The Business: Executive Suite — Bobby Kotick

Issue 56 - Bobby Kotick: Bobby Kotick
Mark Leibowitz

Activision Blizzard’s CEO — the man behind ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops’ $650 million sales record — talks strategy.

Two of the hottest franchises in video games — Guitar Hero and Call of Duty — come from Santa Monica-based Activision Blizzard. The latest version of Call of Duty: Black Ops, set a worldwide record for the biggest entertainment launch in history the week of Nov. 9. (By comparison, Avatar made $137 million during its first week in theaters.) Kotick, 47 — the longtime CEO of Activision who took the same title when, after a 2008 merger, the company became Activision Blizzard — weighs in on whether Black Ops is too violent and who might be his next Guitar heroes.

The Hollywood Reporter: You’re surrounded by video games. How do you get any work done?

Bobby Kotick: Funny question. You have to regulate the amount of time you play, like anything else. And there was a while there when I wasn’t playing as many games as I would have liked. Now that we have a fantastic management team, I actually get to spend more time playing.

THR: What’s your favorite game?

Kotick: Black Ops right now. It’s really all-consuming.

THR: Black Ops grossed $650 million worldwide during its first five days. Why did it sell so well?

Kotick: It’s content that is incredibly compelling, engaging and interesting. It’s the best of what you see in film and television — great acting, story lines and characters — combined with the social elements that come uniquely in video games.

THR: Have you ever liked a movie that was based on a video game?

Kotick: Mortal Combat was entertaining, but they’re hard to pull off. I think you would be far better off to go to a great director and say, “Hey, make something called Call of Duty, and if we like the script, maybe we’ll make a game out of it.”

THR: What’s happening with the World of Warcraft movie?

Kotick: It’s Warner Bros., and I think Sam Raimi is directing. Other than that, I don’t have any details.

THR: Sales of video games have been weaker this year. Why?

Kotick: People sort of lump packaged-goods video games into all video games. But when you look at total hours consumed and the dollars that are spent on all kinds of games, you’ve actually seen enormous growth in the audiences the last few years.

THR: How come the media conglomerates haven’t had much success with video games?

Kotick: There’s not a natural skill match. What you do in film and television is really different than what you do in video games. There have been pockets of success, like at Time Warner. And Disney, with Club Penguin and Facebook games, has done a real good job of recognizing the business is not just about packaged goods.

THR: Black Ops takes place during the Cold War. Do teenagers today know what that was? 

Kotick: A previous version took place in World War II, and I don’t think we were sure that people knew a lot about the history of that, either. What’s fascinating is that 17- to 25-year-olds get so engaged in the game that they’re learning about history and cultural references because we use accurate information.

THR: There’s controversy over Jimmy Kimmel and Kobe Bryant promoting Black Ops because it’s violent.

Kotick: First of all, I wouldn’t characterize it as a violent game. It’s cowboys and Indians in a Cold War setting, and when you look at the depiction of Bryant and Kimmel, they’re having a good time, and they’re not promoting violence in any way. It’s a TV commercial.

THR: What song or band do you really want for Guitar Hero?

Kotick: Can I tell you off the record?

THR: Well, let me ask you this: Why can’t I play Led Zeppelin songs on Guitar Hero?

Kotick: You gotta talk to Jimmy Page and Robert Plant about that.

THR: Have you?

Kotick: I never met either of them.

THR: Talk to them by phone?

Kotick: Let me think about what I can say on the record. … We’d love to see Led Zeppelin on Guitar Hero. Can I say that?

THR: Well, you just did.

How He Monitors His Kids’ Play
Kotick has three daughters, ages 13, 12, and 8

THR: Would you rather they watch TV or play video games for four hours?

Kotick: I would prefer they didn’t do anything for four hours. My kids earn points if they do their homework and chores, then they get to redeem those points for time. They’re girls, so they redeem their time more for iChatting and casual games. But I don’t have a preference between TV and video games. It’s my responsibility to regulate their behavior, and I’m not letting them do two hours a day of anything other than homework. [That said], kids should have leisure time, right? They shouldn’t be programmed to do school work all the time.