The Smartest & Dumbest Things Activision Did In 2012

The Smartest & Dumbest Things Activision Did In 2012

The year is winding down and, if we simply asked Activision boss Bobby Kotick what the smartest thing Activision did was this year, he might say it was the making of gobs of money. Yes, Activision is doing fairly well.

Activision did well in 2012 by being conservative. That’s not quite the same as playing it safe… , but contrast what they do and what their rivals at EA do. EA tries everything. Console games. PC games. Facebook games. Social games. Free-to-play games. Sports games. New games all the time. Activision mostly releases Call of Duty map packs and laughs. Oh, and they turned Pitfall into a Canabalt/Temple Run clone this year. A good clone.

They released a new Call of Duty (surprise!), a new Bond game (ugh) and did a fine job with Transformers (which might contain the Level of the Year?). And what was one of their best games of the year? Sleeping Dogs! Or. Wait. No. They let Square Enix snatch that one up. Smart, Square Enix!

Remember Call of Duty: Elite? It’s free now.

In other news, they stopped suing the guys who used to make Call of Duty, but failed to keep us (and IGN) from finding out about Bungie’s next big thing. Whoops!

Smartest Moves

The continued success of action-figure/gaming hybrid Skylanders.

This cow is being milked properly. Think of it as Guitar Hero in its prime and don’t worry that they’re ruining it until the day you go to the store and see a Van Halen Skylander. For now, all you’ll see of Skylanders is a huge amount of them being sold to kids and to grown-ups who, inside, like feeling like kids.

One anecdote: at the beginning of the year, our in-house finance team was very excited about Diablo III. Then they played it and tired of it. These days, they play Skylanders. In the office.

They allowed Call of Duty to be different this year

At last, a Call of Duty with branching storylines, multiple endings… even sidequests. Activision’s Treyarch studio graduated from CoD B-team to A-team with a CoD that dared to mess with the series’ structure. They actually introduced the concept of failure. They blew out their Zombies and multiplayer modes, and it may not all have worked as wonderfully as hoped, but you can’t knock an 800lb gorilla for bothering to be a little different this year. Perhaps Activision senses that Call of Duty‘s popularity is plateauing. Perhaps they see it going all Tony Hawk on us, but for now, they allowed some tinkering. Smart for business? Who knows. Smart for game quality? Yep, even though reviewers collectively derived a lower number to describe the game’s quality than they did 2011’s Modern Warfare.

Dumbest Moves

Letting Blizzard lose some shine

Remember when Blizzard was untouchable? That was some time after World of Warcraft got past its launch problems. And people were hyped for StarCraft II and… Diablo III. StarCraft II is generating a surprising amount of player complaints while the non-Activision game League of Legends draws more and more pro and amateur players. Diablo III‘s launch had at least 37 calamities and a game that was years in the making began to lose its players interest in months due to an underwhelming end-game. Then there was this note to fans from the game’s lead designer. It was at once a heartfelt vow to improve and a sign of how imperfect a game that fans expected to be perfect really was. Blizzard is still an impressive studio, but it no longer inspires the awe it used to. This was unthinkable a year ago.

One anecdote (that you may have read before): at the beginning of the year, our in-house finance team was very excited about Diablo III. Then they played it and tired of it. These days, they play Skylanders. In the office.

The licensed games. Maybe just stop?

It’s 2012, not whatever year Enter The Matrix came out. So, sure, Activision’s Transformers game, Fall of Cyberton was good this year, but what’s up with the mediocre Spider-Man game and the abominable James Bond? You’re barely putting out any games, yet you put out these? This is the year of an incredible non-Activision Lord of the Rings (Lego) game and the Game of the Year favourite, the non-Activision The Walking Dead. Activision’s making their own Walking Dead next year. Try for more than just-good-enough-to-trick-lazy-shoppers, ok?

What did you all think were Activision’s smartest and dumbest decisions this year?

