Thursday, October 6, 2011

The BIG Interview: Dan Amrich of

You know him, you love him: Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Daniel Amrich!  That's right, One of Swords himself stops by KGB and sheds some light on what it's like to be the "blogger dude" for Activision, the publisher behind Call of Duty, Spider-Man, Guitar Hero, and countless others.

If there's such a thing as a birthplace for Known Griefers, it'd almost certainly be PAX East 2011.  That mecca of videogamey goodness in Boston was the supple womb that carried the fetus that would become KGB.  Ugh, that metaphor is even grossing me out.  Regardless, PAX East was the first chance most of the staff here at KGB got to meet one another in person, and that event sparked the passion for games journalism that we've carried into this site.  

One of the highlights of PAX was the chance to meet Dan Amrich, the Social Media Manager at Activision.  Before taking his talents to the number one publisher in games, Dan has had a long and distinguished career in the industry.  Chances are, you've enjoyed his work in GamePro, OXM, GamesRadar, or several other outlets.You can find him nowadays over at

I recently had the opportunity to interview Mr. Amrich, and talked with him about his past, his future, and bustin' ghosts. Enjoy!

Q: First off, can you give us a brief overview of who you are, and what you
do at Activision?

You know what Major Nelson does for Microsoft? My job is patterned on that. He's done a really great job of being "the guy gamers know" inside a big company that people don't feel like they know. So Activision approached me and said "hey, we want to create a new role, sort of like a community manager for all of Activision...and your name came up as someone who might be interested." And I was, but I also kind of knew what I was getting into -- this was not too long after Bobby Kotick had made a lot of comments that made a lot of people upset. Hell, I was in the media at the time going "What on earth is going on at Activision?" And the fact that I didn't know -- and would love to turn to someone like Major Nelson for answers and context -- kind of automatically sold me
on why a role like that would be very cool.

Q: Before Activision, you’ve had a long career in games journalism. What
made you make the switch to community relations?

I had been writing reviews and features for about 15 years at that
point, and I had just taken the position of Editor-in-Chief at World
of Warcraft: Official Magazine. Honestly, I was tired of waiting for
my shot at running a magazine, and while I loved (and still love) the
OXM staff, I knew there were other people in line ahead of me and no
real way to get ahead. I had been playing WoW to the detriment of my
Gamerscore so when they were getting set up, I applied. The problem
was, the job was a really poor fit for me; I was extremely unhappy,
and a lot of it has to do with the specific way that project was
conceived and run. The week I moved my desk from OXM to WoW, I got the
first phone call from Activision. I remembered saying "You know I JUST
got the EiC job I've been chasing my whole career, right?" I mean, I
didn't call them back right away because my phone was being moved to a
different desk and I couldn't check my messages. But not being stupid,
I started talking to Activision while keeping up my duties on WoW. I
left the magazine shortly before the first issue was published, but I
felt like I'd done a good job when I saw several of my ideas and plans
for articles get published over the next three issues of WoW. I didn't
want to leave them in the lurch.

And when I looked at everything, I thought, well, I'm never going to
have a high-profile opportunity like this again. Activision's going to
hire for this position once. If they hire me for it, I will be able to
help define what I do and how I do it. If I don't like it or they
don't like me, I can move on -- but I won't have to fill anyone else's
shoes if I am the first person with the job. I realized there was a
lot of opportunity and an unusual amount of editorial freedom in front
of me. Activision made it clear that they still wanted me to be myself
and be authentic, but just to focus my coverage on Activision games. what I was already doing, be more in the know, and focus on
one company's games while still writing what I want and getting to be
a goofball? Yes please -- that's worth the risk.

Q:  One of your first weeks at Activision, the Infinity Ward scandal
happened.  Did you have any thoughts about just bailing out then and there?
That’s a hell of a way to start a new job.

Tell me about it. Yes, I definitely had several panicky moments of
extreme self-doubt, and I talked to my wife about my options -- "You
know, maybe I should just go back to freelancing or something." I
seriously considered bailing at about six months in -- serving out the
first year and then sending out resumes. Activision could simply do no
right at the time and it was very frustrating, especially since that
IW situation that I knew very little about, even when it happened. I
wasn't aware of any of that stuff until it went bonkers, so to
suddenly be on the hook to explain it to people when I'd been there for
maybe two or three months was impossible. And I screwed up a bit,
offered some personal opinions that were then taken as "An Activision
spokesperson said..." And I'm like, whoa, hold on, I'm trying to make
sense of this like everybody else. So it was very discouraging, trying
to be myself and trying to be transparent and yet facing some
difficult realities of the legal implications and the gossip mill.
But, with the wisdom of friends and family, I realized that if I could
weather the storm, just about anything else would be easy by
comparison, and I would be wiser for it. So, yeah, trial by fire, and
with big things like the Bungie game on the horizon -- not to mention
being at Activision while Call of Duty is such a phenomenal success --
I think I'm going to be glad I stayed. That doesn't mean I wasn't a
total chicken or that I didn't think of flying the coop.

