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