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RealID Changes; The Very Real Ease of Stalking In The Internet Age.


((( quoting iscari0t’s pretty insightful blog entry on What You Did There; I See It. blog- original entry here – please go comment there if you liked it and have something to share about the whole topic of the Real ID fiasco)))

As every other gaming blog is reporting, yesterday Blizzard dropped a bomb on us, unveiling their new plans for the future of the RealID feature. Of the several changes planning to be implemented, the most… disturbing is the following:

The first and most significant change is that in the near future, anyone posting or replying to a post on official Blizzard forums will be doing so using their Real ID — that is, their real-life first and last name — with the option to also display the name of their primary in-game character alongside it. These changes will go into effect on all StarCraft II forums with the launch of the new community site prior to the July 27 release of the game, with the World of Warcraft site and forums following suit near the launch of Cataclysm. The classic Battle.net forums, including those for Diablo II and Warcraft III, will be moving to a new legacy forum section with the release of the StarCraft II community site and at that time will also transition to using Real ID for posting.The official forums have always been a great place to discuss the latest info on our games, offer ideas and suggestions, and share experiences with other players — however, the forums have also earned a reputation as a place where flame wars, trolling, and other unpleasantness run wild. Removing the veil of anonymity typical to online dialogue will contribute to a more positive forum environment, promote constructive conversations, and connect the Blizzard community in ways they haven’t been connected before. With this change, you’ll see blue posters (i.e. Blizzard employees) posting by their real first and last names on our forums as well.

Whoa, whoa, back up a second – so if we want to post on the public forums, be it to talk, recruit, learn, help, or ask for technical assistance, we need to do so using our real first and last names? Yes, that’s what they’re saying, exactly. The idea is that with that level of accountability, people will troll less. They’re right, of course, but only if by “troll” you mean “post”.

There have already tens of thousands of posts in the single thread (over 1100 pages at the time of this writing) explaining how the many, many reasons this is a terrible idea, from the ease of stalking and creepy pedobears, to the ethical violation of forced exposure (it’s not optional when the forums are necessary to resolve technical issues), to the very real fact that real names will be tied to a gaming site and googleable by potential employers, and more  – check the thread.

My posting here isn’t to reiterate everything that’s been said before, but rather to tell a cautionary (and hopefully exemplary) tale of the very real dangers of this change. Buckle up, it’s quite a ride.

Early on in that thread, a toon by the name of Sikketh (from Thunderlord) posted the following:

I’m really not so sure about what’s so devastating about putting a name out. My real-life name is (removed). My cousins have problems finding me on facebook and social networks because when they try to search for me, there are hundreds of results. Your real-life name is very likely not going to be unique.

I don’t see how knowing someone’s name can turn into knowing everything about them. I welcome anyone to come to me where I work, then, if you can figure it out by my name, and ask me about my WoW characters.

Or call my cell phone, it will be on. Throwing myself out there.

I may be a decent human being, but it’s nigh-impossible for me to resist a dare like that. I set to work.

With just his first and last name and his wow toon’s name, I was able to find his twitter, facebook, home address, home phone number, work address, work phone number and parent’s names. The whole process took about 20 minutes. I immediately called the house, but no one was home. I sat on the idea of calling his work for a bit, and eventually decided to do so (he did ask for it).

The following is an ACTUAL PARAPHRASE of the phone conversation when I called his work (names and addresses have of course been removed):

Coworker: Hello?
Me: Hello, could I please speak with So-And-So?
CW: Um, sure, hold on.
Me: Thank you.
::hold music::
(a new person, female, answers)
Manager: Hello, this is Kimberly SomeLastName, can I help you?
Me: Yes, I was wondering if I could please speak with So-And-So?
Manager: ::pause:: Sure. Please hold.
Me: Thank you.
::hold music, five minute wait::
::(Male Voice)::
MV: Hello?
Me: Hello, is this So-And-So?
MV: Yes.
Me: First and foremost, I want to apologize for calling you at work, and I also apologize if this doesn’t make sense, but are you Sikketh, from Thunderlord?
MV: ::pause:: Yes.
Me: So yeah, that took me about 20 minutes and it was pretty easy.
MV: Wow. Ok.
Me: Also, just for shits and giggles, is your address ?
MV: yep.
Me: Phone number 555-555-5555?
MV: yep.
Me: I know your parents’ names are Name1 and Name2, I know your room is painted blue and I know you have a cute dog. I know where you were on the 4th of July and I know when you got back. Don’t worry, I’m not a crazy, I’m not going to do anything with it, and I’m not going to post your address or anything anywhere. I just wanted you to know that what I did was very easy and very free, from just your name and toon’s name. You have a good day, and thanks for being a good sport about it.
MV: Hey, I did basically ask for it – thank you. I was wrong about RealID.

My post on the public thread is as follows, in response to his above post:

I would just like to point out that I just spoke with the above poster at their place of work. It took about 20 minutes, and I found his home address, home telephone, and parent’s names; I found pictures from the past year, read his facebook wall, know how old he is, know what books he brought on his trip this past week, and I know that he has an adorable dog named Molly.I know the color of his walls and where he spent the 4th of July; I know he has a penchant for clever/ironic tshirts and wears corrective lenses. I know who his favorite band is at the moment and what his relationship status is.

In addition, I know many *very* personal details about his life that I will not post here out of respect for his privacy (it’s hard for me to turn down such a flagrant challenge as the above, but I’m not a jerk about it), but suffice to say that there is a LOT of information on the internet, and once it’s there, it’s very, very hard to make it go away.

Moral is – your name might be really, really common – you can still be found, easily.

This RealID change is a bad one.

