Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg Talks ‘Destiny’ (Q&A)

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Activision has teamed up with Halo developer Bungie on a brand-new shooter called Destiny, which gives the Call of Duty publisher another huge potential franchise aimed at the mass market.

Activision Publishing has been building a string of billion-dollar game franchises with Skylanders, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Call of Duty: Black Ops. Now the Los Angeles gamemaker has partnered with the newly independent Bungie, the creators of Halo, to craft a brand-new first-person shooter franchise called Destiny.

In Destiny, players will take on the role of a Guardian of the last city on Earth, able to wield incredible power. Gamers will explore the ancient ruins of our solar system, from the red dunes of Mars to the lush jungles of Venus, to fight Earth’s enemies and ultimately become legend. Bungie promises a sweeping adventure set within a bold new universe, featuring an unprecedented combination of cooperative, competitive, public and community activities seamlessly woven into an expansive, persistent online world.  

Eric Hirshberg, CEO of Activision Publishing, talks about Destiny and the rapidly evolving video-game industry in this exclusive interview.

The Hollywood Reporter: What attracted Activision to Destiny?

Eric Hirshberg: There were several things. Bungie is a pretty capable and unique developer. They have a great track record and are very talented. More than their track record, they have great vision for a game that’s unique and compelling and differentiated. For all of the innovation and new ideas, Destiny is something that we thought was going to be appealing to a broad audience and something that we were excited to help them bring to that audience.

THR: Speaking of franchises, what are the challenges that exist today in introducing a new IP like Destiny into the market?

Hirshberg: The industry is dominated by existing franchises, so on day one with a new franchise, you have a lot of challenges. We are very choiceful about the games that we go after, and what we try to do is launch new IPs that we think have a real differentiation baked in. With Skylanders, it was a new mechanic and a new innovation that we thought was magical and really captivating to the kids in an area of the game business that we didn’t see a whole lot of innovation in, and that paid off. In the case of Destiny, it’s a very innovative idea differentiating from a very story-driven developer with an iconic history. In all cases, we want to make sure that we’re making games that we think we can have a chance at making better than anyone else and have a chance of making the best in their breed and having a chance of them becoming a big, meaningful franchise in popular culture.

THR: What’s the secret to launching a new successful IP?

Hirshberg: We choose to focus and develop a few games and do them very well because it allows you to focus all of your energy, all of your capital, all of your time, all of your best people against getting a few things right. That’s one of the secrets to our recent success in launching new franchises like Skylanders.

THR: How important is it to make a game like Destiny appeal to the growing mainstream audience of gamers that are entering the business through mobile and free-to-play games?

Hirshberg: It’s huge. I think that getting the balance right between having enough depth and enough challenge and enough richness of content for the core gamers, as well as enough accessibility for more casual mass-market gamers is one of the toughest balances to strike. We’ve done it quite well with Call of Duty. That’s a game that appeals to the hardcore and to the masses. Bungie has done it very well with Halo in the past, so it can be done. Honestly, that’s what we’re aiming for with Destiny. It’s a game that’s very accessible to a very broad audience and at the same time very challenging and very immersive and very satisfying to a core audience who will be the most vocal critics and the most vocal supporters. You want to satisfy both audiences.

THR: What opportunities have you seen the Web open up with episodic entertainment like we’ve seen with Mortal Kombat and Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn?

Hirshberg: We were doing our episodic entertainment on Call of Duty Elite before either of those. Whenever you have a large group of millions of people consuming your content year round, you wonder if their appetite for this content includes other forms of entertainment. But you have to take it on a case-by-case basis. And you have to do it for the right reasons. What opportunities are there? There are tons of opportunities. We get interest in doing all forms of media on multiple franchises all the time. We thus far have been very choiceful in the ones that we take on because we know that we’re a game company first and we know that our consumers are gamers. We want to do what’s right for them in making that experience better. It’s something that we’re looking at. It’s something that we consider carefully, and something that even when we do it, it will be with the right partners for the right reasons.

THR: How will Activate tap into the growing number of gamers playing on tablets and smartphones today?

Hirshberg: We’re taking a “build it, don’t buy it” approach to mobile, and we’ve brought some tremendous talent into the company from different places around the industry to enable our mobile efforts. We’ve made some very highly rated games in the time that we’ve been making them, and a number of them have been chart-toppers, as well. We think we’re off to a good start. Activate was designed to unify the back-end so that we can have a good feedback loop on our games. I think that’s so important in that space, giving gamers the right updates and getting the improvements right as you go. It’s a very iterative process. It’s almost like a game. It’s a service in a way that you’re constantly updating and managing. Also, that becomes a player base that you can market to if they opt into a dialogue with you, and if they like your titles, they want to see what you’re coming out with next year first. It’s the best way to market your new game. There are a lot of ways that you can do the technological structure of a mobile game better than others, and Activate allows us to have a seamless well-run back-end that gives us great feedback and great data on what players are enjoying, what’s sticking and what’s not to help us make better games.

THR: How have you seen the digital-distribution model impact the video-game industry?

Hirshberg: We’re more focused on making sure that we’re making the best content. The delivery system might change or migrate or change shape, but if you have the content that people want to play, whether it’s delivered on a disc or whether it’s delivered on a download, it becomes less important. What we’re confident in is that people are still going to want to have the best entertainment experiences, and we want to make sure we’re the ones making them.

THR: What opportunities do you see with the thriving independent game-development scene through mobile and digital distribution, and what opportunities are there for Activision in this space?

Hirshberg: I think it’s great. It’s similar to other forms of entertainment. There’s room for a healthy independent scene of creators as well as more blockbuster, mass-entertainment games. It’s wonderful for our medium to see some of these people making games, and it’s something we’re very supportive of.