The return of Activision

Ben Parfitt
The return of Activision

So why quit a big job running several territories for EA? What appealed to you about Activision?

We have a tremendous opportunity. The company is stronger than ever and with stronger European appeal than ever. Things like Guitar Hero having localised content and the deal last year for James Bond are evidence of that.

We have 235 people in European publishing and lots of new jobs to fill because we are expanding. We are looking for the best talent within and outside of the industry.

The US and European market is forecast to grow by 12 per cent to the end of March, but we want the company to grow 19 per cent. That would take us to revenues of $1.8bn. Europe will grow faster than in the US, and already did so in our first quarter.

Had Activision been under-performing in Europe?

Well, we certainly had a quieter year last year. Activision was under different management in Europe and there were lots of factors, like PS3 launching late.

But we are the second biggest publisher in the world and really anything outside of number two position in any territory in Europe has to be seen as a disappointment.

But it’s a big job, right? And not easy after what has gone on in the past two years…

It is a job with opportunity, for sure. I am in a position to build and have a freedom to change things.

EA is more of a tanker, we are a speedboat. We are smaller, faster and more fun to ride. We are the second biggest publisher in the world, but they are still twice as big as us and have many more heads in Europe.

What basics has Activision had to get right in order to get back on track in Europe?

Our reputation in the market needed to improve. Also, we have not communicated so well in the past, internally or externally. I’m a European and I think that helps. I’m not the guy from HQ just implementing thinking from the US. I see myself as the representative and driver of our European business needs.

I have a philosophy of ‘plan, do, check and correct’. I came here and the company was planning a lot, but there often was not enough time for implementing. I very much want a culture of doing.

Mistakes can be made, not too many of them and not the same one twice, but you have to be brave enough to make mistakes. The company had been too bothered with internal focuses. Consumers must be at the centre of everything and we must also have ‘best-in-class’ relationships with retail.

Have you finally stopped haemorrhaging staff?

For sure, we are hiring now. A few weeks ago we had up to 45 vacancies in Europe, but now we have got that down to around 25. Turn rate has been too high, particularly in the UK, but it won’t go on like this.

This is a great place to work. I want people to enjoy what they do. The video games business is not a nine to five industry, there is a lot of work involved, however what we don’t want to do is burn people out.

Will Activision look to further European-ise its portfolio?

We are already doing this. Yes, Europe is a big focus for us. There are lots of opportunities in Europe in terms of IP and development, perhaps more than in the US.

How does Activision see the importance of downloadable content going forward?

We do not expect downloads to become the dominant distribution method in the short term. Consumers can already download content for our PC games and via Xbox Live. We have had success with downloadable tracks for Guitar Hero or maps for Call of Duty. This will become more important on next-gen formats, but really we see this as an addition for games at retail.

Downloads were worth $6m to us in our last fiscal year, but compare that to the size of the business. Even in five years, I expect downloads to only be worth a maximum of around 15 per cent of the market.

And format support?

We are a multi-platform publisher, which spreads the risk for us. If one format disappoints, we can look to make it up elsewhere.

Next generation formats are very important, of course. However many companies pulled out of PSOne too early and we will stay loyal to PS2, for example. After all, it is still the biggest installed base. Activision will have games ready for the PS2 next Christmas and probably the Christmas after that as well. There is still a long way to go yet.

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