Last Thursday/Friday (depending on where you live), Destructoid dropped a bombshell. There would be a new Call of Duty this year in November.
Erm, well, someone somewhere’s probably excited and surprised by that.
Something something Advanced something PMCs something Kevin Spacey. Yeah, you know the drill.
While a new Call of Duty shock nobody, the way it was announced certainly shocked me. Remember Ghosts’ big hullabaloo? Teasers, teasers, trailers, teasers, events, trailers, Eminem, millions of marketing dollars? It was quite the event.
But this time, the news broke softly. Destructoid calmly circumvented Activision’s planned marketing hype machine and broke the details on the new Call of Duty leaked to them via a trusted source.
I think it bears mentioning here that Activision already had planned out their announcement. There was a teaser in Game Informer, and a countdown clock on the Call of Duty website set to go off today, probably for the official announcement trailer.
But by leaking the details and some screenshots three days early, Destructoid sidestepped Activision’s plans and did what any self-respecting outlet with a rock-solid lead would do.
Destructoid’s actions weren’t surprising, really.
Instead of taking the typical “we don’t comment on rumour or speculation” line, Activision’s PR team did something quite remarkable – they went with it.
They said “yep, you caught us, here, have everything”, confirmed the info, put out the trailer they had on hold, and sent out the relevant press releases.
To be fair, it was only two and a half days early, and all the info was clearly ready to go. Sunday was an arbitrary day for the news to be released anyway – probably chosen based on market research around internet traffic and hype maximisation formulas or whatever arcane magics PR folks use to determine these things. Confirming the information would do Activision zero harm that close to the “official” date anyway, and it would be seen as a PR gain for them to be honest. So it’s not like denying would be the smart thing to do.
However, it’s a strange – and rare – occurrence for a massive brand with an immense marketing budget to relinquish control of the message.
In an industry (the marketing industry) that lives or dies on the way information is controlled, to let someone else take the initiative and hijack the message at such a critical stage feels… alien.
What the Activision PR team effectively did was let Destructoid set the tone for the game’s marketing to come. While the leak article was hardly negative, it wasn’t full of the typical buzzwords that come with a major marketing campaign. You know the ones.
In fact, for reference, you can read the Australian version of the “announce” press release, copy pasted directly from my inbox for your enjoyment (sans legalese fine print at the bottom):
CALL OF DUTY: ADVANCED WARFARE
BOOSTS FRANCHISE TO NEW HEIGHTS ON THE NEXT GENERATION
Power Changes Everything on November 4
Starring Academy Award® Winning Actor Kevin Spacey,
New Call of Duty Delivers a Stunning Vision of the Future
First Call of Duty game created with three-year development cycle
First Call of Duty game helmed by new AAA studio, Sledgehammer Games
Prepare for the Next Generation Advanced Soldier
Sydney, NSW – May 3, 2014 – The power of the next generation of advanced soldier. The power of a gripping performance from Kevin Spacey. The power of all-new, exoskeleton gameplay mechanics. Power changes everything. Call of Duty®: Advanced Warfare delivers an inspired new era of Call of Duty®. Published by Activision Publishing, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Activision Blizzard (Nasdaq: ATVI), and developed for next gen consoles and PC by Sledgehammer Games, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare delivers a breathtaking, new vision for the blockbuster franchise.
“We’ve made several key decisions with an eye towards creative excellence on Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. We’ve really approached this game differently,” said Eric Hirshberg, CEO of Activision Publishing. “This is our first three-year development cycle. It’s our first time with Sledgehammer Games at the creative helm. And we’re shaking up the formula in several ways. New core gameplay mechanics with the exoskeleton suit. A riveting new story. An iconic new character played by one of the world’s best actors in Kevin Spacey. We’re having a lot of fun making this game, and we think the world is going to have even more fun playing it.”
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare jolts players forward in a groundbreaking experience that’s ripped-from-the-headlines-of-tomorrow, envisioning a future where both technology and tactics have evolved to usher in a new era of combat for the franchise. Set in the year 2054, a private military corporation (PMC) has emerged with the power to rescue humanity from a devastated world struggling to rebuild after a global attack on its military and infrastructure. You are the advanced soldier. Empowered with new, cutting-edge exoskeleton abilities, technological advancements and high-tech gear, players join the ranks of a highly-trained, specialised unit committed to restoring order in a state of advanced warfare.
