Activision Publishing, Inc. is an American video game publisher. It was founded on October 1, 1979 and was the world's first independent developer and distributor of video games for gaming consoles. Its first products were cartridges for the Atari 2600 video console system published from July 1980 for the US market and from August 1981 for the international market (UK). Activision is now one of the largest third party video game publishers in the world and was also the top publisher for 2007 in the United States.
Its former CEO is Robert Kotick, who was the Chief Executive Officer of Activision, Inc. since February 1991 until Activision and Vivendi Games merged on July 9, 2008 to create the newly formed company known as Activision Blizzard. On July 25, 2013, Activision Blizzard announced the purchase of 429 million shares from owner Vivendi, valuing US$2.34 billion, becoming an independent company.
Before Activision, third-party developers did not exist. Software for video game consoles were published exclusively by 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, as they received neither financial rewards nor credit for games that sold well.
Atari programmers David Crane, Larry Kaplan, Alan Miller, and Bob Whitehead met with Atari CEO Ray Kassar in May 1979 to demand that the company treat developers as record labels treated musicians, with royalties and their names on game boxes. Kaplan, who called the others "the best designers for the  in the world", recalled that Kassar called the four men "towel designers" and that "anyone can do a cartridge." Crane, Miller, and Whitehead left Atari and founded Activision in October 1979 with former music industry executive Jim Levy and venture capitalist Richard Muchmore; Kaplan joined soon. David Crane has said the name "Activision" was based on Jim Levy's idea to combine 'active' and 'television'. The original name proposed for the company was VSync, Inc.
Unlike Atari, the company credited and promoted game creators along with the games themselves. The steps taken for this included devoting a page to the developer in their instruction manuals and challenging players to send in a high score (usually as a photograph, but letters were acceptable) in order to receive an embroidered patch. These approaches helped the newly formed company attract experienced talent. In recognition of this step, Kaplan, Levy, Miller, and Whitehead received the Game Developers Choice "First Penguin" award in 2003.
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 not settled until 1982. As the market for game consoles started to decline, Activision branched out, producing game titles for home computers and acquiring smaller publishers.
In 1982, Activision released Pitfall! on the Atari 2600. Designed and developed by David Crane, it was a huge success. Many clones of the game were introduced, including stand-up arcade games. On June 13, 1986, Activision purchased struggling text adventure pioneer Infocom. Jim Levy was a big fan of Infocom's titles and wanted the company to remain solvent. 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 its management. 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 Silicon Valley headquarters. Five of them accepted this offer.
In 1988, Activision began involvement in software besides video games, such as business applications. As a result, Activision changed its corporate name to Mediagenic to have a name that globally represented all its activities. Under the Mediagenic holding company, Activision continued to publish video games for various platforms, notably the Nintendo Entertainment System, the Sega Master System, the Atari 7800, Atari ST, Commodore 64 and Amiga.
Following a multi-million judgment on damages in a patent infringement suit, wherein infringement had been determined many years prior during the Levy era, a financially weakened Mediagenic was taken over by an investor group led by Robert Kotick. After taking over the company, the new management filed for a Chapter 11 reorganization. In the reorganization, the company merged Mediagenic with The Disc Company. Mediagenic continued to develop games for PCs and video game consoles, and resumed making strategic acquisitions. After emerging from bankruptcy, Mediagenic officially changed its entity name back to Activision in December 1992 and became a Delaware Corporation (it was previously a California Corporation). At that point, Activision moved its headquarters from Silicon Valley (originally in Mountain View and later in Santa Clara) to Santa Monica in Southern California and from then on concentrated on video gaming.
In 1991, Activision packaged 20 of Infocom's past games into a CD-ROM collection called The Lost Treasures of Infocom, without 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.