Key Releases

All games were published, distributed, or developed by Activision

Diablo III – May 15

Prototype 2 – April 24

The Amazing Spider-Man – June 26

Transformers: Fall of Cybertron – August 21

World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria – September 25

007 Legends – October 16

Skylanders Giants – October 21

Call of Duty: Black Ops II – November 14


  • Prototype 2 was a massive let down also. I played and loved the first game in the series. Alec Mercer was a great lead character. Whether he was a hero or villain, he was a strong(ish) character and then part 2 comes along and completely shits all over him.

    Now he is a guy who intends to kill and control all over New York City. He was just a dick in this game. and the new lead character was generic black guy down to the tough attitude and he completely forgot about the death of his family within an hour of the game.

  • The issue with their licensed games, is that no matter how bad they are, they will still make a shit-ton of money. Not every gamer is an avid review-reader, some people will just buy a game because it has James Bond in it, so Activision sees the dollars rolling in regardless.

  • I’m actually surprised by how well Skylanders is doing, they really nailed that one. I have no idea what the game is like or anything, and I thought that Skylanders Giants came a bit too quickly and was going to crash the whole thing, but i’m happy to be wrong. I have younger cousins who by all accounts love that hell out of the game.

    • I have Skylanders for the kids and the best way I can describe it is “my first diabloesque dungeon crawler”

      • They have nailed it at every step of the way, and Giants was exactly what was wanted, as much expansion as game, and all the figures you already have work fine with it. Skylanders was a huge hit last year for us (I pushed it as the focus of Christmas, and was rewarded with a faithfulness unheard of outside Minecraft for my kids!) and Giants landed just when we’d played the original levels so often that we could do it blindfolded, expanding gameplay in good ways without adding a ton of gimmicks. The closest would be certain puzzles that require a Giant, but since the game comes with one it is just a matter of moving the figures around, doing it, and moving them back (assuming noone was playing the quite-popular and fought over giant. 😉 )

  • Diablo 3! A sequel that didn’t have anything it should have! Thank god Diablo II is still alive and kicking.. I <3 you!

  • screw you.

    they did a terrible job with Transformers FOC.
    while the SP was much better storywise in flow – it lost co-op and most of the time it was flawed. it talked about the freedom to transform and play how you like but that is so untrue. Grimlock’s stage was especially tedious – the same attack pattern in robot mode and a restrictive dinosaur mode that required a lot of fury.

    Escalation was ruined with each stage having a set 4 chars. It was easier than WFC’s version too. And even after getting the Dinobots DLC, there’s no Dinobots escalation map.

    MP was the biggest let down. they removed vehicle abilities right before release and simplified everything and pretty took out the best things of WFC. DLC was overpriced and included content already on disk! They’re excuse for no map packs was they didn’t want to fragment the community but don’t care that the community is dying without new content. At least the DLC for WFC included new chars, map packs for MP and escalation.

    And finally the MP balance changes. Instead of actually playing the game, they looked at statistics and made all the stronger weapons weaker, and all the weaker weapons stronger – which just further imbalanced the game.

  • To be fair Diablo 3 wasn’t bad from start to finish, although Normal difficulty was a complete joke in terms of challenge. The problem I had was once was enough, halfway through Hell difficulty I’d completely had enough of the game and just stopped.

  • I have an utterly firm belief (as a gamer of 24 years and ex management of a video game store) that a skylander-esque game with POKEMON characters would do such ridiculous things to sale records that people decades in the future will still be comparing products to it… make it happen if you want to make more money than you can handle Nintendo and Activision

  • I may be alone here, but I really enjoyed Diablo 3, I prefer it to torchlight 2 and I found it a solid game. I knew from the start that I wasnt going to farm non stop and just play it through a few times as each class on normal/nightmare/hell . The one problem I had is that my friends stopped playing but then they dont really like this genre anyway.

    Oh and I love starcraft 2 and abhor CoD (except 1-4). Can’t wait for HotS.

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