Activision Sues Viacom for Not Marketing Star Trek Enough

Courtesy of Blue’s/Frans, here’s the Activision press release: Yahoo Finance - Stock Market Live, Quotes, Business & Finance News. In their words:

In its complaint, which was filed in the Superior Court of the State of California on June 30, 2003, Activision accused Viacom of breaching its fundamental promise to continue exploiting the Star Trek franchise consistent with its practice at the time the agreement was signed in 1998. “Activision cannot successfully develop and sell Star Trek video games without the product exploitation and support promised by Viacom. A continuing pipeline of movie and television production, and related marketing, is absolutely crucial to the success of video games based on a property such as Star Trek,” charged Activision in its court filings.

However, through its actions and inactions, Viacom has let the once proud Star Trek franchise stagnate and decay. Viacom has released only one “Star Trek” movie since entering into agreement with Activision and has recently informed Activision it has no current plans for further “Star Trek” films. Viacom also has allowed two “Star Trek” television series to go off the air and the remaining series suffers from weak ratings. Viacom also frustrated Activision’s efforts to coordinate the development and marketing of its games with Viacom’s development and marketing of its new movies and television series.


Is Activision referring to the losses incurred from its half-assed Star Trek properties? Or perhaps the way it crippled Taldren’s latest Star Trek product, Starfleet Command III? I’m sure the Elite Force property has done alright for Activision, despite its formulaic and been-there, done-that gameplay - but has Elite Force really suffered because Viacom failed to promote the Star Trek universe? Isn’t Star Trek as well-known as the Star Wars franchise? At what point does market and brand image saturation occur?

I apologize if I seem overly cynical or harsh, but it’s hard to cheer on Activision in this suit when you consider that the Star Trek TV and film properties simply are at the end of their line. Voyager and Deep Space Nine ran for a good amount of time, they weren’t “allowed…to go off the air”. The last Star Trek film (I forget the name even) did terribly at the box office and it’s not surprising Viacom won’t be following up with anything further. I can’t see Activision benefitting from further TV and film exposure of the brand, let alone further “product exploitation” of the Star Trek franchise. And I don’t think pumping more money into the brand name for another series and/or film would solve the problem at hand - the fans I know seem generally tired of Star Trek.

Furthermore, how does this compare to the Star Wars brand universe? That franchise is only a one movie per 3 years production cycle, yet LucasArts seems to have no problem granting licenses and development rights to game after game after game. That franchise has the same ratio of bad games (and bad movies), but IMHO, the franchise is getting better because the games themselves are getting better. KOTOR looks terrific, SWG is at the very least innovative, Rogue Squadron could be good, and so on.

Is Activision trying to pawn off the failure of its poorly developed Star Trek games on Viacom? Yes, I think so.

The Star Wars brand has historically had a lot of good games - X-Wing, Tie Fighter, X-Wing: Alliance, Dark Forces 1 & 2 (and possibly 3) to name a couple - it’s just lately that Lucasarts has been releasing the full on crap.

Remember when Lucasarts was held in as high esteem as Blizzard is now? How Lucasarts “Just didn’t make bad games.” How things change.

Star Trek doesn’t HAVE to be at the end of it’s life. Poor writing, and poor management of the franchise has killed it. When did Star Trek become a soap opera in space? Somewhere in season 4 or 5 of TNG the powers that be started caring about who is sleeping with who, and big epic battles every couple of episodes.
they forgot the most important line in ST - To explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and civilizations… not Gee, the Borg-again, The romulans-again, another klingon honor story, the Cardasians-again now let’s kick thier ass with the Riker manuver 4 beta alpha delta 3.
To keep it fresh the should have started playing with some new races…and threw out the continuity in every episode. when was the last episode of Trek where they beamed down to a planet (or shuttle down these days) and just dealt with a culture that is different…but strangly mirroring some social issue of the time? They try to do it now, but the show ends up being a repeat of some Trek from 30 years ago. Hello the world has changed…try some current events people.Trek at it’s best was investigaiting our feelings or creating some thought of something in our own culture, not wiping out klingons around Berman’s Anus.
Trek Gaming- personally , I think if given creative license, Trek could flurish in gaming. A really good Adventure style Trek game would be great. An original series game would be cool. Shattered Universe is trying somehting different. Elite Force should be a TV series. They could explore the shader side of a superpower like the US…er the UFP and stir up some discussion of current events through the show. Again Trek at it’s best was when it was dealing with bigotry, sexuality , despotism and other social and political issues of it’s time.

This is assinine. Maybe if they’d come up with some of their own trek story ideas and didn’t keep making crap games they wouldn’t have a problem. Of course Paramount etc. could be the ones hampering development by trying to maintain “purity” or somesuch nonsense of the trek world. Still, wasn’t EF a decent money maker? SFC series? Armada?