He took the whole thing really well, and has since edited his name out of his original post (as well as put in a “Edit: I was found!”) and we’ve talked some on facebook. I explained in detail to him how I went about it so that he can do what he can to close up those gaps (he’s since locked his twitter and facebook pages better, though finding his address and phone number didn’t require either, just his name). He’s even since applied to my guild and his application is under review.

I mentioned that this wasn’t the first time I’ve done this. He asked if I could find anyone, and I was like “most people have an online presence these days – if you do, I can find you.” He asked me to find his boss, the aforementioned Kimberly SomeLastName (protip: SomeLastName is still a fake name) – I found her and her husband’s home address and phone number in about a minute.

The point of this tale, however, is not to demonstrate a fun and heartwarming tale about a well-meaning prankster who teaches someone else a lesson and possibly gains a friend out of it. No, the point of this tale is that it is shockingly easy to find people through the internet from very little information, and not everyone is nice. Let us not so quickly forget the sick and tragic case of Julien Barreaux, a counterstrike player who’s character was killed via knife fight and who became so enraged that he spent the next six months stalking down his opponent (known only as “Mikhael”), who turned out to live in a town only a few miles away. He then found him and stabbed him in the chest, missing his heart by an inch. The victim survived and the assailant is now behind bars, but c’mon, people. I found someone several states away from me in less than 20 minutes from their name. You really think it’s a good idea to force that into the open?

This change is a terrible one, and I hope the overwhelmingly negative reaction from Blizzard’s player base will cause a change. I am all for accountability – tie our RealID to a single, unchangable forum avatar/username. This eliminates level 1 alt posting and forces sustained accountability for all forum posts, while at the same time protecting our privacy.


A short history of Activision Blizzard or how B.Net 2.0 came to be


(((quoting D3xter’s post on TeamLiquid’s site – tell me to never sign a contract with Activision nor EA in what is left of my life))

July 2007 – July 2008: Activision and Blizzard merge in an 18 billion $ deal into Activision Blizzard, with Activision as the dominant partner. They get to appoint “Robert A. Kotick” as the new CEO (Chief Executive Officer) of the Holding company while Vivendi remains majority shareholder with 52%.

Notice, that while it might be true that Blizzard gets to remain “independent” in decisions as how to make their games or put together their teams etc., they both now share and have to please the same stakeholders, investors and have to ultimately answer to the same Board of Directors and Corporate Management.
http://www.activisionblizzard.com/corp/ml/aboutUs/boardOfDirectors.html
http://www.activisionblizzard.com/corp/ml/aboutUs/corporateManagement.html

A nice article detailing some of the details of the merger from a business perspective:

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/bobby-kotick-changes-game-activision

Get a room
When Mike Morhaime first met Kotick, he was looking for a low-key setting to avoid sparking the sort of chatter that often emerges when high-profile business leaders meet in public.

Morhaime, then the chief executive of Blizzard, chose a steakhouse near his company’s Irvine, Calif., headquarters. But he ended up booking a large banquet room by mistake, leaving the two alone and rather conspicuous for the nearly four hours during which they contemplated the potential of a merger creating a new leader in the video-game business — a combination that would rival Electronic Arts in size and market position.

“We wanted to keep it low-key, which was pretty hard to do in this huge room with just the two of us there,” Morhaime recalled with a laugh.

Kotick had long eyed Blizzard, a unit of French conglomerate Vivendi, which had become the top player in the market for PC-based games with its smash hit “World of Warcraft.”

Activision had its own string of blockbusters, including the World War II action game “Call of Duty” and the megahit “Guitar Hero,” which has sold more than 24 million units.

According to Morhaime, that first meeting sold him on the idea of the merger and on Kotick, who wound up running the combined company when the deal was consummated in July of this year.

“Bobby is a pretty unique guy when it comes to business strategy,” Morhaime said. “He’s exceptionally quick. Very smart. He’s always open to listening and learning. And he asks a lot of really good questions.”

Plus, Morhaime added, “He knows everybody.”

March 06, 2008: Even before the actual deal was finally approved by every party involved, Kotick started dreaming aloud of what could be done with StarCraft 2 and the new Battle.Net:

http://www.shacknews.com/onearticle.x/51641

Activision CEO Robert Kotick has briefly mentioned his company’s plans for maximizing profit from Blizzard’s upcoming PC strategy sequel StarCraft II.

“On the Blizzard side, [we need to] really be figuring out things like the StarCraft business model for the future, with in-game advertising and sponsorship, [which have] really not been something that has moved the dial for anybody in the videogame industry, but that we think presents tremendous opportunity for the future,” said Kotick, according to Next-Gen.

“[Blizzard] has been thinking about how StarCraft, because it is a short-session experience, can actually be the model for in-game advertising and sponsorship and tournament play and ladder play for the future.”

2007-2010+: In the meantime Blizzard introduces more and more “pay-for” features to World of Warcraft, like the “Name Change” for 10$, “Character Re-Customization” for 15$, the “Character Transfer” for 25$, “Faction Change” for 30$, Blizzard Mobile is getting made for phone sounds and pictures: http://mobile.blizzard.com/ , a mount for 25$, several pets, additional protection with the Blizzard Authenticator, so you’ll be safer against hackers for 6.50$ instead of for free or the latest, an Internet interface for the World of Warcraft AH called the “Remote Auction House” as a “Subscription-based service” for cash (2.99$/month).

July 18, 2008: Some of the first signs of things to come in an Interview with Activision Blizzard’s new CFO (Chief Financial Officer) Thomas Tippl:

http://www.develop-online.net/news/30184/QA-More-on-how-Activision-Blizzards-merger-impacts-its-studios

How much autonomy is Blizzard going to retain – and is there scope to use Activison and Vivendi’s licences within that division?