Q:  Everyone has heard about how you got Brett Elston his job at GamesRadar.  
Are there any other gaming personalities you had a hand in getting started?

Amrich and Elston
Yes, but if I start naming names, I will sound like a huge douchebag. I am secretly very proud that I was able to give some talented writers their first big break at various different magazines and sites, but they didn't become good writers because of me. I think they were all good writers who needed a little direction and a chance to prove themselves. I was just there to help them at the right time. Some of those writers have now gone on to bigger and better things -- jobs that make me jealous. But I'm nothing but happy for them, because they earned those chances, too.

Q:  The role of “community manager” is a pretty new idea. How do you see
this position evolving in the next few years? Do you think eventually every
company will have a community team?

Honestly, I think it would be wise. Activision is not the only company
that can benefit from this kind of bridge-building. Gamers are often
very skeptical and usually that's because the communication lines are
not open -- they don't feel like they know the company they're
supporting. I think Capcom has been doing a great job with their
Capcom Unity outreach for the last several years. They know their
fans, and their fans now know them.

I'm not sure how my role will evolve; right now, I like my role as
blogger and "dude at Activision." As I go forward, whatever else gets
added to my plate, I am just hoping I can stick to the core tenets of
why I took the job: Be human. Be honest, especially about things you
do not know. And remain a gamer first and an employee second.

Q: Can you remember (or talk about) any particularly big faux pas you’ve
made in your career?

Yes -- which career?  :) The main goof on this job was the IW personal
opinion thing I mentioned before, but I've made some huge mistakes as
an editor. The biggest was actually Activision related: I was thrilled
to get the Xbox Doom 3 cover story for GamePro -- I got to visit id,
did a massive interview, had a great time and got a great story. We
had a strict embargo date for when that story was supposed to appear.
Then I forgot to say "this is not to be used in the international
editions of GamePro" and the German edition had a quicker turnaround
-- so they scooped me on my own story, it hit weeks ahead of schedule,
and it infuriated both Activision and id in the process. And it was
totally my fault. When I started working at Activision, there was a
giant blowup poster of that cover in one of the conference rooms -- a
five-foot reminder of my biggest screw-up. I have been tempted to put
it in my office instead. That'll keep me humble.

Q: Your band, Palette-Swap Ninja rose from the ashes of your 1980s cover
band; Fast Times.  Was it immediately clear that you guys were going to
focus on video game parodies, or did that just kind of happen naturally?

Well, ashes is a strong word, as FT is still around and they are
getting great gigs! I'm playing with them for a gig this winter,
actually -- we're both still very friendly with FT. But PSwap was
always designed as a videogame parody band. Jude and I would ride home
from rehearsal and talk about our shared love of games and mutual
respect for Weird Al. We thought it would be great to make jokes that
only gamers would get, which is why we called the band what we did --
only old-school MK fans were even familiar with the phrase. We
thought, if you hear that, it's not going to mean anything else to
anybody else. You know right away it's a deeply geeky game thing. We
came up with The Viva Pinata Song and then it sort of snowballed,
like, well, we can actually DO that, but we should do it under a band
name...and that's what we chose.

We do songs about whatever we are playing. We both play WoW, so
there's a WoW song. We both own 360s, so there are songs about red
rings and gamerscore. We both have played online with jerks so there's
a song about rage quitting. We take great pride in making the songs
sound close to the originals -- often with accurate instrumentation,
and sometimes down to the mixing and the balance of the song -- and we
also take great pride in talking about the universal gaming
experience. Most of our songs tell stories, little slices of gaming
life. We sweat the details; we want something like Arcade Gaming
Shrine to be an accurate representation of coin-op collecting, or we
want our Halo song to talk about a situation of overconfidence that a
lot of gamers have felt at one point or another. We want our dumb
little songs to ring true.

Two legends
Q: You, like me, are a huge Ghostbusters fan. Are you excited for the re-release this fall?  The impeding sequel?  How did you feel about the 2009 video game?

The 2009 game was a love letter to fans. As a reviewer, I know what the game did wrong and I called it out; as a fan, I didn't care. It was so amazingly gratifying to see so much detail and so much love go into that game. I am stoked to see the movie in theaters again --haven't done that since 1984, when I was 13 years old -- and as for the sequel...I will not be unhappy if it does not get made. I love Dan Aykroyd and I trust him with his own
Bustin' makes them feel good.
property, but I also see a lot of risk in trying to bring it back to prominence. I will love the franchise and the original movie either way (I'm not a fan of GB2 --evil paintings are fine, Bill Murray making googly eyes at babies is not) but...I am lowering my expectations in hopes that I will be pleasantly surprised.

On a side note, I am proud to have met both Ernie Hudson and Dan Aykroyd while I was in full GB gear, plus I got to interview Harold Ramis. Three out of 4 ain't bad for a superfan!

