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.
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.
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 favorite, 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?
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