Blizzard has established the most successful business in all of video games. It’s not like we need to go there and fix something. Blizzard will continue to operate as they have done in the past – fairly independently.
They have a top notch management and development team and we have a very high degree of confidence that they know how to run the business and a track record to prove it. In addition, they have an extraordinarily strong product pipeline, with Starcraft, Wrath of the Litch King and Diablo 3.
It’s tremendous, and it would be a big mistake for us to distract them with new ideas. But there are some opportunities we will be exploring, especially relating to their expertise in Asia. If you consider that Guitar Hero is not in Asia yet and that the only way to create a business there is figuring out ways to work in internet cafes, etc., we hope to benefit from their expertise.

Is there a message you want to send the European staff of Activision and Vivendi about their future prospects? Are you planning to reduce headcounts at these HQs?

We don’t have a formal plan at this point. With every merger, there is overlap and redundancy, and so the same will be the case here. Of course, we’re going to go to our customers with one face. We obviously don’t need two sales forces.
There will be overlap that we will have to address. Having said that, if you look at our industry, it’s rapidly growing – last year it grew 30 per cent. And we’ve been growing more than three times that speed. In fact, over time I fully expect our headcount to grow. But in the short term we will exterminate some of our overlap through redundancy – but we will treat people fairly and respectfully in that process.

October 10, 2008: Only 3 months later, Blizzard decides that StarCraft II shall become a Trilogy, with its 3 parts “Wings of Liberty”, “Heart of the Swarm” and “Legacy of the Void” being sold separately:

http://kotaku.com/5061980/starcraft-ii-single-player-is-a-trilogy

For the people that don’t know it yet, the 3 parts will function similar to WarCraft 3/TFT and StarCraft/Brood War for the multiplayer part e.g. they add new units and buildings and split the community between people owning them or not:

http://eu.starcraft2.com/faq.xml

How will the expansion sets impact multiplayer gameplay?

The expansion sets will add new content to each race for use in multiplayer matches. This could include additions such as new units, abilities, and structures, along with new maps and Battle.net updates.

If I buy StarCraft II but don’t buy any of the expansion sets, will I still be able to play online?

Yes. This will work similarly to Warcraft III and the original StarCraft, which maintained separate online gaming lobbies and ladders for expansion set players and players with the base Warcraft III or StarCraft.

November 6, 2008: One can see actual changes in the corporate policy relatively early, Activision Blizzard drops titles like Brütal Legend, Ghostbusters, Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena, WET and a few others, because they do not fit the new business model. Shortly after that, SIERRA Entertainment also gets shut down with an impending sale of the company remaining.

Kotick regarding this: http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=20984

With respect to the franchises that don’t have the potential to be exploited every year across every platform, with clear sequel potential that can meet our objectives of, over time, becoming $100 million-plus franchises, that’s a strategy that has worked very well for us.

September 16, 2008: Soon after, Kotick even believes, that with Activision Blizzard now being so big, he seems to have the right to dictate future consoles hardware design:

“Now that we have the weight of being the largest payer of royalties to the first-parties of any third-party company, I definitely see us as starting to influence hardware design, and they’re thinking about the evolution of the next generation of hardware,” said Robert Kotick, Activision CEO, speaking to industry analysts.

April 30, 2009: Valve sues Activision Blizzard, because they chose to pay 1 million $ less royalties than was agreed: http://www.gamespot.com/news/6208985.html

As reported by GamePolitics, Valve has filed suit this week in the US District Court for the Western District of Washington, claiming that Activision declined to pay out the whole award. Specifically, the Half-Life 2 developer claimed that the Guitar Hero publisher is withholding some $424,000 of the payment, saying that it previously overpaid royalties to the studio.
Valve also said that Activision threatened to file a separate suit seeking that aforementioned overpayment money if the publisher’s short-changing on the arbitration award was challenged in court.

This is one of many lawsuits against or initiated by Activision in dispute with (former) business partners and employees… for more examples see the bottom of the linked GameSpot article above, which would ultimately later lead to the claim that Kotick would “prefer to pay his lawyers instead of his employees”.

June 4, 2009: Just shortly after, Activision decides to sue “Double Fine” (the developers of Brütal Legend, a game they dropped themselves almost a year ago and was now being published by EA). After the title got high recognition at that year’s E3 Activision wants to prevent the release of the game and claims the developers missed important deadlines and did not manage to complete the game on time. They also claim they never handed over the contract for it in the first place. It ended with a settlement.
http://www.joystiq.com/2009/06/04/activision-sues-double-fine-over-brutal-legend/

June 19, 2009: Kotick threatens SONY to drop the price-point of their console(s) or he could drop the support for those platforms: http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=24118

“I’m getting concerned about Sony; the PlayStation 3 is losing a bit of momentum and they don’t make it easy for me to support the platform,” Kotick told the UK Times Online, adding that the return on investment is “better” on the Wii and Xbox 360.

“They have to cut the price, because if they don’t, the attach rates [the number of games each console owner buys] are likely to slow,” said Kotick. “If we are being realistic, we might have to stop supporting Sony.”

“When we look at 2010 and 2011, we might want to consider if we support the console,” he said — and also included the PSP as an area to re-examine.

June 28, 2009: A few more details of the new Battle.Net 2.0 get out, for instance that StarCraft II and Diablo III will not offer a LAN-mode anymore (so everyone that wants to play with you, including friends and family HAS to buy a copy of the game and all Add-Ons and give Blizzard them $$) and that it might contain a few “monetized features” and micro transactions.

