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  • How Knight Rider saved Activision (sort of)

    Posted on January 18th, 2010 keving 3 comments

    A neat passage from an interview with Activision Blizzard head Bobby Kotick, printed in the February ’10 Game Informer:

    We had a guy in Japan who was an intern in our Japanese office. A very aggressive guy — an American who spoke Japanese. He would sell things that we didn’t actually have the rights to. The first one he did was Knight Rider. He went to one of the Japanese licensees of Nintendo and sold them the rights to make a game based on Knight Rider. We didn’t own Knight Rider! The deal he did was “You make the game, you get to publish it in Japan, and Activision gets to publish it everywhere else.” So he calls us and says “I just sold Knight Rider” — it was to Tecmo, I think [actually Pack-in-Video]. I said “How much did you sell it for?” He said “$400,000.” I said “That’s incredible, but we don’t own Knight Rider!” So we had to go get the Knight Rider rights.

    It turned out that this was going to be our little business. We’re going to sell rights of things that we could own, and the Japanese publisher will make the game, and we’ll sell it to the rest of the world. We did a lot of these. The next one he did was this old ’60s show Combat! How we got this one, I don’t know, but he got another $200,000 advance. Then, the thing that kept the company alive for the rest of the year was Shanghai. We sold Shanghai to everyone. If you had an LCD screen on your microwave at home, we sold you Shanghai! That got us through the end of 1991.

    It’s a fascinating little peek into the 8-bit era of the game business — even though Kotick’s misremembering a fair bit (and GI apparently didn’t fact-check his tale). Knight Rider was actually sublicensed by Acclaim Entertainment, something that Tom Sloper (a veteran game-industry guy who worked for Activision at the time) confirmed in a GDRI interview. Maybe Kotick heard the story and confused it in his memory such that he thought he was the actual licensor; I dunno.

    He is right, certainly, that Activision got heavily involved with Japanese sub-licensing in the ensuing years. But they never released a Combat! game — Kotick’s probably got that confused with Thunderbirds, a ’60s kids’ TV show and an equally oddball choice for a game license. What? There was a Combat! game? Well, set me on fire and call me Bernie! Still, that came game out in 1995, in Japan only, a fair bit after the 1991 timeframe Kotick was talking about. My apologies; I was still thinking in 8-bit terms — Thunderbirds was a 1990 game, after all.