Activision Responds to Modern Warfare 3 Leak

Activision's publishing CEO details how the company turned the situation around to Activision's advantage.

Erik Norrisby Erik Norris


Last Friday saw a leak of epic proportions. Kotaku ran a story that almost completely blew the lid off Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, well before Activision had a chance to properly announce the title. While leaked information is nothing new to the gaming industry — it happens nearly every day — the size and scope of the MW3 slip was something to behold. Everything from game options, to complete story details, to settings, to characters, to concept art to multiplayer modes and maps hit the internet early. Some of the info has been confirmed as fake, or has been discarded as early concepts during development, but that doesn’t change that fact that there was a massive hole that Activision forgot to plug.

But Activision, being the marketing wizards they are, turned a crappy, unexpected situation into marketing gold. While speaking with Joystiq, Activision publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg discussed how Activision went about turning the situation around to their advantage.

“While it’s definitely not cool to steal other people’s intellectual property, and while it’s definitely not cool to leak stuff that’s not yours, there are ways that you can respond that actually turn the lemons into lemonade, and that’s what we tried to do on Friday,” said Hirshberg.

“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. 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.”

So what did Activision do? They released four Modern Warfare 3 teaser trailers that completely blew up the internet. The teasers, which were no longer than a minute each and featured nothing more than audio clips and green outlines of countries, produced massive amounts of traffic and hype for Activision. The Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops teasers delivered 61,000 and 89,000 views, respectively, in the first two days of their release. The Modern Warfare 3 teasers generated those numbers combined, multiplied by twenty.

“We woke up with a marketing crisis and wanted to go to bed with a marketing win,” continued Hirshberg. “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 IW, 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.’”

Hirshberg stressed that Activision didn’t want the conversation about Modern Warfare 3 to be between the leakers and the public. Instead, Activision wanted to be an active part of discussion, hence the release of the teasers. The strategy brought the focus back to Activision and once again put the power in their hands, even if they had no control over Modern Warfare 3’s unofficial reveal.

“We kept coming back to the fans, to the people who love this game; who are just waiting; for whom that day was just a really cool day. All that interest for us we knew was harnessable in a positive way,” explained Hirshberg. “The other thing we wanted to do was, if there’s gonna be a dialogue about our game, we want it to be between us and our fans and not between the leakers and our fans.

“You don’t want to spoil the surprises that the game has to offer. Leaks are not positive things, even though we might have used it as a way to amplify our initial viewership.”

Well played, Activision. Well played.