Clarification for the above statement: StarCraft I, WarCraft II and Diablo had a feature called “Spawn installation”, with which you could legally install the same game with the same CD-Key on a friends or family members PC, with the restriction that the SinglePlayer couldn’t be played from the “Spawn version” and they could only join Multiplayer games, you, with the Original CD-Key and Installation were in. While the feature wasn’t there specifically for WarCraft III, LAN games with the same CD-Key were still possible, this helped people try out the game with friends and buy it if they liked it, I personally know of at least 3 sales by friends attributed to this feature.
The new version of B.Net 2.0 works in such a way, that even when living under the same roof and another person only wanting to try the game or play with you casually, they still have to own a full second copy of the game + all Add-On keys to be able to do this.

http://www.incgamers.com/Interviews/190/StarCraftIIDevelopersInterviewed

So what’s Battle.net all about and how is it different?

The new Battle.net will completely revolutionise the current version, but Blizzard is still looking to making this experience free for anyone buying StarCraft II or future games that use Battle.net. One idea which has been discussed in different iterations is microtransactions, meaning the service is free, but added value services like starting a custom tournament, league, or the like would cost a small amount of money.

He mentioned WoW as an example, where “value added services” like server transfers are paid for, but “you can get the full experience of Battle.net with all the features just from buying the box.”

Another example being the “map-marketplace”, where Blizzard maps and “Premium” user-maps can be sold alike with a portion of the revenue going to the map creators.
http://kotaku.com/5343006/blizzard-you-may-sell-your-starcraft-2-maps-on-battlenet-eventually

Blizzard wants to foster the best mod community in existence, and to that ends they’ve unveiled plans to single out premium custom-created maps for sales on a StarCraft 2 marketplace. Maps will be split into two categories – normal and premium – with the former free and the latter for sale, with a portion of the proceeds going to the map’s creators. Blizzard hopes this will lead to more choice for StarCraft 2 players, and more innovative and creative custom maps fueled by the potential financial rewards.

Additionally, a few concerns regarding said marketplace and privacy are being raised, considering the Battle.Net 2.0 Terms of Use: http://us.blizzard.com/en-us/company/about/termsofuse.html

User Content.
“User Content” means any communications, images, sounds, and all the material and information that you upload or transmit through a Game client or the Service, or that other users upload or transmit, including without limitation any chat text. You hereby grant Blizzard a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, paid-up, non-exclusive, license, including the right to sublicense to third parties, and right to reproduce, fix, adapt, modify, translate, reformat, create derivative works from, manufacture, introduce into circulation, publish, distribute, sell, license, sublicense, transfer, rent, lease, transmit, publicly display, publicly perform, or provide access to electronically, broadcast, communicate to the public by telecommunication, display, perform, enter into computer memory, and use and practice such User Content as well as all modified and derivative works thereof. To the extent permitted by applicable laws, you hereby waive any moral rights you may have in any User Content.

Content Screening and Disclosure.
We do not, and cannot, pre-screen or monitor all User Content. However, our representatives may monitor and/or record your communications (including without limitation chat text) when you are using the Service or playing a Game, and you hereby provide your irrevocable consent to such monitoring and recording. You acknowledge and agree that you have no expectation of privacy concerning the transmission of any User Content, including without limitation chat text or voice communications. We do not assume any responsibility or liability for User Content that is generated by users. We have the right, but not the obligation, in our sole discretion to edit, refuse to post, or remove any User Content. WE ALSO RESERVE THE RIGHT, AT ALL TIMES AND IN OUR SOLE DISCRETION, TO DISCLOSE ANY USER CONTENT AND OTHER INFORMATION (INCLUDING WITHOUT LIMITATION CHAT TEXT, VOICE COMMUNICATIONS, IP ADDRESSES, AND YOUR PERSONAL INFORMATION) FOR ANY REASON, including without limitation (a) to satisfy any applicable law, regulation, legal process or governmental request; (b) to enforce the terms of this or any other agreement or Blizzard policy; (c) to protect our legal rights and remedies; (d) where we feel someone’s health or safety may be threatened; or (e) to report a crime or other offensive behavior.

July 9, 2009: The Blizzcon prices for 2009 are being raised from 100$ to 125$ (they have been raised to 150$ for 2010 by the way), also Blizzard in a partnership with DIRECTV (and with increasing desire for more $$) provide Live Streaming of the Event for only 39.95$, although Streams from such events as the E3, Tokyo Gameshow or GamesCom are usually free…
http://www.sk-gaming.com/content/25054-BlizzCon_video_stream_not_free_3995_pay_per_view

August 5, 2009: Shortly after Activision Blizzard announced, that it is going to raise the prices of games, starting with Modern Warfare 2 and games with additional Hardware like “Tony Hawk: Rider”, “Guitar Hero” and “DJ Hero”, Kotick mentions to an Analyst, that if it would be up to him he’d raise the prices even further: http://www.destructoid.com/kotick-i-would-raise-game-prices-higher-if-i-could-143049.phtml

And Tony, you know if it was left to me, I would raise the prices even further.

Same day, a few more details about StarCraft II get out, for instance that StarCraft II got delayed because of Battle.Net 2.0, and that’ll be “like Xbox Live”: http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=24732

“This will begin with World of Warcraft and StarCraft II,” Kotick added, calling the planned service, built by the Blizzard team, “similar to Xbox Live.”

“There is no better opportunity to launch this strategic initiative than through the launch of StarCraft II,” said Kotick on the call. “The Battle.net platform is an investment in the future of gaming, and an opportunity that we are uniquely positioned to capitalize on.

