Evening Reading: Ooh Baby, It's Making Me Crazy

I'm doing ER with a little different twist today. I started writing a few thoughts about the situation with Activision and Bizarre and it turned into an editorial. Seeing the cries of "tl;dr" headed my way I'm hitting the news highlights and links first, and then, if you're so inclined, check out my editorial after the jump.

Top news on the Shack:

And the rest of the Net:

Today's developments around the uncertain fate of developer Bizarre Creations serves to highlight how important a role the publisher plays in the success of a videogame. Creators of such games as the excellent Project Gotham Racing series (and its Dreamcast predecessor Metropolis Street Racer) and Geometry Wars, their successes led publisher Activision to purchase the studio in 2007. Mike Griffith, head of Activision Publishing at the time said of the acquisition, "Bizarre Creations will play an important role in our growth strategy as we develop an original new intellectual property for this important racing segment."

Now, only a little over three years later, Activision has changed its tune. They state that they invested in Bizarre's first take on a new racing game, Blur, but that it failed to find a commercial audience. As a result, "we are exploring our options regarding the future of the studio, including a potential sale of the business," they said. But who is to blame here? Publishers love to bandy about Metacritic scores so here's one for you: 82; that's Blur's score and it's pretty damn good. But you wouldn't know it by the lack of marketing the game received, or its poor release timing that dropped it into the marketplace at the same time as Split/Second and ModNation Racers. All three games cannibalized one another's sales in a mutually assured destruction scenario.

I find it baffling that Activision would spend the money it must have cost to buy the studio--a studio that built a multi-million selling racing franchise--only to abandon it after a critically well-received first entry in a new series that they didn't manage to sell well. What exactly were the expectations here? That a brand new IP would immediately be a sales hit? And in racing at that? This is a genre where you have to earn your cred. If anything Blur was a terrific first step in building a new racing franchise.

And I'm not even going to get started on 007: Blood Stone. I liked the game quite a lot in spite of its deficiencies. Regardless your take on that, the utter lack of push behind a Bond game being launched in the holiday market is utterly baffling. So you don't have a movie to launch with due to the MGM bankruptcy, that doesn't make Bond any less Bond, or the license any cheaper. Hell, market it as the ONLY new (have to leave room for GoldenEye as well) Bond adventure this year.

With the sales strengths of Blizzard and the Call of Duty games Activision enjoys the luxury of taking a shot at building new series and ultimately reaping their rewards. Instead, they appear ready to abandon those efforts only partly into the race, seemingly based on unrealistic comparisons to their market dominating titles. If they aspire to create new pillars to stand alongside the World of Warcrafts and Call of Dutys of the world it's proven creative teams like those at Bizarre who will be the ones to build it. You don't get to the MMO stage of a proven franchise or sequels with increasingly long titles and higher numbers with half-hearted efforts and a quick hand to pull the plug.

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