Activision, the first third-party video game developer and distributor, was founded on October 1, 1979. That is, it did not maintain exclusivity with any particular console, so its games were released freely on the platform of its convenience.
Before this foundation, computer and console manufacturers developed and published games exclusively for their platform. As was the case with Atari, which was the sole game distributor for its the Atari 2600.
Back then, there was no such thing as a “third-party developer” concept, so it was commonly thought that to make console games, you first had to make one. But Activision broke with that idea and started a trend that continues to this day, as well as being responsible for immensely popular video game franchises like Call of Duty, Guitar Hero, and Tony Hawk.
At Atari’s offices in 1979, following the purchase of the company by Warner Communications, a report began to circulate listing the best-selling cartridges for the previous year. Then, some developers realized that they had been the ones who created these popular games and that they had not received any bonuses or recognition for it.
Out of a team of thirty-five developers, four of them — David Crane, Larry Kaplan, Alan Miller, and Bob Whitehead — had produced games that accounted for 60 percent of Atari’s sales.
That is why that group, known as the Gang of Four (Gang of four), left Atari to form his own company alongside former music industry executive Jim Levy. With the insights from their previous work, the programmers planned to develop their own games for the Atari 2600, while contrasting the moves of that company by treating the developers like rock stars. Thus began Activision.
Atari soon realized its mistake in allowing top talent to leave the company, and its first response was to try to sue the fledgling company to disappear, charging it with copyright and patent infringement in 1980. Atari attorneys They continued to persecute Activision for the next two years, but their complaint was eventually dismissed.
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Activision’s first games –Dragster, Boxing, Fishing Derby and Checkers— were released in 1980, and while they were well received, the first game from the new company to sell more than a million units was Kaboom!, released a year later. However, the real success came with Pitfall! in 1982, which quickly became one of the best-selling Atari 2600 games, surpassing four million copies.
At the time, the video game industry was booming, fueled by arcade machines and home console games, but in 1983 the troubles began.
“In response to the success of Activision, a lot of copycats appeared. In a six-month period between CES trade shows, 30 companies emerged determined to be the next Activision, ”according to David crane. However, he claimed that “these companies developed poor quality games.”
“As these companies were unable to sell their games and went bankrupt one after another, some opportunistic entrepreneurs jumped into action. In stores, unsold game cartridges were bought for $ 3 each, sold in stores for $ 4 each, and retailed for $ 5 each, ”Crane said.
In Activision they thought that this crisis would not affect them, but they were wrong. According to Crane, even though gamers wanted the company’s latest title, which cost about $ 40, parents could get eight games for their kids for that price. So Activision’s sales were down even when they were offering the best quality games.
After this, the company decided to expand by taking Atari games to other consoles, such as Intellivision and ColecoVision, and developing games for a new market: the PC. To bolster his ambition, in 1986 he bought Infocom, creators of the Zork franchise. But three years later, Activision closed it.
In the following years the company underwent several corporate transformations, including a name change to Mediagenic and its extension to software outside of the video game industry. He also had multiple financial problems and patent infringement lawsuits.
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Finally, in 1992, the company was renamed Activision, moved from Silicon Valley to Santa Monica and began producing only video games; and since then it has not stopped.
He returned to the charge with Return to Zork in ’94, and during that decade it released a number of major games, such as Mechwarrior 2, Quake II, Return to Castle Wolfenstein and Tony Hawk Pro Skater. Later, in the 2000s, it also laid the foundations for large franchises such as Call of duty, Doom 3, Guitar hero and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance.
Activision is currently one of the largest third-party companies in the world and has the merit of being the first of its kind. For decades, it has not only delivered groundbreaking titles to gamers, but it also contributed immensely to the video game industry by revolutionizing the way games were produced and marketed.