September 15, 2009: At the “Deutsche Bank Security Technology Conference”, Kotick holds his best public speech yet: http://www.geeks.co.uk/7282-activision%E2%80%99s-bobby-kotick-hates-developers-innovation-cheap-games-you

In the last cycle of videogames you spent $50 on a game, played it and took it back to the shop for credit. Today, we’ll (charge) $100 for a guitar. You might add a microphone or drums; you might buy two or three expansions packs, different types of music. Over the life of your ownership you’ll probably buy around 25 additional song packs in digital downloads. So, what used to be a $50 sale is a $500 sale today.

Most of the 20 years, that I have provided for growth at Activision, we were content to make products that are attractive to the 16-35 year old guy who has gotten no date for Saturday night.

As he works himself up to his personal masterpiece…

Kotick noted that in the past he changed the employee incentive program so that it “really rewards profit and nothing else.” He continued, “You have studio heads who five years ago didn’t know the difference between a balance sheet and a bed sheet who are now arguing allocations in our CFO’s office pretty regularly. … We have a real culture of thrift. The goal that I had in bringing a lot of the packaged goods folks into Activision about 10 years ago was to take all the fun out of making video games.”

Yes, he just said that.

Ultimately, Kotick doesn’t want his employees to take anything for granted. They should always be aware of “skepticism, pessimism, and fear” in the midst of the global economic downturn. “We are very good at keeping people focused on the deep depression,” he said.

October 18, 2009: It gets confirmed, that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 will not support Dedicated Servers or Mods anymore, and that it will require Steam. The most likely reason for this is for Activision to be able to have total control over content (like Blizzard is trying to do with the Map Publishing System) sell their internal map packs instead of having people play maps made by Modders for free, and it seems to have succeeded: http://www.pcworld.com/article/193808/modern_warfare_2_download_shatters_sales_records.html
http://kotaku.com/5384057/new-modern-warfare-matchmaking-service-will-definitely-reshape-pc-community

November 12, 2009: A Call of Duty title based on monthly subscription fees is being announced by Activision Blizzard’s CFO (Chief Financial Officer) Thomas Tippl: http://www.edge-online.com/news/activision-looking-at-paid-online-models-for-call-of-duty

“It’s definitely an aspiration that we see potential in, particularly as we look at different business models to monetise the online gameplay,” he said, according to IGN. “There’s good knowledge exchange happening between the Blizzard folks and our online guys.

“We have great experience also on Call Of Duty with the success we had on Xbox Live and PlayStation Network. A lot of that knowledge is getting actually built into the Battle.Net platform and the design of that. I think it’s been mutually beneficial, and you should expect us to test and ultimately launch additional online monetization models of some of some of our biggest franchises like Call Of Duty.”

Tippl also said that he wasn’t concerned about how gamers would react to having to pay for additional features.

“Our gamers are telling us there’s lots of services and innovation they would like to see that they’re not getting yet. From what we see so far, additional content, as well as all the services Blizzard is offering, is that there is demand from the core gamers to pay up for that.

How that “subscription fee” could look is shown in a few images from a survey concerning the payment model:


February 10, 2010: After modest sales of their new “Guitar Hero” (about ~25 titles in only 4 years) and “Tony Hawk” titles, Activision does a sweeping blow:
http://kotaku.com/5469802/prototype-developer-radical-cut-in-half
http://kotaku.com/5469858/activision-takes-axe-to-guitar-heros-neversoft-shuts-down-luxoflux
http://kotaku.com/5470149/activision-shutters-guitar-hero-creators-gh-van-halen-developers

Radical Entertainment (Prototype, Scarface, Hulk: Ultimate Destruction) – they fire over 90 employees (about half the staff),
Luxoflux (True Crime, Kung Fu Panda, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen) – closed down,
Neversoft (Guitar Hero, Tony Hawk, Spider-Man) – fire over 50 employees,
RedOctane (Guitar Hero and Plastic Instruments) – closed down,
Underground Development (Guitar Hero: Van Halen, BMX XXX, Freestyle BMX, X-Men) – closed

The very same day this was decided, later Kotick mentioned in an Interview as if to spite those fired: http://kotaku.com/5468976/activision-boasts-156-billion-better-than-expected-q4

Our significant accomplishments in 2009 are the result of the expertise and skills of our employees around the world. Their hard work and commitment to excellence made us stronger even during difficult times.

February 28, 2010: A fan project called “King’s Quest 9 – The Silver Lining” is being terminated by Activision, shortly before its release. You could say… sure this always happens, but this time it was a bit different.

The team of hobby-developers, which started working on the project back in 2002 (about 8 years ago) and got a cease-and-desist from Vivendi Universal in 2005, managed to negotiate a deal for a “non-commercial fan license”, which allowed them to develop and publish “The Silver Lining” after all.
2010, nearly done with the work on the project, they handed in a copy for review as agreed in said contract, upon which (the rights to it now belonging to Activision) Activision decided it had no interest in doing anything of the likes and sent another cease-and-desist instead, forcing them to take down their website and forums and to stop working on the project immediately, which they had to do.

http://kotaku.com/5482221/activision-terminates-fan+made-kings-quest-extension
http://www.tsl-game.com/

(((on a very side relieving note added by me:

On June 26, 2010, Phoenix Online Studios announced that Activision had changed its mind and decided to allow The Silver Lining to be released. The game’s story originally encompassed nine chapters, which have now been condensed into five episodes. Episode 1: What is Decreed Must Be will be released on July 10, 2010 as a free download, with the rest of the episodes to follow later in 2010 also as free downloads. )))

March 2-4, 2010: A bunch of security people raid the Infinity Ward offices, both studio heads/CEOs Jason West and Vince Zampella get fired, they were replaced by internal Activision Publishing employees (who worked for Procter & Gamble and Nestle before).

