If you’ve got any sort of interest in the world of video games, you very likely heard last week about a massive leak of information on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. This was before even the game’s publisher, Activision, had officially confirmed its existence. The company responded in a way that no one expected, embracing the setback as an opportunity to get this launch — which was presumably going to happen at E3 next month — started a little early, with official confirmation and four teaser trailers.
It was a canny move on the publisher’s part, stepping into the maelstrom instead of pretending it was never there to begin with. Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg addressed the reasoning behind the decision to move forward with an early official reveal of Modern Warfare 3 in an interview with Joystiq. It’s a refreshingly honest and almost frighteningly rational response to the situation, one which acknowledges both the benefits and costs of our Internet-connected, social media-oriented world and accepts that this unpredictability should be worked with.
“It would be really easy to just obsess over the event, which was the leak, and obsess over how it happened, and that’s only looking backwards,” Hirshberg said. “And in the meantime, your launch just started. And you aren’t always in control of the schedule and the dialogue, and you need to be comfortable of those rapids in this day and age. That’s actually one of the things that separates good marketing from great marketing today.”
This wouldn’t be a story at all if the leak hadn’t happened, and that’s really Hirshberg’s point. You can’t predict when or if these things will happen. The Modern Warfare 3 situation happened in a bigger way than leaks often do, but the current social landscape is what causes everything, large and small, to spread so quickly. Activision’s response might have been atypical for the normally secretive video game industry, but it was very obviously the most rational one.
“We woke up with a marketing crisis and wanted to go to bed with a marketing win,” Hirshberg added. “So what we did was we kind of took that exact conversation we were having in our conference room outside and had it publicly in social media. Through our various channels, through Robert Bowling at [Infinity Ward], through Facebook and through our YouTube channel, we reached out to our fans and we said, ‘Look, we didn’t schedule this. This wasn’t something we had planned. But everyone seems excited, so we’re just going to roll with it. So here they are, a couple of assets that weren’t scheduled to be out for another couple of weeks, we’re going to release ’em to you today.'”
Bravo to Activision for making the smart play, whether or not it was born out of necessity.