Tobold's Blog
Monday, July 29, 2013
Trusting Bobby Kotick

Bobby Kotick, the CEO of Activision Blizzard, is not a popular guy among gamers. He doesn't appear to be playing games himself, and made some insensitive remarks in the past about getting more money from gamers. So he is regarded as a "suit", somebody just in it for the money. So why should gamers trust him?

Well, it appears that he is rather good at making money. Activision Blizzard is a rather successful company, and Bobby Kotick was the second highest compensated CEO in the United States last year. So if Bobby Kotick is announcing World of Warcraft losing another 600,000 subscribers, and at the same time leveraging a buyout of Activision Blizzard from Vivendi, I can't help but think the man knows something about Blizzard's upcoming games that we don't. We all agree that he and his partner don't put $100 million of their own money into Activision Blizzard just because they love games so much.

A management buyout is one of the few legal ways where you can get away with insider trading, betting on your own company that you know better than most people. So I'm trusting Bobby Kotick that there will be a surprise coming from Blizzard. "WoW is dying" is just the sort of bad news you announce before a buyout so you get a cheaper deal. If somebody like Bobby Kotick is putting a lot of his own money into the company, it would be foolish to count out Blizzard yet.

It's also likely that he wants more direct control over what Blizzard does. When Vivendi is at the top, he's got to answer to them. But if he's the big cheese, he can make changes as he sees fit.

That alone might not bode well for the current Blizzard staff.

Depends on the price I guess.

Even the pessimists aren't exactly saying Blizzard is going to die. It has several franchises that are more or less guaranteed to make enormous amounts of money, and Wow on the downside is still 10xs the 2nd most successful MMO
I had been under the impression that there was a real fear Vivendi would start pillaging Activision-Blizzard to deal with its other looming debts, and that this was a survival move on A-B's part, but I like your notion too, if only because it makes the combined "we have rebooted Project Titan" plus the "we're hemorrhaging subscribers" news of the last couple months more Machiavellian.
The clear edge they have are the internal numbers.
They can analyze them while we can only speculate.
WoW lost 600k subs but we don't know how the regions added up. For example NA+EU could have lost a million while Asia gained 400k which might be a positive sign.
The Asian subs are worth much much less than EU+NA subs so there's no way to pitch that as good news if it was true.

Vivendi was $17b in debt and wanted some of Activision-Blizzard's cash and cash-flow. Since they owned 61% of AB, they were going to get it. A 5-year hands off agreement just expired.

The quote from the WSJ was

"The Activision Blizzard buyout was a closely fought negotiation that stretched over months, according to people familiar with the matter. At the same time, Vivendi used the threat that it could raise cash by forcing instead a special dividend that would empty Activision's bank account as an incentive to get the deal done by the end of July, one of those people said. The dividend remained a live option until a board meeting Monday, when Vivendi voted unanimously to opt for a buyout, company officials said."


Kotick's last reported compensation was $56mm so his investing $50mm does not seem that large of an investment for him.


If you want "tin foil hat" speculation, then this investment leaves the owner of LoL, a Chinese company, as a "passive investor" and the supplier of WoW in China, which may be WoW's biggest country.

I certainly have a different opinion to Camo. I.e., AB counts Asia internet cafe users as "subscribers" So you could spend a couple of dollars in a month, at least a lot less than $15 and be counted. So +400k Asia, -400 NA/EU would be bad financially and +400l asia, -1000 NAEU would be worse.
Going to have to link to where you got the number of Bobby being #2 highest paid CEO in America. Can't seem to find that one.
Going to have to link to where you got the number of Bobby being #2 highest paid CEO in America. Can't seem to find that one.

Here you go!
I don't trust CEOs to make better investment decisions when it comes to the companies they lead. They are too burdened with their own ambitions and self-reflections to be any good.

Sure, they should have all the information they need to make better decisions. But in reality they couldn't accept the idea that their next crucial product - however little they understand it - let alone use/play it - could flop. And most often they need this kind of personality to become CEO, in the first place.
Just one addendum. How would Mr Kotick even judge whether an upcoming game is any good? I know we had a lot of problems doing this kind of prediction - after extensive play testing. And Mr. Kotick doesn't even play games himself. And even if he does, he's far from the typical customer.

When Mr. Kotick wants to know how good his upcoming games, are he looks at the track record of the people leading the development and how much money he gave them. The track record of Blizzard is good and thus Titan has to be good - especially after he just agreed to scrap the old version and try again with Titan. Now it really has to be good.

Furthermore, 50mio is a joke if you earned 56mio the last year. It's monopoly money. He doesn't face any actual risk whatsoever if he lost it. And now think about how much people congratulate him for this buyout, his forceful decision!

