5comments Black Ops will be the biggest Activision launch ever...why?
Posted Fri 6th Aug 2010 6:58pm by Dennis Scimeca
Bobby Kotick is quoted over on VG247 today stating that Call of Duty: Black Ops will be getting “the biggest investment” the company has ever made for a title launch. Can someone explain why they need to do this?
In my mind, marketing is about spreading awareness of a product or brand. People have to know about your services to purchase them...who doesn't know that Call of Duty: Black Ops is coming? Black Ops pre-orders are already tracking to overtake Modern Warfare 2 pre-orders. InfinityWard-gate and the Bungie deal gave Activision unprecedented levels of presence in the press earlier this year, which naturally bleeds into awareness of their upcoming products, i.e. Black Ops. The rest is just word of mouth, and wanting to jump online with the game all your buddies are playing once it gets released.
I wonder if Bobby Kotick is listening to the analysts too much. In this CVG article, Pacific Crest Securities analyst Evan Wilson states his belief that Black Ops won't surpass Modern Warfare 2 in total sales. That's at least an explanation for Kotick's motivation in tossing money at the Black Ops marketing plan, but I can't help but be haunted by images of Dr. Strangelove's underground bunker scenes and talk of doomsday and mineshaft gaps, except this time President Muffley and General Turgidson are arguing about having those gaps with themselves.
There was talk at the Develop conference this year about AAA title opportunities narrowing. Scott Steinberg's new video game show and magazine opened up with a salvo about the unsustainability of the current business model. Those are just two high-profile examples of a dialogue which has been consistently popping up in industry talk this year, and either everyone is crying wolf, or there are some legitimate concerns here. This study paints the picture of a dire environment for game design and production.
Hence why I raise an eyebrow where I hear Bobby Kotick talking about huge investments for title launches which completely don't sound necessary. The LA Times reported that Modern Warfare 2 cost $40 to $50 million dollars to make...and that the advertising budget was four times that amount. Is the ratio between launch investment and profits that direct? No one would have heard about Modern Warfare 2 without such a massive marketing blitz?
We're talking about an industry that has its very own enthusiast press to follow it around like an eager puppy, snapping up the tid-bits of information that the publishers toss in their direction. It's practically free publicity as any news item labeled "Modern Warfare X" will send unique user stats and hit counters spinning that day.
The only reasonable guess I can arrive at is that Bobby Kotick wants to go toe-to-toe with Halo:Reach, and this reminds me of the inevitable cycle of Empire. A culture develops a competitive advantage, they push that advantage and extend their influence and reach, they inevitably stretch themselves too thin, and the Empire falls. Hearing news like this about the upcoming Black Ops marketing budget actually holds more water for me as evidence about the fall of the current business model than anything discussed at Develop or on new video game shows. The Empire isn't specifically Activision, however - it's the entire business model of which they are only one participant.
There's a silver lining to this, however. When Empires fall, the room for growth of new cultures and new innovation is created. Nintendo shone the beacon of hope, and independent developers have paved the way toward new models and better ways of running these businesses and producing quality gaming experiences without mortaging the farm. So sit back, watch Rome burn, and be excited for what rises from the ashes! Endings are just new beginnings, and this ending is probably going to be a spectacular display of the expenditure of prodigious wealth and ratcheting up technological prowess in a gaming Cold War that should produce some real gems before the current system falls.
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