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Ac­tivi­sion’s CEO Eric Hir­sh­berg on in­no­va­tion and new gen­res

Bungie’s Des­tiny be­gan break­ing records even be­fore it was re­leased. It’s not only been billed as the most ex­pen­sive game ever made, but also the most pre­ordered game in his­tory. It’s a colos­sal bet char­ac­ter­is­tic of Ac­tivi­sion’s laser-fo­cused ap­proach to pub­lish­ing, con­cen­trat­ing only on games that the company be­lieves will reap big re­wards. But while it only trades in block­busters, there’s lit­tle timid­ity in the projects it chooses. Des­tiny blends MMORPG and FPS me­chan­ics, Sky­lan­ders cre­ated a whole new genre that has since been adopted by pub­lish­ing be­he­moths Nin­tendo and Dis­ney, and the next Call Of Duty in­tends to shake up the se­ries’ mul­ti­player. Ac­tivi­sion Pub­lish­ing CEO Eric Hir­sh­berg is, nat­u­rally, pleased with the company’s re­cent per­for­mance, but as we dis­cover when we meet with him to dis­cuss the company’s fu­ture, he’s in no way com­pla­cent about that suc­cess. Across 2011 and 2012, the pub­lish­ing side of the game in­dus­try ef­fec­tively de­clared the death of the mid-bud­get pro­duc­tion. Two years on, is that still the case for Ac­tivi­sion? It’s fair to say that we are a very fo­cused company; we tr y to do a few things, and we tr y to do them ex­cep­tion­ally well. We tr y to bet on things we think have the po­ten­tial to have mas­sive ap­peal. But it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that Sky­lan­ders started out as a small project. The orig­i­nal scope was a sin­gle­plat­form Spyro game, but Paul Ritchie and Toys For Bob came up with the break­through idea of bring­ing a toy to life through a por­tal. We saw that and

Ac­tivi­sion Pub­lish­ing CEO Eric Hir­sh­berg on why suc­cess is about in­no­va­tion, not deep pock­ets

de­cided to change the scope and go big with it. We were proven suc­cess­ful. So it doesn’t mat­ter where the ideas come from; it’s more about the abil­ity to fo­cus on the po­ten­tial of a con­cept. Yeah, and it’s a good one be­cause it fol­lows gamers’ be­hav­iour. Gamers are also very fo­cused: peo­ple play the games they love all year round, they play them with friends, so­cial com­mu­ni­ties sprout up around them, and then there’s an ap­petite for follow-on con­tent. It’s an at­ti­tude that gamers seem to ap­pre­ci­ate, but I think it’s im­por­tant to keep ex­per­i­ment­ing and keep look­ing for the next new thing. So who’s in charge of find­ing the next mas­sive brand? A lot of time, you don’t know where the next idea is go­ing to come from. It’s a mov­ing tar­get. In­no­va­tion of­ten comes serendip­i­tously, like with Sky­lan­ders. As I ex­plained, Toys For Bob wasn’t told, ‘Go fig­ure out how to turn this sin­gle-plat­form Spyro game into our next bil­lion-dol­lar fran­chise’. We just saw a great idea and we am­pli­fied it. So some­times it’s like that, and some­times it’s more de­lib­er­ate, like what we’re do­ing with Bungie: we see a great de­vel­oper with a huge track record that has a big idea for a new fran­chise, one that I think we can re­alise the vi­sion for and mar­ket suc­cess­fully to a wide au­di­ence. And then some­times it comes from one of our in­ter­nal stu­dios hav­ing an in­ter­est­ing idea that we give some time and fund­ing to follow up on. We’ve got lots of those in the works right now.

“A lot of the time, you don’t know where the next idea is go­ing to come from. It’s a mov­ing tar­get ”

Eric Hir­sh­berg, CEO, Ac­tivi­sion Pub­lish­ing

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