Activision published the first-person perspective MechWarrior in 1989, based on FASA's pen-and-pencil game BattleTech. A sequel, MechWarrior 2, was released in 1995 after two years of delays and internal struggles, prompting FASA not to renew their licensing deal with Activision. To counter, Activision released several more games bearing the MechWarrior 2 name, which did not violate their licensing agreement. These included NetMech, MechWarrior 2: Ghost Bears Legacy, and MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries. The entire MechWarrior 2 game series accounted for more than US$70 million in sales.
Activision procured the license to another pen-and-paper-based war game, Heavy Gear, in 1997. The video game version was well received by critics, with an 81.46% average rating on GameRankings and being considered the best game of the genre at the time by GameSpot. The Mechwarrior 2 engine was also used in other Activision games, including 1997's Interstate '76 and finally 1998's Battlezone.
Merger with Vivendi
In December 2007, it was announced that Activision would merge with Vivendi Games, which owned fellow games developer and publisher Blizzard, and the merger would close in July 2008. The new company was called Activision Blizzard and was headed by Activision's former CEO, Robert Kotick. Vivendi was the biggest shareholder in the new group. The new company was estimated to be worth US$18.9 billion, ahead of Electronic Arts, which was valued at US$14.1 billion.
The Sledgehammer Games micro site went live on December 8, 2009 with information on the studio development team, location, and current job openings. Speculation on the studio's next game has been offered by industry sites, Kotaku and Gamasutra. The studio's first game was originally planned to be a first-person shooter in the Call of Duty series, with rumors of MMO aspects, as revealed on their website on June 19, 2010. However, after the resignation of many Infinity Ward employees, Sledgehammer Games was brought in to help with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.
On February 9, 2011, Activision announced that it was ending its once profitable Guitar Hero franchise, in the process doing a layoff of approximately 500 people. At the same time it announced that it was discontinuing development of True Crime: Hong Kong, and that it was refocusing its efforts into a new online service named Call of Duty: Elite for its IP Call of Duty. At the same meeting these announcements were made, Activision reported net losses of $233 million for fourth quarter 2010.
Activision has recently (mid-2011) restarted its in-house development team, releasing Generator Rex: Agent of Providence in October 2011 for PlayStation 3, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo DS, Wii, and Xbox 360. The game was roundly ignored by critics, with no review scores available on Metacritic as of February 2012.
Acquisitions and partnerships
|1997||Raven Software made an exclusive publishing deal with Activision and was subsequentally acquired by them. This partnership resulted in Hexen II, Heretic II, Soldier of Fortune, its sequel and Quake 4. That same year, Activision acquired CentreSoft Ltd., (an independent distributor in the United Kingdom) and NBG Distribution (a German distributor).|
|1998||Pandemic Studios was founded with an equity investment by Activision. Pandemic's first two games, Battlezone II: Combat Commander and Dark Reign 2, were both sequels to Activision games. That same year, Activision also inked deals with Marvel Entertainment, Head Game Publishing, Disney Interactive, LucasArts Entertainment and CD Contact Data.|
|1999||Activision acquired Neversoft, best recognized for their line of Tony Hawk skateboarding games. That same year, Activision acquired Expert Software (maker of Home Design 3D).|
|2000||Activision made an equity investment in Gray Matter Interactive, to develop the follow-up to id Software's Wolfenstein 3D.|
|2001||Activision acquired rights to Columbia Pictures' feature film Spider-Man. That same year, Activision also acquired Treyarch.|
|2002||Activision made an equity investment in Infinity Ward, a newly formed studio comprising 22 of the individuals who developed Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. That same year, Activision acquired Z-Axis Games (the studio behind Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX) and Luxoflux Corporation.|
|2003||Activision and DreamWorks SKG inked a multi-year, multi-property publishing agreement. That same year, Activision also formed a partnership with Valve and acquired both Infinity Ward (developers of the Call of Duty franchise) and software developer Shaba Games LLC.|
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.
