Activision has unveiled its newest owned studio, Beachhead, which will be tasked with creating all of the company's new digital initiatives for the Call of Duty
brand, including online community, content and services initiatives.
Activision publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg made the announcement on the company's Gamasutra-attended year-end fiscal results call, where he said Beachhead planned to "bring the online experience and console play together for the first time" through a "platform [that has been] in development for over a year."
"We're very excited about the increased value we can bring to the community," he added, driving home the company's plans to focus on the high-profit opportunity in the online space.
"The DLC we have planned for Call of Duty
alone should have more commercial potential on its own than most standalone console games," he asserted.
This includes more than 1.4 million in day-one downloads for Black Ops: First Strike
, the downloadable map pack that released on February 1, he added.
Hirshberg noted that the launch represents a 21 percent increase over the performance of Modern Warfare 2
's first map pack. The pack is slated for a PlayStation 3 release on March 3.
Nonetheless, Hirshberg conceded that changes in the retail environment have resulted in "difficult decisions."
He referred to the dissolution of the Guitar Hero
business and the cancellation of True Crime
, but was candid about the profitability challenges "mid-tier" games, in addition to peripheral-equipped band games, have faced in the current market.
Activision execs also confirmed that there will be no retail music games or skateboard titles released by the publisher in calendar 2011, meaning that all variants of the Guitar Hero
business, including DJ Hero
, will not publish, and the Tony Hawk
series will also take a break.
Although the Activision call didn't specify precise layoffs at studios involved in the discarded brands, the company repeatedly used words like "restructure" and "leaner", and a separate SEC filing
confirmed plans to lay off 500 from various Activision divisions.
Some development brands may be less affected, however -- sources have told Gamasutra that Neversoft, once heavily involved in the Guitar Hero
brand, may be working on Call of Duty with a new original IP project on the back burner, and is unlikely to be meaningfully affected by the cuts.
"The big keep getting bigger," Hirshberg explains. "Every one of the top ten titles this year was based on established franchises, and with the exception of one, all had online functionality." Major AAA titles are no longer treated "simply as launch events", as online play becomes not just a value-add, but an essential component for strong profitability.
Amid this shift, "sales of mid-tier titles are being squeezed out," Hirshberg says, and described the canceled True Crime: Hong Kong as one such title -- the open-world genre has a leader already and United Front's game "just wasn't going to be good enough" to compete, he said, even with more time and more money.
Smaller titles that serve passionate niche audiences have the opportunity to show meaningful progress, Griffiths noted, such as the company's Cabela's brand or planned initiatives around Bakugan toys.
"We enter 2011 a leaner, more focused organization," Hirshberg said, asserting that the company would only invest in those areas where it believed it had a "true competitive advantage."