How Video-Game Maker Activision Is Getting Pwned by a Parody Site

Last Updated Jul 21, 2011 8:52 AM EDT

Activision (ATVS) has its collective undies in a bunch over a parody website aimed at one of its million-dollar video game franchises. The company -- the largest independent video-game publisher around, though you'd never know that from the way it's behaving -- has even filed a domain name dispute against the individuals behind the parody, in a classic heavy-handed corporate attempt to shut it down. While Activision can dish out the virtual mayhem like nobody's business, it apparently can't take it.

The whole mess is now a giant lose-lose for Activision. Either its (likely frivolous) complaint gets tossed and its parodists get more attention in the gaming community -- or it wins, and Activision looks like the very bully its gadflies portray it as. CEO Bobby Kotick -- who has publicly acknowledged that he can sometimes "come across as being like a dick" -- apparently sat out those crisis-management classes on dealing with this kind of situation.

What the fuss is about
The game is Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, the latest in a series of bloody, "reality-based" military-style shoot-'em-ups. If the alien-shooter Halo was the flagship of the previous consoles, the gritty Modern Warfare is the series of choice for today's hardcore gamers: sales are well into the billions.

The parody site, ModernWarfare3.com, takes direct aim at Activision and these hardcore gamers. Bitingly sarcastic, it features a Monty Python video mocking Modern Warfare in a fashion reminiscent of the viral Hitler Downfall videos. In the Modern Warfare video, a redubbed Michael Palin (as Pontius Pilate from Life of Brian) demands his legion respect him for liking Modern Warfare 3. They can't hold back their laughter -- even under the threat of death:

Below the video is a blurb, partially excerpted below:

Modern Warfare is back! On November 8, 2011, the most over-hyped first-person action series of all-time returns with the copy and paste sequel to the lackluster Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.


Ouch. What's more painful is that the parody has racked up more than 17,000 likes on Facebook.

Filed last week, Activision's domain name dispute claims that the parodists don't have the right to use the ModernWarfare3.com URL, since it initially directed gamers to Modern Warfare's competing series, Electronic Arts' (ERTS) Battlefield. The website now has actual content, and Activision obviously felt it was too big to ignore.

Face the facts
Activision should have ignored the website, though. Here are a few facts it should remember:

  • Some people are going to hate your product no matter what: It will always be Coke vs. Pepsi and McDonald's vs. Burger King. Get over it.
  • Better to support the supporters than to try to shut down the dissenters: When the fake BPGlobalPR account began mocking the oil company for its incompetence, BP tried to get it shut down -- and failed. However, as my BNET colleague Catherine P. Taylor pointed out at the time, the real BP Twitter account had only half the followers of the fake one!
  • If at all possible, don't take the little guy to court: It will frustrate the people who are supporting you and excite the very people who dislike you.
Activision should know better: Gamers (myself included) are extremist, as things either suck or are the "best thing evar". If anything, a "successful" outcome will multiply the Modern Warfare parodies quicker than wet Gremlins. Activision will soon learn that it can't take a stick to everyone who laughs at it.

Photo courtesy of Mini D
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