|2004||The company marked its 25th anniversary, and stated that it had posted record earnings and the twelfth consecutive year of revenue growth.|
|2005||Activision acquired ShaderWorks, acquired game developers Vicarious Visions, Toys for Bob and Beenox.|
|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 for release in May 2008 being developed by Treyarch, Beenox and Vicarious Visions. Also in 2006, Activision acquired publisher RedOctane (the publisher of the Guitar Hero franchise).|
|2007||Activision acquired the control of games developer Bizarre Creations.|
|2008||Merger with Vivendi Games (who owned Blizzard and Sierra) to become Activision Blizzard.|
|2008||Activision acquired UK games studio FreeStyleGames.|
|2009||Activision acquired Los Angeles based developer 7 Studios.|
|2010||Partnership with Bungie.|
Activision announced that Sledgehammer Games will be making Call of Duty games.
|2011||Beachhead Studios is developing the ELITE website for the Call of Duty games.|
|2016||Activision acquires $46 million USD worth of assets from Major League Gaming to develop Activision's esports activities|
- See also: List of Activision Blizzard studios
- Beachhead Studios in Santa Monica, California, founded in February 2011.
- Beenox in Québec City, Québec, Canada, founded in May 2000, acquired on May 25, 2005.
- Demonware in both Dublin, Republic of Ireland and Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, founded in 2003, acquired in May 2007.
- FreeStyleGames in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, United Kingdom, founded in 2002, acquired on September 12, 2008.
- Fun Labs in Bucharest, Romania, founded in 1999.
- High Moon Studios in San Diego, California, founded as Sammy Corporation in April 2001, acquired by Vivendi Games in January 2006.
- Infinity Ward in Woodland Hills, California, founded in 2002, acquired in October 2003.
- Radical Entertainment in Vancouver, Canada, founded in 1991, acquired by Vivendi Games in 2005.
- Raven Software in Madison, Wisconsin, founded in 1990, acquired in 1997.
- Sledgehammer Games in Foster City, California, founded on July 21, 2009.
- Toys for Bob in Novato, California, founded in 1989, acquired on May 3, 2005.
- Treyarch in Santa Monica, California, founded in 1996, acquired in 2001.
- Vicarious Visions in Menands, New York, founded in 1990, acquired in January 2005.
- The Blast Furnace in Leeds, United Kingdom, founded in November 2011 as Activision Leeds, changed rename in August 2012, closed in March 2014.
- Gray Matter Interactive in Los Angeles, California, founded in the 1990s as Xatrix Entertainment, acquired in January 2002, merged into Treyarch in 2005.
- Infocom in Cambridge, Massachusetts, founded on June 22, 1979, acquired in 1986, closed in 1989.
- Luxoflux in Santa Monica, California, founded in January 1997, acquired in October 2002, closed on February 11, 2010.
- Shaba Games in San Francisco, California, founded in September 1997, acquired in 2002, and closed on October 8, 2009.
- RedOctane in Mountain View, California, founded in November 2005, acquired in 2006, closed on February 11, 2010.
- Underground Development in Redwood Shores, California, founded as Z-Axis in 1994, acquired in May 2002, closed on February 11, 2010.
- Budcat Creations in Iowa City, Iowa, founded in September 2000, acquired on November 10, 2008, closed in November 2010.
- 7 Studios in Los Angeles, California, founded in 1999, acquired on April 6, 2009, closed in February 2011.
- Bizarre Creations in Liverpool, England, founded as Raising Hell Productions in 1987 and changed name in 1994, acquired on September 26, 2007, closed on February 18, 2011.
- Neversoft in Los Angeles, California, founded in July 1994, acquired in October 1999, merged into Infinity Ward on May 3, 2014 and was officially made defunct on July 10, 2014.
- Wanako Studios in New York City, founded in 2005, acquired by Vivendi Games on February 20, 2007, sold to Artificial Mind and Movement on November 20, 2008.
- Swordfish Studios in Birmingham, England, founded in September 2002, acquired by Vivendi Universal Games in June 2005, sold to Codemasters on November 14, 2008.
- Massive Entertainment in Malmö, Sweden, founded in 1987, acquired by Vivendi Universal Games in 2002, sold to Ubisoft on November 10, 2008.
Notable games published