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Pachter's complete, 'researched' response to Gamers' Voice controversy

Analyst slams consumer group in new statement over "unfinished" Black Ops

Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter took the time to email us this afternoon with a more detailed and "researched" opinion on Gamers' Voice's decision to take Activision to task over Call of Duty: Black Ops, which the UK consumer lobby group has labelled unfit for sale.

Earlier this week, Gamers' Voice accused Activision of treating PS3 and PC Black Ops players like game testers by releasing "unfinished" products, and said it plans to report the publisher "to the relevant government agencies".

In response to requests for comment from other media outlets regarding the situation, Pachter - who admits to knowing nothing about the group prior to the weekend - labelled Gamers' Voice a "crybaby", and argued that the release of buggy games is neither rare nor unacceptable.

Pachter's words were met with a rebuke from Gamers' Voice, which said in a statement released this morning that his comments were inaccurate, insulting and laughable.

Pachter has since sent us a thorough and researched response to Gamers' Voice's views and the whole controversy surrounding the performance of Black Ops on PS3 and PC.

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In it, he made it clear to us that his original comments about Gamers' Voice were based on information he had been given by those requesting his point of view. Now that he has done his own research, his views remain unchanged. Pachter told us:

"Now that I have had the opportunity to take their comments into consideration, I think that I may have insulted all crybabies by using that word to describe Gamers' Voice. They seem genuinely unaware about standards for product performance in the UK and elsewhere; products must perform adequately, not flawlessly, unless there are safety or health concerns.

"As far as I am aware, none of the bugs in Black Ops cause people to have seizures, so I'm pretty sure that health is not a concern. I am also not aware of any issues with safety, unless the Gamers' Voice organization is concerned that the overweight segment of the gaming population might suffer if they have to arise from the sofa to re-boot their PS3s when they seize up.

"According to Activision figures from December, over 600 million hours were logged playing Black Ops between November 9 and December 21, so some people must have been able to play the game (the math works out to around 10 million people playing 10 hours a week for six weeks), suggesting that the bugs didn't get in the way of people's ability to enjoy the experience.

"Three days later, Activision said that the number of registered players "[w]ould be the third largest state in the U.S.", implying at least 20 million users (New York has a population of 19.5 million, and is our third largest state).

"Given that tens of millions of people have managed to play Black Ops for hundreds of millions of hours, I can only conclude that the game works sufficiently well so as to allow for hundreds of millions of hours of game play.

"The publisher is responsible for delivering a quality experience, not a perfect one. If they hope to sell a large number of units, they have to ensure that games are relatively bug free, and must correct bugs as soon as practicable when reported.

"I'm sure that more quality control could eliminate bugs ahead of time, but more quality control takes time, and could cause launch dates to be missed. The publishers are in the business of selling games at a profit, and they have clearly determined that it is more cost effective (and hence more profitable) to patch errors after the fact than to delay release dates and patch them ahead of time.

"Gamers have the choice of buying a game or not, and rely upon the gaming press to highlight issues with games. I read at least 100 game reviews a year, and almost all point out bugs in games. When a game's review scores decline from a prior version (Black Ops received average scores in the high 80s, compared to Modern Warfare 2's average score of 94), the gamer is on notice that it's not quite as good as the prior version.

"I appreciate that Gamers' Voice doesn't agree with my view that the specialist press is responsible to point out errors, but their "laughable" comment is not only insulting, but plainly shows how ill equipped they are to represent their constituency.

"The ONLY purpose of game review sites is to help gamers make decisions about which games to play, and they generally do a great job of highlighting problems with games.

"Gamers' Voice can continue its quixotic quest to cause Activision to respond to a regulatory inquiry, or could take a more traditional approach and try to unite gamers to take a more civilized approach.

"A regulatory appeal will likely not go very far, as Activision is much better capitalized than Gamers' Voice, and can drag things on for many years. A more effective approach would be to get members to boycott the offending product, or to engage members in a letter writing campaign.

"However, given that PS3 Patch 1.06 has already been released, it looks to me like Activision is trying to promptly fix all bugs, and intends to continue to do so.

"I still think that Gamers' Voice are crybabies, and it's OK to label me arrogant, as that's an appropriate term. It's not my job to be concerned about the gaming audience, but it is DEFINITELY the publishers' job to be concerned. If they alienate their customers, they won't be as profitable.

"Gamers' Voice appears incredibly na´ve in their approach, thinking that they can intimidate the world's largest publisher into delaying the likely best selling game in company history so that they can ensure a bug-free experience.

"Activision has chosen a more balanced approach, releasing the game to 20 million hungry consumers when promised, and fixing bugs as soon as they can thereafter.

"Gamers' Voice is whining about the bugs after the majority of them have been patched, and perhaps their whining will spark more timely patches in the future, but appealing to regulators may give publishers a reason to be wary of the UK market as a more costly place to do business.

"It's my job to advise investors, and many of my clients are owners of Activision stock. Gamers' Voice is right that my bias is on the side of the publishers, and the pragmatist in me recognizes that it is poor business to release inferior products.

"Consumers can't sue companies that make inferior products, unless they are unsafe, cause health problems, or are not fit for the intended purpose, and asking regulators to step in will almost always require some form of proof that the product doesn't work.

"Given the number of hours spent playing Black Ops, Gamers' Voice faces an impossible task in attempting to convince regulators that the game is not fit for its intended purpose; in the absence of health or safety concerns, its plans to report Activision to government agencies is destined to go nowhere."

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