It is easy for Mr. Kotick to ignore the possibility that this could end bad. He doesn't really have anything to lose that he couldn't afford to lose. At the same time his ego has a hell of a lot to win. And he is the kind of guy who always considers future gains much more than future risks; otherwise he hadn't managed to become CEO.

One last point: The people who make the most money, in retrospect, rarely are the ones with the most thoughtful actions, but rather the ones who took the highest risks.
I'd say nobody is worse at predicting whether a game is going sell millions than gamers and developers. I constantly read rave previews of games that barely anybody ends actually buying. And strong condemnations of games that sold millions.

Best selling PC game of 2013? Sim City!!!
Well that is the problem with talking to the wrong type of gamers. That famous vocal minority again who have little in common with the majority.

That minority do tend to share a lot of similarities with the gaming media and some in the industry though.

A recipe for disaster.
Well that is the problem with talking to the wrong type of gamers. That famous vocal minority again who have little in common with the majority.

That minority do tend to share a lot of similarities with the gaming media and some in the industry though.

A recipe for disaster.
Nils, if you heard a movie had been basically reshot twice, most people would not take that as a good sign.

At the pace they tend to go, Titan will be several years late to replace WoW, which they almost certainly can't financially.

I'm confident that Blizz will be fine, they have a lot of very popular and profitable franchises. But if they are smart they won't be betting their future on replacing WoW.
You get the story backwards.

Vivendi was trying sell Activision Blizzard for some time ( Vivendi found it was not a good deal, they bought a 12 million subscription game and get a 7.7 million and falling one.

But Vivendi don't found a buyer. That say a lot about the future of WoW.

My guess, Vivend activated some re-buy option that the contract had. So Vivendi don't raided Blizzard coffers, but forced Blizzard to buy themselves.

Sorry Tobold, but Bobby Kotick is not a "genious" CEO. He was forced to rebuy Blizzard, there is no genious at that.

The only thing that Bobby Kotick, Vivendi and everyone that refused to buy Blizzard know is that WoW will continue to lose 600 k to 1 million subscriptions per quarter until it goes F2P next year.

Take note that new MMO are to be launched until the end of 2013, here and in the chinese market, while any new expansion that can save WoW will come only at 2015. The sub bleed will accelerate.
I so agree with T & Woody - gamers and gaming sites tend to be wrong about what makes a profitable game.

Yes Joao, V was trying to sell AB for some time and unsuccessfully. Usually majority holdings command a premium, so selling it for 10% below market is not a good sign.

But your guess is wrong. As per the above WSJ article the negotiations driven by the dividend have been going on for months., The 5-year dividend limitation expired in July. Essentially it was legal extortion that had been going on for months - if nobody buys our stock, our majority of the board will vote a large (say $8b) cash dividend. About a month ago, this plan was floated in the financial press (IMO turning up the pressure on ActBliz)

As far as Titan is concerned, I wonder if it was too similar to that new Bungie game Destiny?

That Sci Fi market doesn't have as wide an appeal as Fantasy and the market was starting to look crowded especially when you have a company with some serious pedigree launching first.

I am baffled by Blizzards mismanagement of WoW. Ghostcrawler has admitted now that he got it wrong with Cataclysm and its more hardcore approach but their attempts at turning it around have been very feeble.

The latest expansion lacked a big charismatic bad guy. The Lich King was an excellent marketing tool but with MOP it is a case of "why are we going there and who are we fighting against?" as far as the 97% are concerned. How many non-WoW players and non traditional gamers know that it is has pet collecting and battles?

Talking of which...where are those big TV commercials like the campaign we saw during Wrath that pulled in so many non-traditional gamers?

With the hardware capable of running WoW becoming more widely available, why aren't they able to capitalise on that?

I think a major deterrent for a lot of those players (think of the middle aged house wife who prefers IOS games) is the large download which punishes those non-geeks that aren't on a 120mb line.

Why aren't Blizzard doing something like distributing the most recent build on disks with just a small download to bring it up to date required?

Do a deal with e.g. womens magazines to stick them on the front cover etc. Or sell them for £1 in shops but with an extended trial that includes all of Vanilla and unlocks some of the restricted features (mail?) if you insert your credit card (but don't actually charge it).

Those may not be good ideas but you get the point that the company isn't aggressively marketing and pushing the product.
I doubt Blizz is scared of Bungie in the MMO market, or any market.

That said, I don't know why the MMO market would necessarily lean towards fantasy, except for a general cultural expectation that D&D type games are about swords n sorcery.

I think the reason it got rebooted is because when it started, WoW in space with a modern graphics engine probably sounded like an amazing follow up. Not it would crash hard. So they're on the hunt for some amazing follow up that will revitalize the MMO genre and be novel enough to rehook all the customers they burnt out on WoW. That's hard enough, but to do it with the level of expectations that people will have for Titan is going to be virtually impossible.

