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Opinion: Why Activision & EA's Feud Embarrasses The Game Industry

Opinion: Why Activision & EA's Feud Embarrasses The Game Industry

September 28, 2010 | By Chris Morris

September 28, 2010 | By Chris Morris
More: Console/PC

[In this Gamasutra editorial, editor-at-large and veteran game journalist Chris Morris looks at the escalating war of words between Electronic Arts and Activision – and the detrimental effects the dustup can have on the video game industry.]

There’s a reason politicians are so despised in this country. One party spends so much time squabbling over disagreements with the other party that everyone’s focus on their main job – ensuring the smooth running of the country – falls by the wayside.

It’s only fitting, then, that as the midterm elections near, the two biggest parties in the video game industry have decided to express their mutual loathing towards each other.

But it’s no more productive or useful than the daily screaming match in the nation’s capital.

Every industry has competition – and it’s not at all uncommon for big companies to actively dislike each other. (You are not, for instance, likely to see Wal-Mart CEO Mike Duke attend a July 4th party at the house of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos anytime soon.)

But verbal attacks are rare. Instead, when one company wants to make the other look foolish, they’ll do it through pricing or by surprising the market with a vastly superior product.

In the gaming world, though, companies like to hash things out in as public a forum as possible.

And for an industry that’s at such a pivotal moment in its short history, the sort of name calling and finger pointing that has gone on for the past couple of days is both frustrating and baffling.

In October, video games will face the biggest challenge they ever have. At issue is the regulation of the entire industry – one that has the potential to devastate corporate bottom lines and have a ripple effect through other entertainment fields. Yet now, in the lead-up to that Supreme Court hearing, the industry’s two biggest independent publishers are incapable of keeping their mouths closed?

Beyond that, video game companies desperately seek the public approval that Hollywood studios are afforded. But this bush league back and forth only serves to underscore how young this industry really is.

Instead of acting like the two multinational entertainment conglomerates they are, EA and Activision have likened themselves to a pair of high schoolers, both so desperate to impress the rest of the class that they can’t see how foolish their actions make them appear.

Meanwhile, dutifully playing the role of the circling mob shouting “Fight! Fight!” is the media. No editor can resist the soundbytes that both companies were lobbing - and Bobby Kotick and Jeff Brown know this.

Oh, we tried, mind you. As I understand it, my colleagues here at Gamasutra had serious discussions on Monday about whether we should run multiple stories on the escalating war of words.

Ultimately, by that point the genie was out of the bottle – and the decision was made that ignoring what had become one of the biggest stories of the day would do readers a disservice. The verbal broadsides had become a news event – just as it would if the president of Paramount began lobbing verbal grenades at Warner Bros.

Here’s the thing, though. That wouldn’t happen. While the film world has rivalries that run far deeper than anything Electronic Arts and Activision could dream up, you rarely see the top executive getting into the fight. It serves no purpose – and ultimately just embarrasses the industry.

The issues at EA and Activision are fighting about are, at their heart, petty. Here’s the basic rundown:

- Both companies have lost talented developers to the other. Guys, you’re the biggest publishers in town. You have the most money. If a team is leaving one, it’s not a bad bet that they’re going to the other.

- Both companies have had a taste as king of the hill – and both loath the title of “the industry’s second largest third-party publisher”

- Both know that the fight for that top spot is going to slog on for a long, long time, so any chance they get to point out a perceived weakness in the other is cause for glee in the executive suite.

There’s no denying that the back and forth makes for great entertainment. And it gives games and industry onlookers the chance to vilify one or both companies – a favorite pastime of message boards the world over. Gamer allegiances change fast, though. The cloud this industry infighting casts over the entire world of video games, meanwhile, could stick around for quite a while.

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