In Moneyball, Activision's Bobby Kotick Plays a Familiar Role

To call Bobby Kotick's appearance in Moneyball a cameo is a bit of a misnomer. The Activision boss has two significant scenes in the sports flick and plenty of lines as Stephen Schott, the former co-owner of the Oakland Athletics. It's not to say Kotick plays much of a character, but he doesn't have to. He simply has to be what he is in real life.

To back up a bit, Kotick ended up in the film thanks to his friendship with its director, Bennett Miller. While based on a true story, Moneyball had to be streamlined somewhat for cinema, and in so doing, the Oakland Athletics' owner partnership of Schott and Ken Hofmann needed to be consolidated into a single guy. That became Schott, a successful real estate developer who, evidently, favors corded cashmere sweaters.

Miller asked Kotick for advice on how an executive would behave in certain settings. Kotick more or less said "Not the way he does in your script," and eventually the two cast Kotick in the role, which is uncredited. The payoff is Miller is directing a short film for Activision's Call of Duty endowment.

Kotick may be a bête noire for some gamers but he's no skinflint caricature in Moneyball, whose screenplay is notable for its amoral presentation of nearly everything. Only an obstructionist Art Howe (the field manager) and (quickly fired) director of scouting Grady Fuson are identifiable antagonists but even then, they are not the real power opposing the protagonist general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and his special assistant Peter Brand (Jonah Hill, playing an amalgam character). Money, establishment thinking and the inertia created by both are Beane's principal foes.

Kotick, as Schott, represents money and, surprisingly, his appearance gets things moving fast, within the first five minutes of the film. After a montage of television footage establishing the events of the 2001 season, Beane has a meeting with Schott somewhere in San Francisco. Beane is going to lose three key players because the Athletics can't match the offers they'll receive as free agents. Beane goes to Schott to ask for more money.

A lesser screenplay would have had Schott inventing outside reasons for refusing. In Moneyball, he pragmatically considers the return on his investment to be better than anything he'd hoped for. The Athletics, with a payroll nearly a third as large, took the New York Yankees to the final game of a playoff series (never mind the A's won the first two, on the road.) Beane is unhappy because, as a baseball man and a former player, winning a championship is the goal. Schott is happy because he got a winning club at a fraction of the price. In classic executive fashion, he refuses a budget increase because the person asking for it was too successful for his own good. This is where I believe it when Kotick says he advised Miller on the character.

"Is there anything else I can help you with," he says, to end the first encounter, which is another classic executive line signaling the conversation is over. We don't see Schott again until midway through, when he again refuses Beane's request for more money, steering Beane and Brand into their strategy of replacing a single star's on-field contribution with a platoon of bargain acquisitions. There's another scene in which Schott is involved but it is entirely off camera, not even a voice.

The role won't win any awards, and Kotick has said he's done with acting, but it is a more substantial appearance than the credit he's given it. Kotick's character also, if you really want to get eggheaded about it, establishes a key theme of the film, which Beane revisits with Brand, and Brand then must apply when he tells a player he's been traded: Just give the news straight. There's no need for any sentiment or emotional justifications.

This isn't to say that gamers should run right out and see Moneyball for no other reason than Activision's chief is in it. The film doesn't present him as unlikeable, nor does it make him more likeable; he just is. And that's the point. Kotick gives an authentic performance because he portrays not an executive but an economic force. Which, I'd argue, is what he really represents to video games, too.


You can contact Owen Good, the author of this post, at owen@kotaku.com. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, and lurking around our #tips page.