At the end of the day Blizz has three really massively popular franchises and a game that is certainly generating massive amounts of profits, even in it's massively reduced state, and will probably be reasonably profitable for the next 5 years. Their position is still good.
Blizzard ain't scared of Bungie in an MMO market.

They are scared of Bungie in an FPS Sci-Fi MMO market that is cross-platform.

Although there were probably other reasons why they went back to the drawing board.

MMO markets do lean towards fantasy because that is the more popular genre.

It has more widespread appeal outside that of the stereotypical sci-fi nerd. It is about appealing to those non traditional gamers.
Fantasy is the more popular genre--- that's a bit circular.

It's not, really. If you look at the top 100 box office movies of all time, it's pretty much the Lord of the Rings unless you really want to make a case for Twilight or Pirates of the Caribbean being fantasy.

Sci-fi is WAY more popular in every other segment of nerd culture. So I think the MMO fantasy connection is more there because of the expectation that RPG involves elves than because people really prefer fantasy in general.
Hey folks...

Activision is the publisher for Bungie's Destiny, by the way.

Yeah, I might trust Kotick's assessment of what to invest my money in, but I won't trust that they're making a game I will like until I see it. A profitable game is not always a great game. A good example might be Diablo III, since it has obviously been very profitable, but a lot of people lost interest after realizing that there was no fun in loot any more with the auction house added.

There are also other industries out there where I wouldn't trust their product even if they're obviously making tons of money, like the food industry. The main examples in that industry would be Monsanto's GMO seeds and most of the meat raised in the United States.

It depends on what Kotick's strategy is. If it revolves around taking control of an ever-larger share of the game industry, I don't trust them to continue to be successful (though they might be fine in the short term). If it revolves around leveraging all that money to fund more development, experimentation and diversity, or maybe to improve working conditions so people feel free to be more creative, then I might trust the whole situation. I doubt that's the case though.
To the guy with the long random name.... You just gave me my biggest face palm moment of the week.

Whilst I could argue against your statement that Sci Fi is the most popular genre for nerds, that would surely be missing the point.

Because you missed the point on an epic scale by not comprehending my point about appealing to the wider market. WoW achieved that, middle aged women in my office play it and even bought mid range gaming pc's to play it despite having never played games before.

The fantasy genre has far greater appeal outside of nerd circles although I'd argue that it is fantasy and not Sci Fi that has been the bread and butter for nerds since they were even recognised as a culture.

A fantasy game will always have a larger potential audience. Personally I probably prefer Sci Fi but ultimately I prefer to go where my non-nerd friends are. Hence I stay with WoW and would rather gouge my eyes out than go near EVE. The numbers overwhelmingly suggest that I'm not alone with those views!

From the rumours and patchy details we had about Titan, it was obvious that even if the game exceeded their expectations (unlikely with strong rivals being announced) it wouldn't bring in a fraction of the income they get from WoW even if subs halved from their current point.

So it looks like WoW investment has been ramped up and their future mmorpg gone back to the drawing board. If they stick with Sci Fi then my friends won't play it and that means I won't play it. I will stick to single player Sci Fi.
Well I guess we just have to disagree on this one, as I'm just not seeing any evidence that fantasy is overwhelmingly more popular than sci-fi. As far as the general public goes, that was the point I was making re: movie box offices. I was trying to fine some objective evidence for the general publics preference. I think we can safely say that sword and sorcery fantasy is not substantially more popular with the general public or with nerds in general.

As far as MMO gamers go, it's kind of a No True Scotsman thing. Since 90% of major MMO releases try to out WoW WoW, and WoW was trying to be the accessible EQ, which was trying to be the accessible UO, which was a graphical version of MUDS, which were the computerized versions of D&D, we're kind of in a self-selecting hole where of course MMO gamers like fantasy--- they'd damn well better. If the genre is a deal breaker for them (and let's be honest, it's just a different aesthetic) they aren't MMO players.

So basically what I'm getting at is a sci-fi MMO's main problem is breaking through the prejudice of gamers who are used to a fantasy art and language style.
Completely off topic (apologies for that), but I just wanted to thank Tobold for inspiring an interest in D&D-style games for my son and me.

We're starting our first Pathfinder campaign on Sunday as a Human Paladin (me) and an Elven Rogue (my son).

Thanks Tobold!
I think Bobby is in charge of Activision's portion with Mike M. having pretty solid autonomy at Blizzard.

That's my guess though, not seen anything in writing.
Hi, I'm a bit late to the party with this one, but wasn't the buyout also including all the Activision IP too?

Why is everyone just focusing on the WoW portion of the business?
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