Just 2 days later, the 2 ex-CEOs file a lawsuit against Activision regarding the rights to “Modern Warfare” and 36$ million of royalties + damages.

A few excerpts from said “lawsuit”:

23. West and Zampella were not as eager as Activision to jump into the development of Modern Warfare 2. Despite assurances by Activision that West and Zampella would have complete freedom to run Infinity Ward as an independent studio, Activision had begun to intrude upon Infinity Ward’s ability to create quality games. For example, Activision forced Infinity Ward’s employees to continue producing the games at a break neck pace under aggressive schedules, and West and Zampella were concerned that Activision was emphasizing quantity over quality. Given Activision’s insistence that Infinity Ward continue to focus on sequels to Call of Duty games instead of new intellectual property, West and Zampella were also concerned that Activision’s demands risked “burning out” the Infinity Ward employees’ creativity. Nurturing a creative environment had been one of the cornerstones of Infinity Ward’s success. West and Zampella were not eager to extend their employment; especially as they watched their games receive countless awards and make Activision billions of dollars, while many Infinity Ward employees were not being provided a fair share.

25. To induce West and Zampella to create a game they had no obligation to create and to extend an Employment Agreement that was just months from expiring, Activision made several important promises in the MOU. First, the MOU gives West and Zampella creative authority over the development of any games under the Modern Warfare brand (or any Call of Duty game set in the post-Vietnam era, the near future or the distant future) including complete control over the Infinity Ward studio. The MOU explicitly provides that no such game can be commercially released without the written consent of West and Zampella. Second, the MOU gives West and Zampella the right to operate Infinity Ward independently and to choose to develop new intellectual property after they completed Modern Warfare 2.

30. In wake of Modern Warfare 2’s success, Activision chose not to honor the MOU or Employment Agreement with West and Zampella. Activision chose, instead, to launch a pre-textual investigation against West and Zampella to create a basis to fire the two co-heads of Infinity Ward before the first Modern Warfare 2 royalty payment would be paid in the ordinary course, on March 31, 2010.

Activision refused to tell either West or Zampella what specific acts or omissions Activision believed they had committed or what was prompting the investigation, insisting instead in Orwellian fashion that West and Zampella “already have a clear understanding of what they have or have not done.” West and Zampella were told only that Activision was investigating potential “breaches of contract” and “violations” of Activision policies, and threatened that anything less than their full cooperation with the inquisition would constitute “insubordination”, which itself would justify their termination.

32. Activision conducted the investigation in a manner designed to maximize the inconvenience and anxiety it would cause West and Zampella. On little notice, Activision insisted on conducting interviews over the Presidents’ Day holiday weekend; West and Zampella were interrogated for over six hours in a windowless conference room; Activision investigators brought other Infinity Ward employees to tears in their questioning and accusations and threatened West and Zampella with “insubordination” if they attempted to console them; Activision’s outside counsel demanded that West and Zampella surrender their personal computers, phones and communication devices to Activision for review by Activision’s outside counsel and, when West and Zampella asserted their legally protected privacy rights, Activision’s counsel said that doing so constituted further acts (of) insubordination.

West and Zampella are also entitled to exercise creative authority over the development of any games to be published under the Modern Warfare brand over any of the conduct of Infinity Ward Studio. But the day after it fired West and Zampella, Activision announced new strategic and personnel plans for Call of Duty franchise and has asserted complete control over the Modern Warfare brand and the Infinity Ward Studio.

In the aftermath Jason and Vince create “Respawn Entertainment”, and over 30+ key Infinity Ward employees leave Activision, some of them joining them there (after themselves filing another group lawsuit against Activision regarding them not being paid/withheld their bonuses to force a “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3”)

http://g4tv.com/thefeed/blog/post/704273/infinity-ward-employee-group-files-lawsuit-against-activision-over-unpaid-royalties-alleges-devs-held-hostage.html

I’ve obtained a copy of a lawsuit filed this morning in the Los Angeles Superior Court by 38 plaintiffs, calling themselves the “Infinity Ward Employee Group,” against Activision. The Infinity Ward Employee Group (whom I’ll refer to as IWEG throughout the rest of this story) alleges breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, violation of California labor code and more. The group is after a large amount of unpaid royalties.
“Activision owes my clients approximately $75 million to $125 million dollars,” said Bruce Isaacs, one of the IWEG’s attorneys at Wyman & Isaacs LLP, over the phone this afternoon. “Activision has withheld most of the money to force many of my people to stay, some against their will, so that they would finish the delivery of Modern Warfare 3. That is not what they wanted to do. Many of them. My clients’ entitled to their money. Activision has no right to withhold their money — our money.”

http://kotaku.com/5484026/activisions-new-plans-for-call-of-duty-include-new-developer-new-genres
http://kotaku.com/5485703/ousted-infinity-ward-founders-lawsuit-against-activision-the-court-documents/gallery/

March 30, 2010: In a “Activision Blizzard restructuring move”, the above often quoted CFO (Chief Financial Officer) Thomas Tippl is, according to Massively and the L.A. Times put in charge as COO (Chief Operations Officer) of the “Blizzard business unit”, with Mike Morhaime directly reporting to him, according to Joystiq Tippl basically gets paid more, the more revenue the company makes:
http://www.massively.com/2010/03/31/acti-blizz-restructuring-assigns-new-executive-to-blizzard/
http://www.joystiq.com/2010/03/30/activision-cfo-thomas-tippl-now-coo/
http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/entertainmentnewsbuzz/2010/03/activision-quietly-restructures-senior-management-and-internal-organization.html

The new company map features one business unit focused squarely on the Call of Duty franchise, another overseeing Activision-owned brands such as Tony Hawk and Guitar Hero, and a third unit to handle licensed properties. Blizzard Entertainment rounds out the fourth unit but interestingly, Blizzard’s Mike Morhaime now reports directly to newly appointed chief operating officer Thomas Tippl, who in turn reports to Activision CEO Bobby Kotick.

