them from steam, because of the price. about 7 are russian key's the rest are through Amazon, Direct2Drive, and other EU based CD-Key sites.

    If the amount of people is so small then surely companies like EB and GAME don't have a foot to stand on when complaining that steam can undercut them, because according to them there is such a small market segment.

    Seriously, what a load of PR bullshit. these look like scripted answers designed to pretend theres no negativity at all.

    I'll believe any of this when i acutally see prices drop, and services that should be free being provided as such. I don't care about CoD or them running it into the ground, what I do care about is their half-ass pathetic attitudes setting precedent for companies (not just gaming ones) behaviour

    I love your journalism Mark, and you've obviously put in a lot of effort for this article - so I'm sorry about the response; but I hope you can see my perspective on this.

    Currently we get $1 USD for $0.96 AUD

    So we pay $100+ USD for a game the Americans pay $50 or so...

    ACTIVISION must be laughing all the way to the bank

      Basic assumptions, though I would imagine that the sales numbers different between our countries is much larger...

      AU Sales from the game - 500k @ ~$100 (Ave) = $5.2M US
      US Sales from the game - 5M @ ~$50 (Ave) = $25M US

      Revenue from AU is obviously not ignored by any company, but we are still a minor slice of the pie that makes any companies revenue.

        Thats fair enough. But if they charge Australian customers $60say. Sales would increase, so you would come to nearly the same result. It makes no sense.

          No game would sell 2mil+ copies in Australia.

          5mil copies sold would mean 1 in 4 people in the entire country are playing the game.

          Do you really believe that for every 100 people who buy games at the current prices that there's another 66 who currently don't but would buy at $60?

          100 people * $100 = $10,000
          167 people * $60 = $10,020

          Even if you say that some of those 67 are importing @ $60 now, then there is still no incentive for Activision to decrease the RRP in Australia as it would in effect be decreasing their revenue over what they're currently getting from the status quo.

          (100 people * $100) + (30 people * $60 import) = $11,800
          (100 people * $100) + (67 people * $60 import) = $10,420

            Darn typo, should be:

            (100 people * $100) + (30 people * $60 import) = $11,800
            (100 people * $100) + (67 people * $60 import) = $14,020

    Said it before, and i will say it again, this company is run by greed.

    i will refuse to buy ANY of their games as long as they remain like this.

    I found his answers to pricing to be more confusing than an episode of Lost. What in the hell was he even babbling about? Was his tactic to confuse us so we forgot what the original question was?

    I am convinced a lot of these guys are so out of touch with the general consumer, that they wouldn't know what half of us want anyway.

      Nah his intent was to make up some bullshit excuse, arrogantly thinking that us lesser people are dumb enough to accept it.

      His answer about pricing, especially for Steam, was like a comedy sketch - just mumble a few words/sentences which doesn't add up and hopefully no one pays attention.

    Damn you Activision! I want Bizarre Creations back :(

    "Simplicity". The reason we pay 90-100% more for our bits and bytes. Makes sense.

    So my options then: Steam, retail or an import for less than half the price.

    The decision is simple.

      Or in my case use a VPN and purchase countless titles from US D2D and US Steam. I will continue to do so until the price changes.

    the CoD sales figures tend to indicate they don't really need to be in touch Barry.

      COD sales figures on what platform? I would guarantee COD 4 sales on Steam would have been significantly more than MW3 will be.

    I find it hilarious his acting like the aussie dollar not being worth only half of the US dollar is only a year old trend; hasn't been that way for many years games should no longer if ever cost $100.

      Especially when for US$99.95 you can get the MW3 Hardened edition with 12 month elite membership thats around AU$97 where in OZ is close to $160

    What did this really establish?
    *Activision cares about COD
    *Skylanders was a risk
    *Activision cares about retail
    *Activision considers competitive pricing the vendors responsibility
    *Steam sales are not profitable enough to justify an end to price gouging

    Admission of these points is nice but is it really newsworthy?

      While none of the answers are particularly surprising, the actual interview access is of interest, and bodes well for Mark being able to build contacts locally to get answers to future questions we may be more interested in - rather than being met by "no comment".

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