Q: Are there any video game industry icons you would like to, and have yet
to meet?  Do you still get fanboyish when meeting people who you’ve looked

up to?

Absolutely. Through various editorial stories over the years, I have
been fortunate to meet a lot of people I deeply admire and respect. I
interviewed Dave Jaffe some years back and actually beat him at
Twisted Metal Black, which he may have thrown to be a nice guy, but I
don't think he did. He's been one of my favorite designers for years.
I met Shigeru Miyamoto and still cannot believe that I did, but I have
an autograph to prove it, so it must have been real. And Mark Turmell
was something of a boyhood hero to me -- he was 17 and publishing his
One of these men was in Slam City.
games professionally, real prodigy -- so when I got to interview him for the NBA Jam TE coin-op in 1994, I came off like a stalker -- I remember starting the interview with "I know who you are" which, in hindsight, is not how you want to approach someone you respect. But he took it in stride and I interviewed him several times later; he even put me into NBA Hangtime as a secret character. We run into each other every once in a while at E3, and I still beam when I see him and think, holy cats, that's THE Mark Turmell! So yeah, I still sometimes act like a fanboy even
though I try hard to be more professional.

The list of people I would like to meet or have tried to meet is
pretty long too. This year, in honor of the 30th anniversary of
Freeway for the 2600, I tried to land an interview with David Crane,
one of the founders of Activision and the creator of several games
that were instrumental in my gaming history (Pitfall, Laser Blast,
Grand Prix, Ghostbusters C64) but the trail went cold. I was also
hoping to meet John Carmack on that id trip some years back, but he
was busy coding that day and they said "yeah, let him be." So I did. I
have also always wanted to meet Nolan Bushnell, the man who founded

When I was in the music journalism side of things, I never got to
interview Eddie Van Halen -- but oh my god, I kept hoping and chasing
that interview. I wrote something about him for a Top 100 Most
Influential Guitarists feature in Guitar World. Eddie was #1 and I was
honored that I got to write his entry. It was only about 250 words, so
I wrote and revised and edited and rewrote until I got it just where I
wanted it. A few weeks later, the associate publisher of the magazine
saw me in the hall and said "Oh, hey, I talked to Eddie yesterday; he
said he liked your piece." I was on cloud nine for a week. And later,
I got the chance to interview Alex Van Halen, and he mentioned
casually on the call that he was sitting there in the studio with his
brother, but I resisted the urge to scream "Put him on!" I almost got
to interview him for an article around the time that the movie Twister
came out, and they had me on standby, but the conversation never

There are lots of those near misses. The greatest OXM article that
never happened was for Fable II. I had pitched going to England to not
only interview Peter Molyneux but fence him. Like, with foils and
masks and stuff. I fenced casually in college (I'm not good, but I
know how to do it) and I figured, this is the kind of thing that
someone like Peter Molyneux would have probably learned in school in
England -- and Fable II was all about easy one-button sword combat, so
let's talk about that in the context of what REAL sword combat is
like. And I thought, there's the opening line of the article: "I just
stabbed Peter Molyneux in the septime quadrant."  Again, just couldn't
work out the details, but I'm sure it would have been a fascinating
experience if we could have made it work.

Q: And finally, your favorite game of all time? Besides Interstate ‘76.

That's so tough, because I76 is probably it -- it had a profound
effect on me and I fell deeply in love with its world, its gameplay,
and its soundtrack. Wing Commander, at the time, had a similar effect.
But I probably have to go with Robotron 2084. I grew up in arcades and
that game still kicks my ass 30 years later, yet I love playing it.
Any game that is still a significant challenge over several decades is
clearly a very special creation. I was at an arcade convention where
Eugene Jarvis gave a talk on how the game was created. Someone in the
audience asked "Why did you make it so damned hard?" And Eugene shot
back something to the effect of "Hey, maybe it's not the game, maybe
you suck." I suspect he had been asked the question before and was
tired of defending what is really the ultimate twitch shooting

Once again, I'd like to thank Dan for taking the time out of his day to do this interview with KGB.  We're delighted to consider him a friend of the site.  It makes me feel guilty for not playing that copy of Guitar Hero: Van Halen yet.  I will, I promise.  There's tons of ways to follow Dan Amrich on these here Internets:

One of Swords on Facebook
One of Swords on Twitter
One of
Dan's Personal Blog
Palette-Swap Ninja

All the photos on this page are courtesy of Dan Amrich.

Christopher Linendoll isn't sure which is cooler; meeting Dan Aykroyd, or being in NBA Hangtime. He can be reached via Twitter, or found in the hummus section of your local grocery store.



  1. Holy crap! When I got a computer ~97 and discovered chatrooms, the first place I went was to I remember chatting with Dan Elektro way back then!

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  3. pretty bitchin' right? Thanks very much for the interview, Dan!

  4. Dan is a fascinating guy, and there's so much more I'd love to get the chance to talk with him about. Perhaps he'll show up again on KGB for PAX East 2012.