When I found out that I would be writing for Platform Nation, I looked at my inspirations, people who have already gone down the road that I am now taking my very first steps on. One of these people is Dan Amrich. I contacted Dan and he was kind enough to answer a few questions.
1. In case there are some people who don’t know you, could you provide some details to introduce yourself?
I’m Dan Amrich; I am the Social Media Manager for Activision, which means I lurk in forums and chat on Twitter and do a podcast and blog regularly about and for the company.
I was contacted for the position because Activision didn’t have a direct line of communication to the people playing its games – many of the individual studios, like Treyarch and Bizarre Creations, have community managers, but they were thinking more along the lines of what Major Nelson represents for Microsoft — someone you know has the truth about stuff, someone you know you can ask a detailed question and hopefully get an answer.
The one word that sums it up for me is “clarity” — I want to be clear in what I say, and if someone has a question or hears a rumor and they’re not clear on it, I want to be the person who they know will try to clear it up for them.
2. What are your current goals at Activision?
Officially: Be a resource for the gaming community, a two-way street where I can put info out there but I can also respond to info requests. Unofficially: show that Activision is only human. There are a lot of talented people here, a lot of smart people, doing difficult jobs that have a global impact. But we are all only human, and we all make mistakes, and we will disagree. I don’t think people really understand what happens at a company the size of Activision, so as I learn, I’m passing it along.
3. Why do you think that Activision has a reputation with gamers for being the evil overlord of the games industry? i.e. the Infinity Ward issue, and the rumours that Activision were behind the UK tax break for the games industry being squashed,
I think people do not give Activision the benefit of the doubt that they would give other publishers. Some people assume the worst about Activision right now, and it doesn’t matter that it’s not fair or logical — it’s easy and fun to make the company a target, in part because of its success. People like to root for an underdog, and one look at the annual profits will show that Activision is definitely not that — so they root against the top dog. Not that those gamers might not have valid concerns, but those issues are not always related to the topic of discussion, and there’s a biased leap of logic that I’ve seen happen. “Something’s making me unhappy? Must be Activision’s fault.” Well, not necessarily, but let’s take a look at how you came
to that conclusion…
The UK tax break thing is a good example: I mean, maybe I don’t fully understand the situation, but what was the logic behind that assumption that Activision was influencing governmental financial policy in a foreign land? What was the source, what was the path where someone connected that event with something that Activision said or did? I poked around and couldn’t find one. Meanwhile, Activision came out and vocally opposed the situation, siding with the rest of the game industry. So…now that the truth is out and Activision was unfairly accused of something negative which apparently had dubious to no merit, will people be quite as vocal to defend Activision as they were to condemn it? My guess is, sadly, no. I wish people would not jump to conclusions and assume the worst, but they often do.
I think the very core issue is that gamers apply emotions to situations where there are no emotions at play. They see business decisions, which are made for business reasons, and they overlay their personal, emotional gaming goals onto those situations — and they don’t like what they see or hear when they do. I think Bobby Kotick’s comments last year are the prime example of this. When Bobby Kotick says words like “focused on the deep depression” or “exploit” – and says them at a financial conference or on an investor phone call, as part of a larger conversation in a clear fiscal context — he’s talking in a pure financial sense, the way CEOs often do (see also
http://friskymongoose.com/ea-believes-that-buying-their-way-into-casual-gaming-is-the-only-way/). That depression? He was talking about the economic downturn of 2009. But gamers hear those statements and apply the emotional meaning to it — “exploit” to them means taking advantage of someone unfairly, rather than the fiscal context of “making the most of a moment in the market” or “using your successes today to be more successful tomorrow” — something every business, from the auto industry down to the corner coffee shop, wants to do. “Deep depression” conjures up images of someone being sad and hopeless, when he’s talking about financial depression, as in The Great Depression. Gamers have access to more information than they used to, but they don’t always get the context of that information — and that’s where it drives me nuts. It’s easy to misinterpret situations if you are only going on partial information, and when you see “take the fun out of making videogames,”
nobody stops to realize that maybe he was joking — or that there are historical examples of him telling this joke as many as six years ago (http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/hr/search/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1000552273)
Why is it understood as a joke then and not now? Because people heard it out of its context, and assumed the worst. (If nothing else, I think Bobby will now come up with a new joke.)
So I think people are taking things personally that are not personal, and that sets up Activision to be a huge villain — the evil overlord, as you call it. But I also know gamers have legitimate issues and objections when it comes to Activision — concerns about game pricing, DLC pricing, things like that — but these, too, could be turned into conversations instead of rants. When it comes to looking at any game company’s business choices, my mantra is less emotion, more logic. The emotional rewards come from playing games, not analyzing the business moves of the game industry.
4. What are your thoughts about Move & Kinect? Which one are you more likely to buy?
This is entirely personal, but Kinect is a must-buy for me on day one. My wife is a dancer and choreographer, and has always been disappointed in dance games as “stepping simulators.” Dance Central for Kinect gives her the kind of dance experience she wants – and because it’s fundamentally different and more satisfying, it’s one I want too. Move will depend on what games come out to support it – as usual, I’m more motivated by the experience the hardware enables than the hardware itself. Games sell consoles, right? Games will have to sell me on Move and Kinect as well. Dance Central sold me on Kinect (as did Your Shape), but Move, while cool, doesn’t have something for me yet. When it does, I’m in — there are people cooking up ideas for it right now, and maybe one of those will appeal to me.
This Q&A will be continued in my next post, so keep checking Platform Nation.
You can find Dan at http://oneofswords.com and on twitter @oneofswords.