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From Atari to Activision: How 4 developers laid the foundation of Activision?

Jul 3, 2022

Call of Duty, the game that shaped an entire generation was published by one of the most popular names in the Gaming Industry, Activision. Established back in 1979, Activision was a vision that came into reality after so many ups and downs. In this blog, we'll be talking about Activision’s history and how it evolved over time to reach the position it is at today.


Did you know Activision was founded by a group of Atari employees who left the company upset at their treatment by Atari? This led to the foundation of the first independent, third-party, console video game developer. After a management shift, with CEO Jim Levy replaced by Bruce Davis, the company renamed itself Mediagenic and branched out into business software applications. Mediagenic quickly fell into debt, and the company was bought for around US$500,000 by Bobby Kotick and a small group of investors around 1991. Kotick drastically revamped and restructured the company to get it out of debt: dismissing most of its staff, moving the company to Los Angeles, and reverting to the Activision name

In 2008, this holding company merged with Vivendi Games (the parent company of Blizzard Entertainment) and formed Activision Blizzard, with Kotick as its CEO. Within this structure, Activision manages numerous third-party studios and publishes all games besides those created by Blizzard.

Now, let us take a look at how Activision shaped what it is today through the pages of history.

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In 1976, Warner Communications bought Atari, Inc. from Nolan Bushnell to help accelerate the Atari Video Computer System (Atari VCS or later the Atari 2600) to market by 1977. As mentioned above, 4 employees called Crane, Kaplan, Miller, and Whitehead became vocal about the lack of recognition within the company and became known as the "Gang of Four".

The four made the decision to soon leave Atari and start their own business but were not sure how to go about it. In 1979, the concept of third-party developers did not exist, as software for video game consoles was published exclusively by makers of the systems for which the games were designed; thus the common thinking was that to make console games, one needed to make a console first. The four decided to create their own independent game development company. They were directed by their attorney to Jim Levy, who was at the time raising venture capital to get into the software business for early home computers. Levy listened to their plans, agreed with its direction, and helped the four to secure about $1 million in capital from Sutter Hill Ventures. They also checked with legal counsel on their plans to develop games for the Atari VCS and included litigation fees in their capital investment.

Activision began working out of Crane's garage in the latter half of 1979, each programmer developing their own game that was planned for release in mid-1980, Dragster, Fishing Derby, Checkers, and Boxing. The four's knowledge of the Atari 2600, as well as software tricks for the system, helped them make their own games visually distinct from Atari-produced games. To further distinguish themselves, Activision's boxes were brightly colored and featured an in-game screenshot on the back cover. Instruction manuals for games devoted at least one page to crediting the developer.

That is how Activision was established and how it distinguished itself from Atari to create its own identity just with 4 developers.

Games by Activision

Here's a list of the most popular games published by Activision:

  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II is a first-person shooter developed by Infinity Ward and published by Activision. The game is the sequel to the 2019 Call of Duty: Modern Warfare reboot.
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  • Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy is a compilation of platforming games originally developed by Naughty Dog and fully remade (though marketed as "remastered") by Vicarious Visions. The games included are:

Crash Bandicoot

Crash 2: Cortex Strikes Back

Crash: Warped

All three games feature a shared feature set such as time trials (originally introduced in Warped) and the save system introduced in Crash 2. The trilogy was initially released on the PlayStation 4, later also coming to the Xbox One, Switch, and PC.

  • Transformers: Devastation A character action game based around the first generation of Transformers. You play as one of a handful of Autobots in hopes of stopping Megatron and his Decepticons from taking over Earth. The gameplay is similar to other Platinum Games developed games focusing on light and heavy combos and parrying enemy attacks to give you the advantage.
  • A Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game from PlatinumGames and Activision, based on IDW's comic book version of the mutants.

How Activision is still going strong in the Esports Market?

Activision has been in the industry for a long time. Let us take a look at some of the reasons that made Activision stand out?

  • Even though more companies are entering the gaming space, Activision-Blizzard remains a force in the esports market. This success can be attributed to the company capitalizing on the battle royale trend and creating multiple popular titles across several genres.
  • Activision-Blizzard, one of the world’s biggest video game production companies, is continuing to grow as the world goes through stay-at-home trends.
  • The esports market is highly fragmented, with a large number of small players in the market yet Activision Blizzard Inc. is the largest competitor with 21.85% of the market.

These points prove that despite the long time that Activision has spent in the Gaming Market, it has still managed to keep a hold on its position.

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