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Activision talks Bizarre closure, cancellations

by Steve Watts, Jun 23, 2011 9:00am PDT

Becoming the world's largest video game publisher is no easy task, demanding tough decisions in a constantly evolving market. Behind many of those savvy (and arguably unsavory) decisions are people like Eric Hirshberg, CEO of Activision Publishing. His recent interview with Joystiq illuminates some of the company's recent decisions, some which attracted the ire of the gaming community.

Perhaps the most unpopular of those decisions was the one to shutter Bizzare Creations. However, Hirshberg explains that their demise was a product of their specialty. "The thing that Bizarre is best at and what they're known for and what their signature is is in the racing world," Hirshberg said. "And the decision had as much to do with our assessment of what was happening to the racing genre as it had to do with anything specific to Bizarre. We just didn't think that was the best place for us to put our competitive energies. The racing genre had shrunk, pretty precipitously."

Unsurprisingly, the disappointing sales of Blur contributed to the closure as well. "It was a big investment in marketing. And sometimes you pour the chemicals into the beaker and nothing explodes. There are these big, very well established franchises that we would be competing against, fighting for a shrinking opportunity."

True Crime: Hong Kong was another attempt to make a marquee brand for the company. Activision ended up pulling the plug when that ambition fell through. "The game had been delayed twice; the budget had been increased twice; and it had ballooned to a size where it was going to have to be a pretty incredible success in order to be worth the investment that it was taking to get it done," he said. He reiterated that the game wasn't bad, but it "was not going to be at the top of that genre."

The company's annual music games were also put on hiatus. "The Hero brand is still incredibly powerful and potent. It's one of the best known entertainment brands in the world," Hirshberg said. But now, Activision is looking to "generate meaningful innovation and meaningful reinvention" to bring Guitar Hero back. "What we couldn't afford to continue doing was putting out iterative improvements of the same idea because that idea had run out of gas in the marketplace."

DJ Hero suffered a similar fate, due to a "smaller audience." And while some licensed tracks were cheaper than the big-name rock songs found in Guitar Hero, tracks from artists like Lady Gaga and Eminem drove up costs, as well as the game's conceit of mashing up two tracks at a time. He says DJ Hero "had every opportunity and it didn't succeed. At the end of the day, we've got to take a clear-eyed look at that."




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