“This is an important change as it will allow me, with Thomas, to become more deeply involved in areas of the business where I believe we can capture great potential and opportunity,” Kotick said in the employee memo.

“Performance shares” are, according to Investopedia, “shares of company stock given to managers only if certain company wide performance criteria are met, such as earnings per share targets.” Meaning, in so many words, that Activision has to meet a certain performance level in order for Tippl to earn said shares. That they will “vest ratably” is only to say that on Feb. 15 of each year for the next four years, he will earn part of that eventual 225,000-share goal (in 2014) … should he stay in his position for all that time, of course. And finally, this is all based on the prediction that he delivers a higher or equal to non-GAAP earning per share when compared to the previous year. In short, he has to either break even or make money to get the stocks, and he has to maintain that for the next four years. Quite a tall order, sir!

May 5, 2010: After already having developed the “World of WarCraft Armory App” for Facebook, it is decided to be integrated into the new Battle.Net 2.0 full time and Blizzard already announced further features coming from said “partnership”…
http://kotaku.com/5531740/starcraft-ii-hooks-up-with-facebook

Blizzard concerning privacy:
Should I be concerned about the privacy settings on my Facebook account?
Both Blizzard Entertainment and Facebook take the security of personal information very seriously.

FaceBook CEO concerning privacy: http://www.businessinsider.com/well-these-new-zuckerberg-ims-wont-help-facebooks-privacy-problems-2010-5

Zuckerberg: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard
Zuckerberg: Just ask.
Zuckerberg: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS
[Redacted Friend’s Name]: What? How’d you manage that one?
Zuckerberg: People just submitted it.
Zuckerberg: I don’t know why.
Zuckerberg: They “trust me”
Zuckerberg: Dumb f*cks.

Expand this Quote, if you want to know more about why FaceBook made it into Battle.Net 2.0 over several dozen other features.
From 2008:
http://kotaku.com/383589/activision-worried-aboutfacebook
http://www.mcvuk.com/news/30332/Kotick-Facebook-is-a-threat-to-games

Activision CEO Bobby Kotick isn’t worried about Guitar Hero growing stale or Tony Hawk losing out to Skate. Or, at least that stuff isn’t keeping him up at night. The bigger threat to Activision games is (dun dun dun) social networking. He explains:

Figuring out how to make the game experience more fun than any one of a hundred Facebook applications is going to be a challenge.

It seems like baby boomers and even some Gen Xers still don’t grasp the more modern concept of multitasking. Mr. Kotick, you may want to sit down for this. We may use ten apps within Facebook, but we often do so while playing a game..

From 2009:
http://nukezilla.com/2010/02/11/kotick-on-social-games-interesting-but-unproven/

Zynga’s wildly popular FarmVille has made a lot of traction in the modern gaming industry, but Activision’s Bobby Kotick has said that while the phenomenon is ‘interesting’ , social games remain ‘characterized by [an] unproven business model’ .

The current model includes selling in-game items for real cash, as well as in Zynga’s case, ‘offers’ , where the user takes a trial of a product in exchange for in-game money. (Something which has landed them in a little trouble.)

Accordingly to Kotick, Activision will continue to examine the idea of social gaming, saying ‘[currently,] these opportunities are better utilized as a means to connect our community and extend the brand, and less about financial scale or huge financial return’.

While the nature of these games is currently supplementary, Kotick also spoke of the company’s $1.3 billion revenue from digital sales. This includes DLC, subscriptions and mobile incomes, and could easily accommodate social gaming revenue. Develop also points out Activision’s $300 million purchase of PlayFish, an online game developer which could form the basis of Activision’s social gaming team.

What this will ultimately result in is a surge of new titles designed for use on Facebook and other networking sites, with Kotick mentioning both Call of Duty and Guitar Hero franchises as a possible way to cash in on some of that social gaming dough.

The main problem, however, is that a lot of these games develop organically in the community and Activision, known for its blitz-like marketing, could simply start pushing games onto people who don’t want them. If Activision does enter the market, be sure that it’ll be in a sufficiently aggressive manner. It’ll probably result in a ton of crappy Facebook games that you or I will never play, but causal gamers will flood to them, so why not, eh?

He finally found out how to do it by now, using the Battle.Net and some of the other new Activision titles: http://investor.activision.com/releasedetail.cfm?releaseid=472272

By seamlessly integrating an innovative “Share” button, Blur lets players choose to light up the competition in both single and multi-player modes by sending game challenges to friends and posting in-game photos, racing stats, unlockable items and much more on their Facebook pages.

“Blur’s innovative integration with Facebook makes it easy for players to interact with their real friends to share game play, emotions, and the racing experience,” said Dan Rose, Vice President of Partnerships and Platform Marketing, Facebook. “Blur is leading the next generation of console games integrating with Facebook to make gaming more social for our more than 400 million users.”

“Blur is the first multi-platform videogame that connects the television to Facebook, and for the first time, videogame audiences on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC will be able to link their console gameplay to their network of friends,” said Robert Kotick, CEO, Activision Blizzard. “Facebook has become a fantastic platform for videogames and Blur elevates it even further.”

