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Published on March 19th, 2011 | by Charlie

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Dan Amrich (OneOfSwords) Interview

Activision is one of the largest video game developers/publishers that are out there, so there’s no doubt you’ve heard of them. They’ve published games such as the widely aclaimed “Call of Duty”, the now ended “Guitar Hero” franchise, the “True Crime” franchise and standalone games such as Singularity and Blur. Upcoming releases consist of the new Transformers movie game (Dark of the Moon), the newest Call of Duty title, and Prototype 2. When I got the chance to ask Dan Amrich, who works for Activision, and who you may know as @OneofSwords from twitter, I had to take up this opportunity. Check out the interview below!

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1. So tell us some things about yourself.

I’m Dan Amrich and I started writing professionally in 1993. My early career path was as a music reviewer, but when I realized I could write about games as well (or as it eventually turned out, instead), I transitioned, much to the chagrin of my writing mentor, who thought games were a fad. But I went on to write for GamePro, Official Xbox Magazine, PC Gamer, GamesRadar, Wired, and was the editor-in-chief of the official World of Warcraft magazine. After 16 years of working in the media, Activision asked if I wanted to jump the fence and be the community manager for the company — they saw what Major Nelson does for Microsoft and thought that someone doing a similar role could be beneficial for Activision, too. We talked at length about what that would entail, and I realized I’d still be able to write the way I wanted to write, so I gave it a shot. I joined Activision at the beginning of 2010.
In unrelated weirdness, my hobbies include writing and recording videogame parody songs and juggling dangerous objects. You’ll find evidence of both out there if you look hard enough.

2. What’s your full role at Activision?

My technical title is Social Media Manager; my reality is more like blogger and community manager. I keep conversations going with the community on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, you name it — I act as a two-way conduit. I have information to share and I can clarify facts when rumors get out of control, but I also collect feedback from the community, and bring it back to the people who can put it to the best use. Everything I do with and for the community — podcasting, giveaways, blogging, offering clarity — is under the name OneOfSwords, including the home base at oneofswords.com.  (The About page explains the name, too.)

3. Which of Activision’s published games is your favorite and why?

I’ve gone on record as a huge fan of Interstate 76, one of Activision’s PC games from the late 90s. It’s an alternate 1970s where automotive vigilantes roam the southwest in heavily armored muscle cars. I think we all find games at some point that we feel are made for us, or that we appreciate more than the average person — and I76 was that kind of special game for me. More recently, my favorite Activision game last year was Blur — cars and weapons again, so clearly I have road rage issues. I loved the pick-up-and-play vibe, the presentation, and the 20-person multiplayer.

4. So Activision and EA have been enemies for quite a while. For those who don’t know from the start, why are you both?

I don’t think that’s the case — in fact, I think it’s entirely the wrong word to use and the wrong way to look at it. I would not call Ford and Chevy enemies, but I would say they’re competitors — they both make products aimed at the same audience and they each would like to be as successful as possible. Do you see the Yankees and the Red Sox as enemies? I think they’re rivals — they take pride in winning their games and they each want to get to the World Series. And not only would I not call Apple and Microsoft enemies, but I’d note that Apple makes iTunes for Windows while Microsoft makes Office for Macintosh. In reality, Activision and EA are competitors —  they are both major companies in the same industry and they share a common goal: to make good games that the audience wants to buy. There’s really no need for melodrama.

5. Any recent information on the lawsuit between Activision and EA?

I only know what’s been reported already. I’m not a lawyer nor do I have any desire to be one, so I have no more insight on this than you do. The legal documents are out there for anyone to read in full, so I read them. Then I went back to playing games because I found games more interesting!

6. Do you have friends at EA, as well as at other rival developers/publishers, and is it hard when their company is against Activision or have a game that’s competition?

Well, after so many years in the media and going to trade shows, of course I have friends at EA! Jeff Green was doing a job similar to mine at EA last year, as a community manager on behalf of a large publisher, and we talked often. We laughed about people thinking there was some sort of blood feud between us, or that there even should be. We all love games; we are all happy to be working at companies that have some relation to them. Like I said, there will be company rivalries, and I think all gamers are naturally competitive, but…why on earth would you make some corporate competition into something personal? The real world is not an internet forum — and thank heavens for that.

