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Activision’s quiet, complete dominance over E3

Activision’s quiet, complete dominance over E3

Activision doesn’t particularly care who wins the next-generation console race. The publishing giant ditched the confusion of a large portfolio at E3 this year and instead focused on four games: Call of Duty: Ghosts, Skylanders: Swapforce, Destiny, and Diablo 3 on consoles. The company’s giant, thundering booth was literally made up of four pillars, each one representing one of these franchises. It was a bold statement, and it worked.

Celebrities, focus, and non-exclusivity

I went behind the scenes at the booth to take a guided tour through most of the games, and was surprised at the amount of security until I noticed one famous rapper, and a slew of basketball stars hanging out, eating pizza, and waiting to see the new Call of Duty game.

It’s hard to underestimate the cultural impact of the Call of Duty franchise until you see the star power it pulls into the booth. I was told J.J. Abrams had stopped by to check it out, and he stayed outside long enough to watch the entire presentation Activision put on a giant, 180 degree screen on one side of the booth.

This is what dominance looks like. Activision’s booth stood at the back of the show and looked over everyone else, like a king on its throne.

None of these games were a platform exclusive, as Diablo 3 has now been confirmed for Microsoft consoles. Each one will bring in a different sort of gamer, including the family-friendly Skylanders title. Do you have a current-gen system? A PC? Are you planning on buying any of the next-generation systems? Activision has you covered, although Bungie was cagey about a PC version of Destiny when I asked.

The game is coming to current generation systems, and next-generation systems, I was told. They have a lot on their plate.

Activision has an exclusive deal with Microsoft to bring the Call of Duty DLC to Xbox systems first, although they also showed off Destiny game play at the Sony presentation. Activision hedged its bets at this year’s E3, making sure it had a giant presence everywhere it went. Both of the next-generation consoles will be taken care of, they seemed to promise, wherever you go, there they’ll be.

We keep expecting the Call of Duty franchise to falter with each game, but the huge lines and buzz around the next-generation Ghosts seem to indicate that it won’t happen any time soon. Activision isn’t sitting on its ass waiting, however, and Destiny looks to be one of the first huge new series coming to next-generation, not to mention current-generation, consoles.

The game has already been in production for years, and Bungie has made a huge investment in the engine and tools needed to add content to the game quickly and easily. This ten year deal between Activision and Bungie is what we mean when we talk about “AAAA” development, and few companies are going to have the budget, manpower, and sheer willpower to try to match the scope of the project. If Call of Duty is going to fall to another giant title, Activision is going to make damn sure that it passes the baton off to itself.

This is the company that made Diablo 3 a huge hit on PCs, despite fan’s protests about the real money auction house and the always-online requirement, and is now turning around to release what is possibly going to be a superior version of the game on consoles. Multiple consoles, current and next-generation. I’ve had a chance to play Diablo 3 on the PlayStation 3 a few times now, and the tuning done to the loot and control scheme makes it hard to go back to the PC version, and who the hell thought anyone would ever say that about a Blizzard title?

Skylanders: Swapforce is likewise impressive, bringing a brand new engine to the series, toys that can be mixed and matched with each other to create new heroes, and of course a new portal of power to pack in with the game and bundles of new action figures. It’s a fun game, the magnets used to lock the two pieces of the characters together are strong and satisfying, and my kids are already bugging me about when it will come out. The family is invited, Activision whispers, we are taking care of all of you.

In a year when so many companies dropped the ball on messaging, or brought a confusing mess of games that didn’t seem to add up to a cohesive strategy, Activision’s four-game approach to their booth and show was incredibly smart and well-executed. It put the focus right where it needed to be: On a selection of four blockbuster titles that will appeal to many different demographics and markets, with each game coming to a wide variety of platforms.

It was an unambiguous, strong way to flex the company’s muscles, and to prove once again why it sells so many units. Activision has always been a company that knows how to launch a blockbuster, but this was the first year at E3 that their booth drove that message home with such force. Don't push many games, focus on four big, great games. Don't strive for exclusivity, but ubiquity. Don't be scared to get big, loud, and expensive.