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Kotick: Studio Autonomy An 'Unassailable Rule' At Activision

Outspoken Activision CEO Bobby Kotick says his company's advantage, which he claims competitors lack, is allowing his studios their own independent culture and the freedom to shape their own development process.
Activision CEO Bobby Kotick says that allowing studios their own autonomy and independent culture is the key to creating successful games as a large publisher, as opposed to standardizing numerous individual studios under a single umbrella. "We always looked and said, 'You know what? What we like about a developer is that they have a culture, they have an independent vision and that’s what makes them so successful,'" Kotick says, in a new interview with print magazine Edge. "We don’t have an Activision anything - it’s Treyarch, Infinity Ward, Sledgehammer." "That, to me, is one of the unassailable rules of building a publishing company. And in every case except for two, the original founders of the studios are still running the studios today," he says. One of those notable exceptions includes Modern Warfare franchise developer Infinity Ward. In the widely-circulated Kotick interview, the infamously outspoken CEO takes vocal aim at a number of his business opponents, including departed co-founders Jason West and Vince Zampella, Tim Schafer of Brutal Legend house Double Fine, and publisher Electronic Arts. Specifically, Kotick criticizes the latter with his assertion that EA's studio model suffers for lacking the autonomy he says Activision provides. He claims EA is "not oriented toward that model" and that the publisher will have difficulty attracting talent as a result. EA CEO John Riccitiello has in fact been vocal in the past about his company's intention to apply to its studio relationships the same type of autonomous studio model that Kotick accuses EA of lacking. In a talk at the DICE Summit in 2008, Riccitiello said his company prizes the "simple concept of a city-state" with its studios -- "they're creatively responsible, they're financially responsible, and if they're taking anyone over it's them taking over us." Riccitiello said that such an approach was "a different model than in our company a decade ago," noting: "These city-states are more about who they are individually than they are part of EA... The heart and soul of what our company is with the developers who create the products because without that we are absolutely nothing." "The only thing that we try to do is to provide a support structure to make them more successful," Kotick says of his relationship with Activision's studios. "If you do a really good job - and a lot of our studios do - you get to pick what is, in my view, the most difficult thing to pick in the industry: to make original intellectual property." Placing constraints on studios doesn't ameliorate risk, and it discourages creativity, Kotick tells Edge, describing his studio heads as "serious, responsible people" who don't need pressuring to launch a game within a specific window. "There’s not a studio at this company that will tell you: 'Activision is forcing us to get the game out,'" he says. "We get in business with people who are responsible, they’re creative, they want to make great games. The incentive schemes that we’ve devised all reward success. But there’s not anything that is a 'Hey, you have to get the game out on Thursday.'"

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