Forbes.com has published an interview with Activision CEO, Bobby Kotick. The interview touched on innovation, and learning from mistakes of the past. One passage in particular struck a chord with us, as Kotick discussed the progression of Guitar Hero in relation to the topic at hand.
Despite the several development studio closures of 2010 and 2011, Kotick claims that Activision prides itself on giving developers a unique freedom that may be directly tied to those very closures. “The most important thing we do to encourage innovation is give people the freedom to fail,” Kotick said in the interview. “And I think you can articulate that and establish that as a value in a lot of different ways. I don’t want to say celebrate the failures, but in a lot of respects it’s sort of that.”
While there is a load of interesting information in the interview, the passage that most caught out attention was in regards to Guitar Hero and DJ Hero’s “failures.”
So Guitar Hero has had enormous success –we didn’t start the company that made Guitar Hero, we bought it after it started, it put the first one in the marketplace. We had a view that this was something that had much more broad appeal, and that because it’s a manufactured product, being efficient in the supply chain could get the manufacturing costs down. We thought our relationships with the music companies would be more valuable than a small startup company could ever develop on their own. So we bought the company, and after a few iterations of the game it became one of the most successful games of all time.
And then we didn’t really take the time that we usually take to understand audience behavior. It was one of those things where we were resting on the idea that one of the essential fantasies of video games is to unleash your inner rock star. And it didn’t really matter how you did that, but as long as you were allowing people to unleash their inner rock star fantasies, you’d continue to be successful. So we went off on a passion project that had a point of differentiation –which is called DJ Hero.
And in hindsight, if you step back –and it really would have been a simple thing to do– we should have said, ‘Well, how many people really want to unleash their inner DJ?’ And then out of the people who do want to unleash their inner DJ, how many want to do it in the context of a game where you earn points, versus just taking a DJ deck or tools on their Macintosh and actually being a DJ? And it turns out it’s a very small market.
But we created this critically acclaimed, highly rated game –and these are the hardest failures, when you put your heart and soul into it and you deliver an extraordinarily well received game, and nobody shows up to buy it. So that’s what happened with DJ Hero. At the same time we were so excited about going down this new direction with DJ Hero, I think we abandoned a bit of the innovation that was required in the Guitar Hero franchise.
And so it was the double whammy of DJ Hero was unsuccessful, and then Guitar Hero became unsuccessful because it didn’t have any nourishment and care. So we made what I think was exactly the right decision last year. We said you know what, we need to regain our audience interest, and we really need to deliver inspired innovation. So we’re going to take the products out of the market, and we’re not going to tell anybody what we’re doing for awhile, but we’re going to stop selling Guitar Hero altogether. And then we’re going to go back to the studios and we’re going to use new studios and reinvent Guitar Hero. And so that’s what we’re doing with it now.
In addition to that one passage of interest, Kotick went on to recognize that despite their best efforts, Activision failed to deliver the one game everybody really wanted.
In the case of Guitar Hero, we did the research and it was very clear people didn’t want more 80s heavy metal music. But what they wanted was very difficult for us to get from the music companies. I’ll give you an example: The number one thing that our audiences wanted in Guitar Hero was Led Zeppelin. But we couldn’t get Led Zeppelin to consent to give us the rights. And there were a lot of instances of that, a whole host of artists who just didn’t want to give rights to Guitar Hero, and it was hard to get around that. And then there were other things… we put things out there that were not ready for prime time and that today actually would resonate very well with audiences.
The entire interview is really worth checking out. Head on over to Forbes.com for the entire interview from the Activision CEO.