Sunday, October 29, 2006
Prior to the formation of Activision, software for video game consoles was published exclusively by the makers of the systems for which the games were designed. For example, Atari was the only publisher of games for the Atari 2600. This was particularly galling to the developers of the games, as they received no financial rewards for games that did well, and didn't even receive credit in the manuals. After watching a number of games turn into multi-million-dollar best sellers, a number of programmers decided they had had enough and left. Activision became the first third-party game publisher for game consoles.
The company was founded by former music industry executive Jim Levy and former Atari programmers David Crane, Larry Kaplan, Alan Miller and Bob Whitehead. Atari's company policy at the time was not to credit game creators for their individual contributions; Levy took the approach of crediting and promoting game creators along with the games themselves. This was an important draw that helped the newly formed company attract experienced talent. Crane, Kaplan, Levy, Miller, and Whitehead received the Game Developers Choice "First Penguin" award in 2003 in recognition of this step.
The departure of the four programmers, whose titles made up more than half of Atari's cartridge sales at the time, caused legal action between the two companies which was not ultimately settled until 1982. As the market for game consoles started to decline, Activision branched out, producing game titles for home computers as well, and acquiring smaller publishers.
In 1982, Activision released Pitfall!, which is considered by many to be the first platform game as well as the best selling title on the 2600. Although the team's technical prowess had already been proven, it was Pitfall! that turned them into a huge success. This not only resulted in a legion of clones, including stand-up arcade games, but can be said to have launched the entire platform genre which became a major part of video games through the 1980s.
In 1985, Activision merged with struggling text adventure pioneer Infocom. Jim Levy was a big fan of Infocom's titles and wanted Infocom to remain solvent. However, about six months after the "InfoWedding", Bruce Davis took over as CEO of Activision. Davis was against the merger from the start and was heavy-handed in management of them. He also forced marketing changes on Infocom which caused sales of their games to plummet. Eventually, in 1989, after several years of losses, Activision closed down the Infocom studios in Cambridge, Massachusetts extending to only 11 of the 26 employees an offer to relocate to Activision's headquarters in Silicon Valley; five did.
In 1988 Activision started to get involved in other types of software besides video games, such as business applications. As a result, Activision changed its corporate name to Mediagenic in order to have a name that would globally represent all its fields of activities.(Mediagenic is often mistaken to be a company that purchased Activision but in reality it was only Activision with a different name). Despite this change, Mediagenic continued to largely use the Activision brand on its video games of the various platforms it was publishing for, notably the Nintendo Entertainment System, the Sega Master System, the Atari 7800, Commodore 64 and Amiga. The decision of the company to get involved in various fields at the expense of video gaming proved to be a move so bad that in 1992 Mediagenic filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
The new Activision
The failure of Mediagenic resulted in a reorganization and merger with The Disc Company with Mediagenic again being the acquirer. After emerging from bankruptcy, Mediagenic officially changed its entity name back to Activision in the state of Delaware on December 1992. At that point Activision moved its headquarters from Silicon Valley to Southern California. While emerging from bankruptcy, it continued to develop games for PCs and video game consoles and resumed making strategic acquisitions. Activision chose from then on to only concentrate itself in video gaming and nothing else.
In 1991 Activision packaged 20 of Infocom's past games into a CD-ROM collection called The Lost Treasures of Infocom sans most of the "feelies" Infocom was famous for. The success of this compilation led to the 1992 release of 11 more Infocom titles in The Lost Treasures of Infocom II.
In 2003, Activision, along with several other game software publishers, was investigated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for its accounting practices, namely the use of the "return reserve" to allegedly smooth quarterly results.
In 2004, the company marked its 25th anniversary, and stated that it had posted record earnings and the twelfth consecutive year of revenue growth.
In 2006, Activision secured the video game license to make games based on the world of James Bond from MGM Interactive. An exclusive agreement between the two begins in September 2007 with Activision's first game set to be released in May 2008.