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Activision And The Indies: How Does This Contest Work?
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Activision And The Indies: How Does This Contest Work?

August 18, 2010 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

Two things that don't necessarily seem to go together: Activision and the indie community. One is viewed as the epitome of corporate game making; the other, a haven for free spirits and pure creativity.

It was a surprise, then, when Activision announced its indie game competition. And sure enough, indie developers were skeptical about the company's intentions, and have dug into its rules and speculated about the company's intent across the web.

Laird Malamed, senior vice president of development at Activision, is the "unofficial champion" of the competition within the company.

Aware of developers' skepticism, he explains the competition to Gamasutra in this interview -- which addresses the corporation's intent with the contest, and what's in store for those developers who eventually win.

This includes issues such as who owns the rights to games which are entered into the competition, why such a huge corporation is taking an interest in indies, and why the contest doesn't allow games that have previously been publicly revealed to enter, among other hot-button issues.  

Why is it important for a big company like Activision to get into indie games?

Laird Malamed: We launched the indie game competition at Activision for two reasons.

One, it's a celebration of our own roots; Activision was founded by people who worked at places like Atari back in the late '70s and early '80s. One of the driving factors for that formation was the game makers were not getting the recognition from the big companies that the time. They were seeing their games sell phenomenally well, but they were not getting known, not participating in that success. From the very beginning, Activision was based on celebrating the game makers as creative and artistic people.

The second reason, which ties back into that, is that for a lot of the great games that have come out over the last few years, a lot of the talent started out making their own games. I would not put myself into the category of "great talent", but what did I do when I learned to program? I made games. That got me passionate about making them and led to having a really cool career.

We want to foster that continued spirit of game making, and one of the ways to do that is to provide some money for the prize winners, that they can support their game, they can make a game with it, they can supplement money they already have and make a bigger game. They can use it however they feel fit.

So we really do it for two reasons: our history is in celebrating game makers, and being driven by game makers; and that we see that there is a ton of talent that develops every day, and is putting games out on a whole bunch of different platforms.

You've said you're the "unofficial champion" of this. How did you get involved in the indie competition?

LM: Absolutely. I am the unofficial champion of this and other things like it. I had a strong streak of feeling responsible, [giving] back to the community, via the game community, or -- I just got back from Gardena, which is South-Central L.A., speaking to a teen group, about 15 kids, in high-risk areas. They've gotten into this entertainment film program for the summer, and they wanted to know about video games. The people organizing it are friends of mine, and they asked me to come down and tell them a bit about video games.

And those activities, speaking at high schools, are a nurturing phase for me personally, that I really enjoy, and that goes all the way to game makers. I was a thesis advisor this past year for USC, for one of the graduate students, her external advisor, and she has just gone off to take a job at Microsoft, so I'm pretty excited about that.

This is just the next rung, from a corporate point of view, of what we can do. Let's try to get the word out, that game makers come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes they just need a little push.

...My background is in a variety of things. I owe my uncle a great service; he took me, when I was 10, back in 1977, to play games on his mainframe at his bank. There was the classic Adventure and Netrek, which was obviously Star Trek-type stuff. There was no screen, it was a Teletype machine; you'd type into a keyboard and it would type out what you did in response, and I was hooked.

I clamored my parents for an Apple II computer, and they were like, "Well, if you learn to program, more than just playing games on it, then we'll get you the computer." I'm basically a self-taught programmer, and that led to an engineering undergraduate degree, then film school. I was in the film industry for a number of years before coming to Activision to get back to my roots, what had excited me. I've been here for about 15 and a half years now.

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