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Activision CEO Hirshberg Compares Games with Relationships

by William Schwartz


Activision Blizzard knows a thing or two about brand identity. The developer has become one of, if not the single most financially successful company in the industry by creating and selling supplementary products to support a base title. You’ve seen it with the CoD social networking/distributing service, Call of Duty Elite, and you’ve seen store shelves lined with three-packs of Skylanders characters. We can hate on such practices all we want, yet the bottom line is that the concept of the “experience” to support the launch of a big-budget game is a figurative gold-mine, and Activision is unquestionably the best at panning it.

Activision publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg recently sat down with VentureBeat following his talk at the DICE 2012 Summit, and he was more than willing to discuss Activision’s ability to create a brand and promote the experience as he intriguingly compared game purchases to relationships.

“I think both Call of Duty Elite and Call of Duty XP, if looked at through a certain lens, are sort of experiments with how willing people are to enter into a real relationship with a game that they like. To think of it differently than something you buy once a year, to think of it more as something you do all year round. Or do, in the case of XP, as a sort of lifestyle piece of entertainment. So I think that both of them show a greater potential than people might assume that games have, to become those kinds of brands in people’s lives.”

Hirshberg continued by explaining how games are much more indispensable than those products of other industries. As a result, consumers are more hesitant to enter into a commitment with a gaming product.

“I don’t know that it’s the games industry hasn’t come to realize it so much as, it’s almost very emblematic of how all entertainment industries promote their products. But as I said in my comments, games are different, because they’re not disposable, they’re not one-time. They really are relationships. The way you interact with a game has much more in common with the way you interact with a sport that you love, or a hobby that you love, that’s ongoing and long-lasting, than with how you watch a movie. Which you do for two hours and then you move on. So I think all we’re trying to do is look at that behavior and change the way we talk to people about games.”

The Activision CEO seems to be spot-on in his analysis of how the gaming medium has found itself at the pinnacle of the entertainment industry. Few other mediums, if any, allow players to re-visit worlds and environments that they’ve found to be particularly engaging. Every game on the market game has the potential to be an experience worth dedicating countless hours to, and that is an advantage and defining characteristic distinctive of the gaming industry.

However, one has to wonder how much longer Activision can enact its “brand identity” year-to-year without offering fans new and inventive material. Modern Warfare 3, the Call of Duty franchise’s eighth installment, was initially panned by gamers at launchto criticisms that cited a poorly re-hashed graphics engine and  a multiplayer component that was believed to be an exact replica of the game’s predecessor. Regardless of the surprisingly widespread bashing, Modern Warfare 3 went on to gross $1 billion throughout the world in just 16 days, making it the single largest release day of any entertainment product in history.

If the affiliation between video game and developer is truly illustrative of a relationship, it’s safe to say that Activision and its products have moved past the dating stage and are very happily married. The 2011 earnings report from Activision Blizzard showed record profits of approximately $1.08 billion.

- This article was updated on:February 20th, 2018

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