Surprise, surprise, another huge game company CEO has come out and said that they don’t think their games should be political. It just so happens that CEO is Bobby Kotick, that game company is Activision Blizzard. You know, the company that just published Call of Duty: Modern Warfare?
Speaking at the CNBC Evolve conference yesterday, Kotick responded to a question over how he had grown as a CEO, delving into the politics in video games debate.
“We’re not the operator of the world’s town halls,” Kotick said. “We’re the operator of the communities that allow you to have fun through the lens of a video game.” You know, innocent fun like shooting other digital people with realistic guns and calling in white phosphorous air strikes.
He continued, ““My responsibility is to make sure that our communities feel safe, secure, comfortable and satisfied and entertained, and so I don’t—I don’t—that doesn’t convey to me the right to have a platform for a lot of political views, I don’t think. I think my responsibility is to satisfy our audiences and our stakeholders, our employees, our shareholders.”
Just as a quick reminder here, Activision’s biggest release of 2019 is a remake and reimagining of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, dragging the shooter series back from future and sci-fi settings to revisit the geopolitical relationships between the US, Russia and the Middle East. Yes, the Middle Eastern country of Urzikstan is fictional, but you’re fighting against and villifying Russian forces, there are numerous touch points to real world events, and analogues to real world terrorist groups. It’s no wonder that Russian COD players were a bit miffed at being the bad guys. Again.
Kotick’s right, of course, in that his responsibility is to satisfy his audience, stakeholders, employees and shareholders, and a big part of that is to make sure that his company’s products don’t rock the boat too much. Sure, you can be a bit edgy now and then, but openly criticising the governments and actions of the biggest and most lucrative markets is not going to be good for press. In the case of China, it can simply see your products banned, and that wouldn’t be great right now when Call of Duty: Mobile just launched.
But here’s the thing, even if you personally insist that your games have no political point to make, just by the very existence of something that is only very loosely detached from real world events creates that “town hall” environment where what it depicts can be discussed.
The irony is that Kotick admires other CEOs who will more actively engage with politics. It’s just that, as Kotaku quips, “Apparently he is not one of them.”
Kotick said, “I think there are some business people who are incredible examples of character and integrity and principle and have what you see are the great attributes of leadership, and I think that they are incredibly inspiring for me. But I think, you know, they do have the right to articulate views and visions and voices about government and policy and politics, and I love engaging with those people.”
Maybe he can give Hearthstone player Ng “Blitzchung” Wai a call and engage with him about his suspension for articulating his views and visions about government policy and politics? No? Don’t want to?
Probably wouldn’t keep those shareholders satisfied…