Anyone who is familiar with Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick knows that bad news tends to follow everything he says, everything he does, and everywhere he goes. From his union-busting beliefs and his alleged role in a massive workplace harassment scandal to his oversight of some of the greediest aspects of the modern gaming industry, Kotick practically embodies the definitive cultural example of an evil CEO. He’s like Mr. Burns without the expertly timed jokes about his ambiguous extreme age.
So while Bobby Kotick recently hinted at the return of the long-dormant Guitar Hero franchise, anyone familiar with Kotick probably doesn’t need to be told that it comes with a series of absurdly disheartening potential caveats.
As reported by Windows Central, Kotick recently held an all-hands company meeting regarding Microsoft’s pending acquisition of his company and other topics related to Activision Blizzard’s future. Though the talk covered a number of fascinating subjects, one of the more notable moments occurred when Kotick discussed the potential return of several legacy Activision Blizzard franchises. Interestingly enough, Kotick not only referenced the Guitar Hero franchise during that discussion but addressed it in a way that suggests that its return may be more than hypothetical.
“The re-emergence of Guitar Hero and other things would not be possible without the different types of resources,” Kotick says. “And so, you know, just the endless possibilities for the future that are just incredibly exciting.”
Well, that certainly sounds promising. Though the rhythm game genre died relatively quickly and painfully due to the rapid oversaturation of that market, time has healed many of those wounds. It’s easier than ever to be nostalgic for the unique experiences those games provided and what the Guitar Hero franchise, in particular, means to gaming and a generation of fans.
But wait…what is all that about “different types of resources” and “the endless possibilities for the future?” Well, at a different point in the discussion, Kotick suggests that the return of Guitar Hero could be tied to the adoption of several controversial pieces of technology.
“A big part of what I’ve seen in Microsoft is research. And they do development in areas that are extraordinary,” Kotick explains. “And so being able to tap into their AI and machine learning capability, the data analytics, new ways of thinking about graphics — I just see unlimited potential for what we do.”
Kotick also suggested that the use of Elon Musk’s Neuralink technology (an implanted chip that will reportedly enable brain-machine interface opportunities) could be a big part of Guitar Hero‘s return.
“I talked a little earlier about the physical experience of interacting with something on screen,” Kotick says. “I think you’ll see things like Neuralink — you’ll actually be able to interact with things on the screen, where there isn’t a controller.”
Truth be told, I have no interest in creating enough room for the benefit of the doubt required to pretend that any of that sounds like anything less than a corporate nightmare.
Kotick’s history of making decisions that are ultimately bad for gamers and good for Bobby Kotick should certainly be the first big red flag here. Technology like machine learning, data analytics, and Neuralink are, at best, shaping up to be the latest examples of business buzzwords that people like Kotick love to toss around and invest an absurd amount of money in to generate excitement among the filthy rich in his orbit who will sooner high five each other over a tech demo as they will bother to ask questions. The continued investment in such areas (and the poor thinking that leads to those investments) is part of the reason why the video game industry is currently suffering massive layoffs despite seemingly record profits in so many major areas.
At worst, such technologies are potentially actively harmful to employment opportunities, artistic growth, and increasingly dwindling personal security and privacy. Then again, that’s the thing about the Bobby Koticks of the world. You never quite know whether their decisions are based on their evil intentions, incompetency, or a little bit of both. At a certain point, though, it stops mattering what the logic is. In all cases, we all have to live with the consequences of their actions that they continue to avoid by virtue of being allowed to exist in the bubble that made it easy to justify such decisions in the first place.
Unfortunately, it also makes sense that Guitar Hero is tied up in something like this. For years, studios everywhere have been more than happy to use our nostalgia to fuel the worst parts of their respective industries. Despite Kotick’s claims, a revival of that franchise would indeed be “possible” without the use of these technologies that he wields like a knife. After all, these games were possible in the first place (and quite popular) without the use of any of that technology.
Yet, it’s all too easy to imagine a Neuralink-driven version of Guitar Hero that utilizes AI-generated songs to provide infinite content being exactly the kind of thing that would excite someone like Kotick. Does it matter that the rhythm game industry was once killed off by such “innovations” that contributed to the aforementioned oversaturation of the marketplace or that nobody really asked for any of this when discussing a Guitar Hero revival in the first place? History sadly suggests that it does not.
There is some hope that Microsoft’s likely acquisition of Activision Blizzard will lead to changes within the company’s culture, leadership structure, and general strategies that will ultimately benefit gamers everywhere. It’s pointless and depressing to completely shoot down hope for that possibility quite yet. However, this rare glimpse into the potential future of that acquisition and the mentality of those currently involved with it does suggest that the players and the games will remain woefully the same.