I agree Solomon, I’d rather watch EF as a series than say enterprise.

I’m not really sure if any of the recent Trek titles really made any real money - maybe SFC1 or 2 came close, don’t think 3 was. The last ST game to make real money was probably… Judgement Rites? :)

— Alan

That sounds like a silly lawsuit, but who knows how their contract is worded? Activision should have realized that the franchise might go stale.

Are no more Star Trek movies planned? Maybe that’s behind the complaint.

I wish I could sue them for flushing Star Trek down the toilet myself.

That was back when they actually developed their own games, I think.

No more Star Trek movies? BONUS!

Let the brand disappear for 5 to 7 years. Then bring it back to TV.

I agree that Star Trek is on life support but I think it can be saved. Now I don’t claim to be a trekkie by any stretch of the imagination, but I think that may be a good thing since Star Trek needs to get beyond its hardcore audience.

I actually disagree about making every episode be a beam down to a planet and interact with a new species that mirrors a social issue. Remember that the original series did that a lot and barely survived to make it into the 4th season. I don’t think it’s because the show was ahea of its time, I think it’s because that setup can be very limiting and heavy-handed. I also think that it’s bad to keep running into different alien races all over the place (this is a personal thought). I mean, damn, how many different aliens are there out there in this little corner of the universe?

I think first and foremost, the characters and stories should be interesting, then when you can, make them mirror social issues and get at deeper points.

Another problem I have is that the Star Trek universe is fairly sterile. Now this is something that might not be fixable. The weapons look like toys, any bodily injury or illness seems to be detectable and treatable with another series of toys, the entire spaceship has tons of healthy light and wall to wall carpeting, all the uniforms are these sterile jumpsuits (seriously, if a guy has to ask another guy to “zip him up,” you need a new costume design), everything always works, and most technical problems can be solved by rerouting the <insert trekkie babble here>. No one ever goes crazy spending years at a time in space, no one ever tries to assassinate the captain who keeps insisting on nearly getting everyone killed. I thought I heard that Gene Roddenbery didn’t want humans to be in conflict in his setting. If that’s true, then I think that’s a bad move as well. It’s part of who were are as human beings.

But here’s the thing I believe most. Pick beforehand if you want it to be a movie franchise or a TV franchise. The name Star Trek is recognizable enough now that you don’t need to hook the film into a TV series to bring attention to it. This frees up the films from having to use weak TV actors in the films. Lets face it, the TV casts just can’t cut it as a film franchise. Sure Patrick Stewart is a great actor, but he’s backed up by enough weak actors that he has to carry every film. With the original cast, Shatner couldn’t even do that. Make a seperate film franchise that is 100% designed as a film franchise and get better actors.

Also, where are the fighter craft? All we have are these gigantic starships and piddily shuttles? Give us some more chances for action.

So better actors, a more gritty setting, maybe some new blood at the top. And from that, hopefully a franchise worth making games off of would come about.

So better actors, a more gritty setting, maybe some new blood at the top. And from that, hopefully a franchise worth making games off of would come about.

It’s been done. It was called Deep Space Nine. People either loved it or hated it. The fact that it was the last syndicated Trek and subsquently treated as a red-headed stepchild didn’t help either. DS9 never got the respect it deserved. Personally, I think it was the best Trek ever.

I worked on one of the Nocturne engine Blair Witch games, is it too late for me to sue Artisan Entertainment for making that godawful Blair Witch 2 movie and sinking the franchise before it even got off the ground?

My understanding, though, was that Deep Space Nine had the same creative blood at the top, most of the actors were still mediocre even for television, and that it played out like a soap opera more than the other series. On the other hand, it was supposedly much darker and grittier in tone. I think the best way for the ST franchise to carry much weight again is in theaters, so most of my suggestions are to try and get it back to a film franchise. The real truth of the matter is that Sci-Fi has been out of vogue for a while.

I think the only crew that can be called a unqualified success is the original one (the 1st movie was a product of the times and we probably could have done without the 5th one). What we’re missing here is chemistry between the cast. The current cast is, in your words, sterile. If you’re gonna have a hot babe on the show, let her be a hot babe, not a emotionless dominatrix (both the current Vulcan and that Borg/Human thing).

And they’ve taken this whole “who am I?” thing way too far for far too long. They need to stop concentrating the stories on “who am I”, “who are we” and refocus that into “what’s out there?”.

Hmm. I think Roddenbury was okay with conflict-he just didn’t want the core characters to be in conflict with each other. Aside from a little poking and prodding between Bones and Spock, there rarely ever was, unless an outside force made it happen.