7. Besides your job now and jobs you’ve had in the past, have you had any other ambitions in the gaming industry?

I self-identify as a writer; I have no regrets because my entire career path has been focused on writing. But the one thing I’ve always wanted to do in the game industry is voice-overs. I’d love to be Henchman #4 or some minor character in some game, behind the microphone. I have done some voice-over work for other projects but never for a game. Maybe someday I’ll get the chance.

8. What went through Activision’s minds when the recent countdown for the now revealed Modern Warfare fan-film got people talking?

Activision’s comment was run by several media outlets; check it out when you get a chance. But when I saw the trailer, it was pretty clear that those fans were really inspired and motivated to do something about a game they loved, and I see that as a huge compliment to the game.

9. Activision has had… mixed reception from gamers. Do you think Activision may ever recieve a gamers trust?

This is an interestingly slanted question, in that it assumes that Activision does not have gamers’ trust now. There are definitely some loud critics out there, and some of those loud critics have valid points. But while you may be using it as a euphemism, “mixed” is the correct word to use. I see some gamers say “this is wrong” and “I’m not happy with this” — and sometimes they’re not that polite — but I also see other gamers say “I’m looking forward to this upcoming game” or “I played your game all weekend and really enjoyed it.” One does not overshadow the other; they’re both valid.
Like I said, a big part of my job is to act as a two-way communicator between Activision and gamers. In that role, I am often asked for the temperature of the community — how do people feel about this, what did you learn about that, what was well-received as well as what needs improvement. So yeah, there are unhappy customers — and there are happy customers too, which makes Activision completely unremarkable in the business world. But I’ve found that if you focus too much attention on the feedback from either group — if all you listen to is praise or hatred — you’re going to find yourself working with flawed data. A balanced view gives you a far more accurate picture, and one that you can use to try to improve.

10. Back to you now, besides Activision games, are there any games you are looking forward to?

Sure. I enjoy poker, so I was very eager to try Full House Poker on XBLA, and I’m sneaking as much of that into this weekend as I can manage. I preordered Mortal Kombat with the joystick, because arcade games and controls are my roots — I love coin-op games and everything I’ve seen (and played) on the upcoming MK makes my inner fan very happy. I’m also looking forward to Portal 2, particularly playing with my wife in co-op mode on PC, now that we’ve gone through Borderlands and Left 4 Dead 2 together. And I don’t think I’ll be able to resist Bioshock Infinite, but I do need to crack the seal on BioShock 2 first. My “games I need to play” pile is always significant. Not being able to play all the games I want to play in a timely manner is an occupational hazard.

11. How do you think the new generation of games developers (such as myself) will cope with all the tax starting to come into play in certain countries?

I’m sorry, I have no idea how to answer this question, as I have no expertise in business or accounting, let alone international tax law. Actually “expertise” is giving me too much credit: I’m dumb as a stump on this subject.

12. Final question, Modern Warfare 3? Haha.

Your final question seems to be missing an actual question. 🙂 The most recent Call of Duty game that has been announced is Black Ops, and the team at Treyarch is still releasing DLC. First Strike has not yet come to PC, so that’s next on deck.

13. The real final question: Will people be pleased at what they may see at E3 from Activision this year?

Hmm…if I say yes, people will say I’m a corporate shill; if I say no, it’ll make national headlines for dissing Activision. Sadly, the truth is far less interesting: I haven’t heard what the final plans are for E3 yet (and I’ve asked!), so I just don’t know. I’ve got my registration confirmation for the show, so I’ll report at oneofswords.com about whatever winds up happening!
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Thank you very much Dan for taking the opportunity for the interview! Remember to follow Dan on twitter, @OneofSwords,  and go to his website, oneofswords.com.

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About the Author

Some say I should be a video game journalist, others say a video game designer. Shame you can't be both.



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