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Activision E3 2010 Recap

By Perry Rod, Published: June 21st, 2010 9:35 AM CDT

Executives at Activision Blizzard Inc. (NASDAQ:ATVI) had a strong sense of self awareness this year.  The greatest decision they made at E3 was to stay off the floor and keep a low profile (aside from throwing themselves a concert featuring Eminem, Jane’s Addiction and Usher a day before E3 began).   This was in contrast to last year, where they had a giant floor booth at E3 to show off such treasures as Wolfenstein, Singularity, Blur, DJ Hero, Prototype, and Tony Hawk: Ride.  The majority of the titles they presented in 2009 outside of the Call of Duty franchise failed to make an operating profit, so would 2010 prove to be any different for Activision?

First off, I noticed some notable absences at their upstairs meeting room.  Singularity, for example, was not present.  Last year what we saw of Singularity failed to generate any buzz and this year would have likely been no different.  So they have apparently cut down the marketing for this title.  Also, there was not even mention of the name of the new Bungie title, suggesting it is in very early in development.  Aside from the standard music offerings, here were the titles they did show to a limited audience:

Call of Duty: Black Ops - You can tell that the game was developed by Treyarch and not Infinity Ward.  The graphics in the demo appeared to be slightly more cartoonish than the more realistic Call of Duty offering of the previous year.  The demo they showed was a helicopter mission and an on the ground mission in the snow. The helicopter mission looked fun with a ton of explosions. The developers insisted that there's a lot of different non repetitive roles you play (similar to recent Call of Duty single player titles). They did not show off the multi-player portion of the game.  My overall impression of the title from the demo was that it was more of the same, and not really a step forward for the brand (in fact, it is a step backward in time into Vietnam).  The brand name is so powerful that it will surely carry itself with sales, but Activision might be taking a risk here in over-milking the cash cow. Seeing that Modern Warfare 2 received a 94 Metacritic score, I would guess this one coming in with a lower score, especially considering that Treyarch’s only other Call of Duty title received an 84. This title may be at risk of missing high expectations.

True Crime: Hong Kong – This was a fresh title with a lot of clever and interesting stuff going on. The graphics were below Rockstar open world standards but the city was amazing and crowded, and it felt like more of a combat fighting game within an open world. The fighting is fun and fulfilling with a lot of random ways of attacking people and breaking stuff (take someone's shopping bag and hit them with it, bash their heads through a TV, throw them off a cliff... lots of gimmicks). The character can run up walls in a way that looks believable and so again, it's a different style of open world than any other offering to date. The music sounds like it will include the latest hip hop and pop music. The title is single player only and took around 3 years to develop by an outside developer with what sounded like an impressive group of people who've worked on other open world games. My impression on it is it’s looking like a good game like last year’s Prototype, but probably doesn't have what it takes to be a break out success like Red Dead Redemption. The weak point of the game seemed to be the cut scenes and the lead character voice acting, which seemed to fall a bit flat. The gameplay looks fun, however, so I would bet that it will get high ratings for gameplay, but low ratings for writing and graphics. I think something like an 85 is what to expect, especially considering there is no multiplayer. As for sales, in this environment I think it will be hard to market it well since the best points are about the actual gameplay, not cut scenes or the overall story.

Spider-man: Shattered Dimensions – I was particularly disappointed with what Activision has done to this fabulous intellectual property.  Instead of developing a big budget high-rated realistic Spiderman offering, they are working on a low budget offering that is likely to get low ratings and generate low sales.  Disney’s recent acquisition of Marvel might have something to do with this travesty of a title.  It was just too cartoonish looking and stale to become a success.

Goldeneye 007 – It looked good for a Wii offering. Multiplayer was actually fun looking. It may generate a profit but I’m not sure there is a giant market for this game by Nintendo platform holders.  We will see.

Transformers multiplayer - This game has some promise.  It looked good enough to generate some decent interest, but not good enough to blow anybody away.

Overall, the Activision side of Activision Blizzard had a pretty weak product offering slate when you consider Activision Blizzard’s market leading position.  You have to wonder if Activision will eventually become a drag for the Blizzard side of the business if the company were to see weakness with the Call of Duty franchise. One interesting note about E3 was that the most visually stunning game of the show was Rage by Id Software which Activision was close to acquiring years before.  It’s too bad because that title put Activision’s offerings to shame.  After seeing Activision’s offerings and noting their decision to stay out of the E3 limelight this year, I can’t help but wonder if Activision is well aware of their predicament and out shopping for another major company or franchise.

Activision Overall 2010 E3 Grade:  C

Related: ATVI

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