I think Activision has hit a new time low today while still maybe recognizing that they should improve things but at the same time looking like a completely soulless corporation. Announced during their financial report, Activision has decided to cease development on the 2011 version of Guitar Hero along with revealing that they don’t plan to release a new iteration in the Tony Hawk Skateboarding franchise. In addition to Guitar Hero getting the axed, DJ Hero has also been given the pink slip and so have the developers behind it. So yes, Activision is firing more people and their cancellations will likely affect a good portion of people who work for the company (around 500 people are said to be cut from the company) which once again shows how caring Activision is of their employees.
But cutting two seemingly dried out franchises wasn’t all Activision did today as the company made the shocking announcement that True Crime: Hong Kong was also being cancelled. Developed by the indie based United Front Games, True Crime: Hong Kong was to be a huge project for Activision as it would be the first major GTA style open-world action game the company has released on this generation of consoles outside of the fantasy based Prototype. Things didn’t appear to be shaky for True Crime: Hong Kong, despite the game being delayed from 2010 to 2011, and the game has made the rounds to the press in the last two weeks – all of whom said that things were looking good and some called the game "one of the most polished open-world games this generation." So either we have a case of journalists drinking the cool-aid of a company, the game was good but didn't fit Activision's plans or True Crime: Hong Kong had some major issues and Activision merely didn’t feel like footing the bill anymore.
Considering that True Crime was an open-world action game and had a voice cast that included well-known actors such as Tom Wilkinson (Batman Begins) and action legend Sammo Hung, the game probably wasn’t cheap to make. But hey, flushing $30-40 million down the toilet on a game must be nothing to Activision right?
So what sort of exciting content does Activision have planned in the place of a possibly fun or solid open-world game set in Hong Kong? Well aside from their already established licensed properties (Transformers, X-Men) Activision has announced their plans to do games based on the TV show Family Guy and the ABC reality show Wipeout. I’m just going to let that sink in for a while as despite my enjoyment of watching Family Guy, I’m just befuddled at the move and Activision’s desire to further do licensed games.
The major benchmarks or at least franchises that Activision is building the company around of course revolve around Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and Starcraft. Thankfully Blizzard fans don’t need to worry about the company immediately being whored out as Activision confirmed that no major releases from them were planned for 2011, but the following year we would probably see two projects from them released at some point.
Activision and its evil emperor Bobby Kotick also gave a somewhat small tease for a project dubbed Call of Duty: Beachhead. As Kotick revealed, CoD: Beachhead is going to be a special online service (hint, hint it’s a subscription service) that in Bobby’s own words “will create the best-in-class online community.” The core concept of Beachhead is still a bit unclear as Kotick just used a bunch of buzz phrases like “supercharge the online gaming experience like never before” to describe the project. Chances are since Activision has an entirely new studio developing Beachhead that it’s probably going to involve a subscription of some kind, which as we know has been rumored for quite some time.
No other mentions concerning the core Call of Duty games were made such as Modern Warfare 3 or the game Sledgehammer is working on, or at least were working on before they were tasked with aiding Infinity Ward finish up MW3. Activision however did reveal a Call of Duty MMO which isn’t really news to most of us as it will remain an exclusive in China – at least until the game makes an insane profit and Activision decides to bring it to the West.
That’s the big stuff worth noting Activision revealed to today and I think none of us should be all too shocked with what went down. In one way it’s nice to see Activision knowingly decide to put the Guitar Hero/music game genre and Tony Hawk franchise to pasture, but people like the indie based Robomodo (the Tony Hawk dev) are likely to be affected by those changes. Gamasutra is reporting that Guitar Hero developer Neversoft is working on an IP, but the same can’t be said for the DJ Hero developers or the other developers that were affected by the cut projects and are likely to be on the chopping block. There’s a faint rumor going around that due to True Crime: Honk Kong being cancelled that United Front Games will close, but so far nothing substantial has surfaced which points to such a thing happening. If True Crime was the only game United Front Games had in development then the studio is likely to close or face major staff reductions, but hopefully the studio had something waiting in the wings like a new IP or an already contracted project like a sequel to the PS3 exclusive ModNation Racers.
Given today’s developments and what the future holds, I think it’s really hard to like Activision. I know that I may seem to be jumping aboard the hate train or I’m possibly throwing myself to the wolves as far as Activision PR is concerned, but aside from a roster of licensed games (Transformers: Dark of the Moon) and established stuff like Call of Duty and WoW, the company really doesn’t seem to be filled with a lot of creativity or the desire to be risky in what they do. The bottom line of a game publisher is to make a profit, but even companies like EA tend to try new things out, some of which succeed (Dead Space) and some of which don’t (Mirror’s Edge). But given Activision’s cancellation of True Crime and their insistent desire to push out as many CoD projects as they can, I think it’s clear that they care about nothing more than earning the maximum profits and doing whatever it takes to achieve that.