I agree the series is too sterile. The other races, once interesting and unpredictable have grown into overly stylized characatures now. Klingons, once barbaric and menacing, now have more cultural detail than anyone but a real geek could ever remember. Humans, once vibrant, violent, risque and ready for anything, are now reduced to being bland diplomats, over-analyzing even the most trivial detail. They are blah, androgenous, and pleasant in the same sort of impressionless fashion as a Disney theme park worker in a mouse suit.

In short, they’ve forgotten who the core audience is. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I LIKED seeing them duke it out with the Klingoins, maneuver desperately against cloaked Romulans with uber weapons, chase green women and stick their noses in every corner of the galaxy, whether they were welcomed or not. It had a very live feel to it, more passionate and desperate. Now…blah. Star Trek’s not dieing. It’s being killed by the “safe” path.

Don’t forget human beings with wrinkly foreheads and human beings with pointy ears. It’s part of who they are as well.

Those are really good points. Why are all the hotties on the recent shows cold fish? The Jadzeia (sp) gal on DS9 was a firecracker. Why are all the newer ones either vulcans or machines?

I think they’re trying to do the whole “What’s out there” thing with Enterprise, but that “temporal cold war” (ugh) thread keeps getting in the way. why they would build an entire series-spanning plotline out of a concept (time travel) that every character in every series has said “hurts their head” is beyond me.

I’m a Trekker, though nowhere near as fervent as I once was. That tends to happen when you’re spoonfed this disappointing slop year after year… you just realize you’ve got better things to do with your time.

Anyway, the problem, partly, is that the hard core fanbase is just that, hard core. In many ways, they’re like Mac fanatics in that the object of their affections can absolutely do no wrong. Bermaga can do no wrong in their eyes! How dare you criticize Voyager! TNG took a few years to warm up, so give Enterprise the same benefit! (Nevermind the fact that the folks who made Enterprise had 21 seasons of making Trek under their belts, so they shouldn’t have to stumble so long to make a new Trek series).

Steve B. just noted that they had once CGM subscriber cancel because a reviewer said Voyager was lame. That’s their attitude. If you’re not one of them, then you’re obviously against them, and they’re obviously better than you, so fuck off. You can’t reason with them, and in many ways, reason is irrelevent. They’re more single-minded than the Borg.

There will be no more movies. At least, not for a long time. Sherry Lansing, the head of Paramount Films, has spoken on that. Enterprise is floundering, badly. Execs have been noting that their base is declining, nevermind the fact that they’re the ones responsible for it.

They just need to stop making Trek for a good long while, then come back with a fresh concept, new energy and direction, and new people. But, above all else, they need to be willing to evolve their storytelling styles. Look at all the major dramatic hits on TV, and they’re all basically 24-hour-long movies broken up into hour-long segments. It’s one HUGE story arc, with lots of smaller arcs supporting it. It’s none of this stand-alone episodic anthology crap. People want to be told Illiads and Odysees, not 45 minutes of the same ol’ wrinkly-forhead alien of the week. But listening to Trek’s producers, they’ll make you think Arcs are just a fad, and they’re no good, etc, etc. They’re almost deathly afraid of using a story arc.

Back in the original Trek’s day, they’d say you were crazy for planning a season-long story arc. So stand-alone episodes worked. But back in the 80’s and 90’s, the arc evolved and became standard, and Trek absolutely refused to evolve with it, and now they’re fucked.

I cannot agree any more with this statement. DS9 is love.

My understanding, though, was that Deep Space Nine had the same creative blood at the top, most of the actors were still mediocre even for television, and that it played out like a soap opera more than the other series. On the other hand, it was supposedly much darker and grittier in tone. I think the best way for the ST franchise to carry much weight again is in theaters, so most of my suggestions are to try and get it back to a film franchise. The real truth of the matter is that Sci-Fi has been out of vogue for a while.

In the original trek and TNG you basically had a ship full of the same character trying to solve that weeks puzzle, whether that would be getting Klingons off of Tyrannus 3, or finding the golden monkey. All the conflict was external and the federation was this cult of happy people trying to right the galaxy.

DS9 mixed it up. Not everyone was a member of the federation nor did they agree with the federation. This internal conflict was what drove the series I think, and really introduce a lot more shades of gray into the DS9 Starfleet officers than you ever saw on TOS or TNG. One of my favorite* DS9 episodes involves Sisko doing something to enlist the Romulans aid in the Dominion war that no stiff shirt officer on TNG, or TOS even (not even Kirk!) would do. Roddenberry would not have allow it.

In Voyager the creators were burnt out and got to wrapped up in their own techno-babble. Bleh. I haven’t even watched Enterprise.

*As I collect the season DVD’s this will remain to be seen if it will stay as my favorite, but I think it will. Hell, it’s a Garak episode.