But not all was well behind the scenes. On March 1 Kotick fired the two developers, alleging that an internal investigation revealed that the pair had engaged secret unauthorized contacts with a rival. The developers then sued, claiming that the internal investigation and firing were an excuse for the company to avoid paying them royalties in respect of the most recent game. They also groused that the company had changed the product climate whereby "quantity" was preferred over "quality." Kotick filed a countersuit, alleging insubordination, witholding the payment of bonuses to turn employees against the company, and a meeting with an unnamed competitor. During this flurry of legal measures, the two developers joined Electronic Arts, the second largest video game publisher and a major competitor of Activision.
Find the Video Game Star
As for the book business, the parallel between it and the video game industry is also uncertain. In book publishing, the central creative actor is the authoress, supported by her publisher, which takes on the job of promoting and distributing the book. Quite simply, unless I am mistaken, most purchasers of video games do not rely on the identify of the game developer in making the decision to purchase. Compare that with an established author like Dan Brown or John Grisham, whose moniker alone on a book will attract sales.
It seems, therefore, that neither the film nor the publishing business provides a compellingly helpful analogy to the video games industry. That said, there may be a potential connection between star developers and their commercial impact on the video game business.
Consider the quote in the article from analyst Colin Sebastian: "Most gamers don't care that much" about the identify of the designers. Rather, "[w]hat they do care about is the quality of the game. And that is why there is a lot of pressure on Activision." Kotick retorts as follows: "It's not about a single individual or one or two guys. Our commitment to quality hasn't changed. If you want to make great games and be handsomely compensated, then the best game to work on is "Call to Duty."
What "quality"means for for Sebastian or Kotick, and how quality is connected with star developers, is not, however, further explained. I would suggest the following. Sebastian seems to be taking the position that the quality of the video game, and the video game experience, is primarily driven from a small number of star developers who have the capability to translate creative contents into sucessful products. Contents and those who propel those contents, copyright if you wish, are central. This explains how, with the right star develops, one can continue to produce a stable of winning video game products.
For Kotick, at least as expressed in the quote, the role of the creator is subordinate. His emphais is on "the single best game", i.e., a winning brand that the article itself describes as a "franchise." The goal here is to maintain the supremacy of this brand. Just as with any successful brand, quality means that the product needs to continue to meet the expectations of the customer. This need not require that product quality surpasses all that of all competitors, but only that it does not materially deviate from what has come to be expected from it in the marketplace. It is for that reason that the developers, while important, are not the primary driver. This position, while it expresses a credible strategy for maintaining one's s current brand position, does not however explain adequately how one gets to the next great video game brand.
The upshot is this. The current struggle between Kotick and his ex-developers highlights, but does not ultimately provide guidance, how a company in the video game business should harness both star creavity and ongoing brand development to ensure both its present and future.