There has always been a divide for gamers when discussing developers and publishers. On the one hand, most gamers will be more than happy to explain how their favorite developers have helped broaden their love of gaming, from the moment they first jumped into the LucasArts world of Zombies At My Neighbours, right through until Star Wars: The Force Unleashed.
However, dare to mention the part that the publisher had to play in such a great title, and you are bound to be bombarded with ramblings of how they stifled all creativity, or ruined the project entirely.
Activision and Electronic Arts bear the majority of verbal rock throwing from the gaming community. But ask yourself this: where would we be without them?
Having acquired more than a dozen studios throughout North America and Europe, Activision (also Activision Blizzard) oversees some of the best development companies in the world. Infinity Ward, Neversoft, and Treyarch are just a few of the myriad developers that have been picked up by Activision over the years. From those three studios alone, we’ve been gifted with classics such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, and Spider-Man.
From a games journalist’s perspective, the news world would be a far emptier place without the Call of Duty or Guitar Hero series to keep the headlines filled.
Electronic Arts is in a similar boat to Activision. There is plenty of hate directed towards the gaming giant, sometimes with good reason, but I guarantee you have played, if not owned, at least a few EA titles in your life.
With mainstream hits ranging from The Sims to Rock Band to their annual sports releases, EA has acquired the perfect studios to turn them into a multi-billion dollar corporation. With more series under their belts than you can imagine (Need for Speed, Medal of Honor, Dead Space, and Battlefield, just to name a few), Electronic Arts has become one of the most successful publishers in video game history, second only to Nintendo on Game Developer’s top 20 video game publishers list.
EA Sports, the second prong in a three-label system that includes EA Games and EA Play, is indisputably the leader in video game sports titles. With four studios based across the United States and Canada, EA Sports has managed to pump out incredibly popular sports titles each and every year, from football to golf to hockey.
With so much emphasis placed upon publishing these days, it can be easy to forget where EA and Activision began. However, those who were around 30 years ago will know exactly how humble their beginnings were.
Ever heard of a little title by the name of Pitfall? If you spend your spare time reading this sort of article, then you probably have. It was a 1982 game developed and published by Activision for the Atari 2600. The title became an instant classic, and paved the way for several sequels to be made over the course of two decades. Thanks to a programmer by the name of David Crane, Activision was able to establish itself as a serious competitor in the gaming industry.
Despite their early success in the 80s, most gamers didn’t acknowledge Activision as a powerhouse until their collaboration with id Software in the late 90s. We all know id for their incredibly popular Doom series, and Quake managed to cause a similar stir amongst FPS fans.
While Activision didn’t have a hand in the original title, they were smart enough to jump on board for the ensuing sequels. Quake II, Quake III, and Quake IV were all published by Activision, and the two companies have continued to work together recently with Doom 3 and Wolfenstein.
EA may not be able to boast such a revered history as Activision, but they also developed several memorable games. Their first foray into development came five years after foundation, and while Skate or Die! more or less passed everyone by, it was a harbinger of great things to come.
A few years and plenty of practice later, EA unleashed two of the most popular series upon the gaming world. FIFA International Soccer was the first indicator that EA would soon come to monopolize the sporting genre, while The Need for Speed completely revolutionized the way racing games were played.
In these difficult economic times, it’s easy to castigate the big companies for laying off workers. By no means am I trying to trivialize the matter; Activision has seen four of their studios become defunct since 2008, while EA shut down Pandemic Studios just this month. However, this is business.
Starbucks understands how to succeed in the cutthroat world of coffeehouses, while EA and Activision know what it takes to make money from video games. At the end of the day, they are as powerful as they are because they understand exactly how to succeed.
And if they continue to publish games like FIFA 10 and Modern Warfare 2, I certainly won’t be complaining.