Blur is the ultimate powered-up racing experience, where players collect addictive and intense Power-ups throughout each course, including the ability to blast other cars out of the way with huge bursts of energy, boost speed with Nitros, drop Mines and even generate defensive shields to fend off other racers. Blur offers online multiplayer supporting competitive and cooperative gameplay for up to 20 racers, including team racing and objective based events, and also supports 4-player split-screen. For more information on Blur, please visit the official game web site located at http://www.blurthegame.com, and check-out Blur on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/blurthegame.

Blur is scheduled for release nationwide May 25th for the Xbox 360(R) video game and entertainment system from Microsoft, PLAYSTATION(R)3 computer entertainment system, and the PC, and is rated “E10+” by the ESRB.

June 15th-17th, 2010: At this year’s E3, instead of having their own booth or presentation like EA did, Activision had a meeting room away from the craziness of the show floor, where they mainly talked to analysts and reporters. Read on if you want to know more about why Activision thinks that franchises can’t get stale (no matter how many titles you put out there), some of the things they want to achieve, why it doesn’t make sense for developers to feel good and have relaxation possibilities while making games or get new carpets and why videogames should be sold like washing powder.

http://e3.gamespot.com/story/6266573/3ds-is-brilliant-activision-coo-
In this article, Thomas Tippl (Activisions new COO and the guy overseeing Blizzard now) answers a few questions regarding their company policy:

GS: Also during the call, Bobby Kotick talked about a “culture of thrift” in the company. But people seem to think with Blizzard, you just give them the resources they want and then step back, letting them do what they do. Are they exempt from that culture of thrift?

TT: No, and I don’t think they want to be exempt from that. The culture of thrift isn’t about not investing in the games. It’s exactly about investing in the games. If we don’t waste money on golden toilets and what have you, that gives us the resources to invest in the games so we make a great game. Subsequently, it gives us the ability to spend big in marketing a game.

I don’t know if you’ve been at our offices. We’ve had the same office since forever, and we just replaced the duct tape on the carpet because it became a trip hazard down the stairs. And that took five years to get done. So we are thrifty in the areas where frankly, the consumer doesn’t see value. We are not thrifty in the areas where the consumer sees the value, which is in the game development.

That’s why we added 300 headcount to Blizzard’s development team, 900 headcount to the customer service team, 300 headcount around the Call of Duty franchise. There are many areas where we are making massive investments to improve the gamer experience, and then there are areas where we think it’s not worth it. So we don’t have a company gym, cafeteria, and valet parking. Because the gamer doesn’t care about that. They don’t see value in any of that. Go talk to Blizzard or the Treyarch guys or the Sledgehammer guys. We put the money where the gamer’s going to see it.

Furthermore, he sees every move they make validated, because “gamers continue to buy their games”.

GS: Activision’s not too popular with some gamers after Kotick’s comments about taking the fun out of development, the Brutal Legend lawsuit, or the Infinity Ward drama earlier this year. How do you deal with that negative perception? Is it something you can see affecting the bottom line at all?

TT: I would say this: When you become the number one in any industry, you automatically get a target painted on your back. That’s just a fact of life, so you have to be able to deal with this. I think there’s a very vocal minority that expresses very strong opinions. But at the end of the day, if you look at the overall results we’ve delivered, 2009 was a very difficult year in the industry. And we have succeeded in that environment because gamers continue to buy our games…because we market the franchise and not the company, and they get a great entertainment experience. So that’s the most important thing.

What would Kotick do if he had one instant wish to change something in his company? He apparently wouldn’t make his employees happier or create a better working environment, he wouldn’t want to create a new succesful original IP but he’d make Call of Duty a subscription based service as soon as he could… http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703509404575301231400042578.html

WSJ: If you could snap your fingers, and instantly make one change in your company, what would it be, and why?

Mr. Kotick: I would have Call of Duty be an online subscription service tomorrow. When you think about what the audience’s interests are and how you could really satisfy bigger audiences with more inspired, creative opportunities, I would love to see us have an online Call of Duty world. I think our players would just have so much of a more compelling experience.

WSJ: Is that coming?

Mr. Kotick: Hopefully.

WSJ: Are the customers ready for it?

Mr. Kotick: I think our audiences are clamoring for it. If you look at what they’re playing on Xbox Live today, we’ve had 1.7 billion hours of multiplayer play on Live. I think we could do a lot more to really satisfy the interests of the customers. I think we could create so many things, and make the game even more fun to play. We haven’t really had a chance to do that yet, so that would be my snap of the fingers.

Here, Tippl is talking about how selling video games apparently is so very similar to selling washing powder, toilet paper or potato chips:
http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/29010/Activision_COO_Tippl_Franchise_Fatigue_Is_An_Excuse.php

When Tippl joined Activision in 2005, he brought with him several years of executive experience with highly-successful consumer goods company Procter & Gamble, which is home for products ranging from toilet paper to potato chips to laundry detergent. He still draws from that mass market experience.

“When people come up and tell me, ‘how can you possibly make another Call of Duty,’ I always tell them that I used to work for a company that every year had to figure out how to make a white shirt whiter,” Tippl said. “And [Procter & Gamble] have been doing that for 35 years with a product like Tide.”

He continued, “You’re telling me with all the opportunities we have, and the technologies and the content … and all the different stories, the characters that we can develop, that we can’t innovate on a franchise for 10 years? Give me a break. Then we’re just not doing our job.”

…to be continued, but remember after successfully pulling something off/enforcing it (which they ultimately will, like others did with stuff like Online Activation, DLCs, DRM, Micropayments etc.) it never gets better… only worse

(((end of quote – hope it stays on the vastness of the internets as testimony of how corruption can pry open the hearts and brains of many — and of our wallets)))