“It’s been a lot of fun working with the team to bring Jonathan Irons to life. The technology is truly remarkable and unlike anything I’ve done before. I’m excited to see where this goes,” said Academy Award® winner Kevin Spacey.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is being developed specifically for next gen consoles and PC. This is the first iteration of publisher Activision’s expanded three-year development cycle allowing the debut lead title from Sledgehammer Games an added year of studio development. With the expanded production capabilities, Sledgehammer Games is able to create an astonishing new, next generation experience, featuring an array of technical advancements from the sights and sounds that create a near photorealistic world unlike any Call of Duty before, to new performance capture and facial animation technologies that deliver lifelike characters, to a rich and immersive story that brings the fiction to life.
“This is an opportunity of a lifetime, and an honor for Sledgehammer Games. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is the most ambitious and creative project we have ever worked on. From the endless research and thousands of production designs, to our incredible focus on the narrative and amazing attention to detail – we’re taking nothing for granted,” said Glen Schofield, co-founder and game director of Sledgehammer Games. “Call of Duty connects with the fans on such a deep level, and crafting a new vision for the next generation has been so inspiring for us.”
Michael Condrey, co-founder and studio head of Sledgehammer Games added, “Glen and I created this team with the singular vision of delivering the best work of our lives. We know we’re stepping into some pretty big shoes, but every day I’m amazed at the talent and focus at work here touching everything from the story experience to multiplayer. We’re excited to lead the next chapter in this great franchise, and we can’t wait for November 4th.”
Starting today, fans can begin pre-ordering their copy of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare at retail outlets worldwide. The title is scheduled for release on November 4. For the latest intel, check out: www.callofduty.com, www.facebook.com/callofduty, www.youtube.com/callofduty or follow @CallofDuty_ANZ @CallofDuty on Twitter and Instagram. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is not yet rated.
Sorry, I’ve wanted to show you all what a poor guy like me has to read through dozens of times a day for a while now. Riveting stuff, no?
My point is, buzzwords. “Next Generation Advanced Soldier”, “Power Changes Everything”, “ripped-from-the-headlines-of-tomorrow” etc etc etc. You will be reading those words countless times between now and November, no doubt. Hell, I’m already sick of them, and I’ve only read ONE press release on it. Those phrases will drive Activision’s PR line, and you’d better believe they’ll stay on message.
But Destructoid’s announcement contains none of these. It is, by all accounts, a PR-free statement of fact, void of spin. And that Activision PR is letting this be the first impression of their product is strange.
The standard response to any premature leak in the PR industry is to deny to the hilt until the team’s plan is scheduled to be enacted.
Look at the Xbox One, for example. Yes, that was an incredibly messy PR campaign by anyone’s reckoning, but it’s convenient. Details of online requirements leaked, specs, images, OS details – the lot. The PR team denied all the “rumours”, right up until they announced those very same details themselves. They even announced a change to the base product around negative reaction to said rumours, without ever confirming said rumours until after announcing the change. WHAT. Deny, deny, deny, right up until the plan says not to.
The end result was a mess of contradictory information, mixed messages, and a sour taste among many consumers – as well as the gaming press. Microsoft were unable to regain control of their message and their PR campaign suffered.
Activision’s casual handwaving of the leak, admitting to it, and cheekily lifting their self-imposed embargo was a way of reclaiming the message from Destructoid. It was a way of saying “yeah, you can have this one, but we’ve still got six months to get our message across, and we’ll definitely be getting our message across”
Call of Duty is probably so big now that they can do whatever the hell they want and there will be a massive audience eating it up. Their marketing budget is practically bottomless. The brand has almost unprecedented reach. There is no way Destructoid’s scoop of the announcement will control Activision’s message – in fact, it’s already been reclaimed.
Destructoid set the tone for Call of Duty 2014’s media coverage, and that message was that the Activision PR juggernaut is capable of absorbing any potential mistakes and turning them into an advantage.
Call of Duty has some of the best marketing in the industry – nay, the whole world – and they will deliver their message to the people, no matter what.
And here I am, the filter, forced to process it all. Lucky me.