Activision’s Eric Hirshberg on free-to-play: “people assume what’s new will destroy what came before”

Eric Hirshberg

Eric Hirshberg

Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg has played down the significance of the industry-wide rush to free-to-play, telling us in an interview that predictions that freemium will eventually become the dominant videogame business model are wide of the mark.

Speaking to us as part of our regular An Audience With feature in our latest issue, E246, Hirshberg draws on his experience as an advertising executive; during his time as CCO of ad agency Deutsch LA, he frequently heard people confidently sounding the death knell of an industry staple at the hands of the hot new thing.

“I think there’s a tendency in moments of disruption – [and] I don’t think this is industry-specific – to assume everything that’s new will destroy what came before,” he tells us. “In many cases, the new thing creates a new marketplace and new demand, and then some entrenched and mature markets show remarkable staying power.

“There wasn’t a day I worked in advertising [that] I didn’t hear about the death of the 30-second TV commercial. Originally, the VCR was going to kill it [laughs], then the Internet was going to kill it, the DVR was going to, satellite TV… It’s proved to be a resilient medium that’s still relevant today.

“There are a lot of similarities between what I experienced in the advertising business and what’s going on in gaming now.”

It’s a fair point, but there are few companies who are as able to resist the rush to free-to-play, and the huge potential playerbases and revenue it can bring. Activision is, for all its bad press, one of the best in the industry at what Hirshberg calls “picking the right bets”; it releases a relative handful of games each year, but most, if not all, are huge successes. Why worry about free-to-play when Call Of Duty continues to rake in the revenue, and now sports a successful subscription service?

Activision isn’t ruling out free-to-play entirely, of course: it is currently at work on a reworked F2P Call Of Duty for the Chinese market, something Hirshberg details elsewhere in the interview. For the whole thing you’ll need our latest issue, E246, which is on sale now, both in print and for iPad through Apple Newsstand.