Q&A ERIC HIRSHBERG
As CEO of Activision Publishing, Eric Hirshberg is in charge of the company’s software strategy, though he wasn’t around for what he describes as Guitar Hero’s “over-publishing”; he only joined the company a few weeks before the release of World Tour in 2010. Here, he discusses the business decisions that led to
Guitar Hero Live’s creation, and why this huge multinational corporation still believes in fostering an indie spirit.
Did you always plan to bring Guitar Hero back in 2015?
It wasn’t time-based. We made a promise to ourselves that we wouldn’t bring it back unless we had a breakthrough creative innovation that was befitting of the franchise, and that we felt could rejuvenate interest in the [music] category. We really were driven by more of a creative North Star than a calendar.
What convinced you that Freestyle was the right studio for the job?
I was, and remain, a big fan of the Freestyle team. They had so much energy and creativity around rhythm-based games. The DJ Hero games were really well done, really innovative. There was no question in my mind about who I wanted to invest in and work with on a possible reinvention of Guitar Hero. It was Freestyle from the very beginning.
Freestyle praises your hands-off approach with your studios. How important is that to Activision?
We choose to champion an independent spirit for a reason: we believe it leads to the best creative products. Our studios don’t just plug into a top-down set of mandates from a technology or process standpoint. Freestyle is a great developer, and we absolutely want to provide them with the resources and the room they need to do their best work. That said, there’s a lot of healthy back and forth – there’s mutual respect on both sides, and each time we go through the process, the games hopefully get better and better.
What’s the strategy for Guitar Hero after Live’s release? You must have learned from the past that you can only put out so many new discs and instruments.
Yes, and I think GHTV is a very elegant solution to that. It allows us to keep the universe constantly updating, so there can be something new, potentially, every time you turn it on. A lot’s changed in both gaming and music since the last
Guitar Hero. The expectation that your music universe is going to be constantly updating and constantly allow [the player] to discover new things is sort of the cost of entry now. It means we can bring new things to the audience without printing new discs.
Guitar Hero Live isn’t the only instrument-driven music game due out in 2015. Is Rock Band’s return good news for you, or bad?
I would say competition’s inevitable. We tend not to focus on it. We have competition in every category that we make games in. We’ve always focused on the same thing, which is making the best game we can. I know that sounds like a packaged answer, but it’s really the truth; you can’t do anything about your competition, but you can control what you’re doing. That’s always been our best defence – a good offence of doing interesting, creative things that gamers appreciate. I think that’s what we’ve done here.
“I WOULD SAY COMPETITION’S INEVITABLE. WE TEND NOT TO FOCUS ON IT. WE HAVE COMPETITION IN EVERY CATEGORY”