INTERVIEW: Activision UK (Part Two)

For part one of our Activision Blizzard interview, click here.

Activision Blizzard isn’t know for its new IP, but that’s about to change with Blur and Singularity scheduled for release early next year. In the second of our three part interview with Activision’s UK management team, the firm discusses the challenges of new IP, their hopes for the Hero brand, and their thoughts on the first quarter of 2010…

From left to right, UK managing director Andrew Brown, UK marketing director David Tyler and UK sales director Roy Stackhouse

You mention creating franchises, and Activision has new IP coming, including the recently released DJ Hero, and next year’s Singularity and Blur. Do you expect these properties to stick around?

Andrew Brown: DJ Hero is an extension of the Hero franchise. And we call it the Hero franchise now because it’s gone beyond guitars. It was always a planned step in the franchise development, and there will be other planned steps.

The music genre is a big area of growth in the UK. If you look at it as a percentage of the market, music in the UK was smaller than it was in the US. So this told us that there was an opportunity to grow it. And it’s growing like crazy at the moment, and we have more than 40 per cent share of the music market for games.

But if you look at the products on the market and our range, we weren’t giving consumers everything they needed – and not just in terms of instruments but music too. So in essence we were satisfying only half the consumer demand, and DJ Hero helps us talk to the other half. That’s why it’s so exciting. It’s so complimentary and additional, it is clearly going to drive market growth and it’s going to bring in new consumers with a new music/gaming experience. The feedback has been just phenomenal.

David Tyler: Tony Hawk’s: Ride too is a great example of a franchise we are continually innovating around. Technology reaches a point where you can unlock a fresh round of innovation. The vision from Tony Hawk himself has been to replicate the skateboard experience as closely as possible. Now technology is enabling this.

Andrew Brown: As for the new IP part of question, bringing new properties to the market is very, very risky and difficult. One of the trends in the market is the big gets bigger and the small get smaller, and actually getting new IP to cut through and become a true franchise is not that straightforward. But we do believe in our products we are looking to bring to market, they really are added value and different, and will survive and prosper with continual sequels. And that’s true of every product we’re bringing to market.

Activision must have the view that franchises do eventually wane, so there must be a pressure in maintaining these brands?

David Tyler: There is. That’s where the production values and the innovation at the core of these franchises have really helped to move us forward. Call of Duty is a classic example where the production values have always been very high, but alongside this, constant innovation has played an essential role. Infinity Ward have some of the most talented development resources in the world and the consumer experience that Modern Warfare 2 is set to offer thoroughly justifies all of the excitement and expectations that have built around this title.

Andrew Brown: I don’t think you can imagine where the industry is going to go or how your franchises will evolve. It is such a changing environment. Not everything succeeds and lives forever. So you’ve got to pick the ones that really matter and work on them. If you look at some of the things we all saw at E3 and how the industry might evolve in the next two to three years, you can imagine how your franchises might be reflected in that new technology. But it won’t look anything like today.

A lot of publishers have moved their products into Q1, and Activision has done it with Singularity and Blur. What are your thoughts on the first quarter?

Andrew Brown: If we can develop a more balanced year as an industry, and if that started by having a bigger Q1 – providing it doesn’t have a negative impact on Q4 – then that’s good. I don’t think it’ll impact Q4 by the way, I think it’ll just help growth in 2010.

David Tyler: It’ll be good for consumers too. To have a healthy and successful market you want the best possible products to be enjoyed by as many consumers as possible. There were a lot of great games that came out last year that just didn’t get much traction in the market place. Consumers had to make tough decisions between a number of really good games

In a recent investors call, Activision Europe was described as ‘under-developed’. How much pressure is there on Activision UK to improve that?

Andrew Brown: We are the second biggest market for Activision in the world. So a disproportionately large amount of pressure falls on the UK. In terms of consumers, I think we are closer to the US than most other territories in Europe. And therefore over time we have developed very well our global share of the business. If we take Call of Duty as an example, we actually have a very big international share on that product. And that’s because there’s overlap between UK and US consumers.

There are still areas where we feel we can do a lot more. For example, DJ Hero is developed in the UK, it is well attuned for the UK consumers and is part of an investment by Activision to make sure we do very well in this part of the world. Equally, our racing game is being developed across here, and the racing genre is bigger here than it is in the US in terms of percentage of the market, and it is all part of driving a balanced global business.

Looking back at Activision’s Q4 line-up, what is the marketing strategy this Christmas

David Tyler: We appointed a new global media agency (MediaEdge CIA), and we are spending a lot of time working with those guys on how we can better leverage our business and the scale our portfolio offers. We’re having them challenge the ways we’ve historically bought products to market. Particularly in the digital space, we are seeing lots of opportunities to drive engagement in an appropriate way for our brands.

We are always looking at new ways to innovate and engage our consumers. There are a lot of titles we’re up against this Christmas, so we are keen to find ways to reach our consumers and really engage with them.

In terms of digital market, what kind of areas have grown for you guys

David Tyler: So for example we were one of the first organisations to work with some of the larger media owners on full HD takeovers. Full HD is a highly appropriate way to showcase the visuals on many of our games. The exciting thing about the digital space is the speed with which it changes. Social networking has a lot of untapped potential, which we have a clear agenda to drive forwards on appropriate brands.

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