DICE Summit Takeaway: Activision and Electronic Arts

I attended the DICE Summit last year and it is truly a great event. Great people, great hallway conversation, great talks. The people who actually do shit are there to talk about it without all of the noise and interference of GDC. Heavy gamer concentration. Gore Verbinski encouraged developers to make the suits shit their pants. He's right, we should. It is kind of game of chicken, we have to hope they shit before we get the runs over milestone payments.

The most interesting stuff though came from the talks given by the number one and number two publishers in the world, EA and Activision - the position changes depending on the day of the week. You can read about it after the jump.

Former Hasbro and Pepsi Cola executive and current Head of Worldwide Studios Robin Kaminsky, gave an intimate (one Activision executive told me that it was perhaps too intimate) view of Activision's research and a post mortem of the Call of Duty marketing campaign. Activision has always been a conservative and somewhat rigid company. They try to mitigate and limit risk as much as possible. Robin showed a bunch of charts and graphs illustrating a fascinating conclusion. In summary, if you make a great game, and market it enough to let people know you made it, you will sell millions of units. I wonder how many mbas it took to reach that conclusion.

It is easy to be snide, but Activision did in fact take it one step further. They made a great game, which too few companies seem to be doing lately - anyone played MOH Airborne? - they introduced it to the market, like everyone does, but they also supported the game post release. Most companies stop the marketing days after release. Activision continued to support the game from a marketing and content standpoint and continues to support the title. Great move! Too many publishers fail to support their products, or try to make up development overspends on marketing. Activision supported the developer and the title, and deserve the success.

Former Sara Lee and Pepsi Cola executive and current CEO of EA, John Riccitiello gave a very developer friendly presentation about the new and improved EA. His speech can pretty much be summarized the value of a developer really is in the people. John acknowledged that to the detriment of companies like Bullfrog, Origin and Westwood, EA has not always treated the talent with enough respect. He even acknowledged he was complicit in the mistakes. All in all a very refreshing speech.

He explained how a centralized production model cannot work and how EA has decided to go the external studio route. Activision has shown through support of Neversoft, Treyarch and Infinity Ward, that the new EA model can work. Ubisoft on the other hand has shown that some of the best games in the world, and most consistent slate, can be generated by internal development without separate studios. Right or wrong, with regard to the premise, it was great to hear the CEO of EA talk about respect for the studios structure and the desire to build and maintain the "city states." It will be interesting to see how long Senior Management will put up with autonomy if the games are not delivered on time.

It was truly refreshing to be able to walk away from speeches by the two largest publishers in the world with the messages 1) respect talent if you want great games; 2) great games sell; and 3) great games only sell if you market them well.


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