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Activision Publishing CEO: 'We Need To Correct' Hardcore Reputation

Activision Publishing's new CEO Eric Hirshberg tells Gamasutra that the publisher's tarnished corporate image needs catch up with the positive reputation of the company's top franchises.
In recent years, Activision Blizzard has worked its way to the top of the video game industry. But it also has found itself with a reputation problem, particularly among hardcore gamers, who slam the publisher for everything from its choice of business models to the lawsuit involving former employees of Call of Duty studio Infinity Ward. Eric Hirshberg, the newly-appointed head of Activision Publishing and soon-to-be former CEO of top-tier ad agency Deutsch L.A., acknowledged that there is still work to be done in regaining the trust of the hardcore gamer. It's a demographic that he suggested is still important, even if Activision's focus is shifting toward the broader mass market. Asked if he believed Activision has a reputation problem, he told Gamasutra, "I think there's certainly a reality to that in the hardcore gaming blogosphere. You sort of can't escape that there's some perceptual problems and an air of controversy, certainly right now." He added, "I don't think that's anything that's widely-held in the consumer community, but I definitely think it's something that we need to correct. A company that has so many of the world's most beloved games should have the reputational momentum to match, amongst gamers." Hirshberg has some experience in giving companies a face-lift. He's worked on video game accounts while at Deutsch, including the hit PlayStation 3 campaign, "VP of Everything" Kevin Butler. The campaign with the goofy "VP" has completely changed the PlayStation image, appealing more to gamers' sense of humor rather than focusing solely on an abstract hip or cool factor. "On the whole, on average, yes, I think that video games are fun, they're entertainment, and advertising should take on that tonality," Hirshberg said when asked if video game marketing takes itself too seriously. "As far as how the gaming industry communicates [with consumers], I think there's some excellent work, and I think there's some not-so-excellent work in the industry," he said. "I think one of the struggles and one of the constant debates will be the value of consistency from a single brand versus the value of diversity and the ability to communicate a specific title." "One of the things I think we did with the Kevin Butler campaign that we did for PlayStation is that a single creative idea could accommodate a variety of messages," Hirshberg explained. "You think about the fact that that campaign sells a variety of hardware and software for that voice, but it also sells games as diverse as LittleBigPlanet and God of War with one voice. There was tremendous value to that for Sony. The usual formula is to think that you have to do a different campaign for every game. So that's one thing that I'm going to think a lot about." Hirshberg said he is a gamer, with some of his favorite games being Activision products like Call of Duty and Guitar Hero, as well as Sony's LittleBigPlanet. But like other top Activision executives like COO Thomas Tippl and former Activision Publishing CEO Mike Griffith, Hirshberg doesn't come from a game development or publishing background. It's a recruitment strategy that he thinks gives the industry-leading publisher an edge against competitors. "I think any industry has the tendency to be insular, inward-looking and self-referential, and looking to other disciplines is always a way to get fresh ideas and fresh takes on things," he said. "There are those formulas and habits to unlearn."

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