Plugging The Leak: Modern Warfare 3

This is the "security team" mentioned in the video.

I’m unusually fascinated by this video of Eric Hirshberg, CEO of Activision. He was the man who had to deal with Kotaku‘s massive scoop of Modern Warfare 3 information in May Last year. Immediately following the leak Activision released trailers of the game. It wasn’t coincidence: Activision treated the leak as the launch board for their marketing campaign.

“Like it or not, our launch just started”, Hirshberg told the Modern Warfare 3 team. “Our fans didn’t do anything wrong. They’re having a great day! They’re really interested in this game, they really want to know what happened, they’re poring over all the details trying to figure out what’s true and what’s not.”

Which is a remarkably human attitude for a company with the reputation of Activision. Rather than treating the leak like it had to be fought, they went with the wave of interest it created. It could be seen as a cynical exercise, and obviously advertising is a cynical exercise, but in admitting that it occurred and viewing the public interest as a positive they managed to turn the situation around. It sort of makes a mockery of all those carefully constructed PR plans that we have to negotiate, although I’d expect it would take a company the size of Activision to pull it off.


  1. ankh says:

    This makes me think that there was no leak and Activision simply supplied Kotaku with the information. Maybe they even did it in a clever way in order for Kotaku to think that it’s an actual leak.

    I dont think this is too far fetched either. It would be really easy, just send one email.

    • Sergey Galyonkin says:

      When you have MW3 on your hands you don’t really need to stage a leak to get press interested in your game :)

    • dangermouse76 says:

      You could be right, but I think it’s easy to go tin hat conspiracy waving because it usually has the bonus of requiring little or no proof.

      Not a slur against you.

      It’s just the cynicism of PR seems only matched by the cynicism of the public in some cases.

    • pdr-mcbc says:

      I’m not sure how it is in games, but staged “leaks” like this are actually very commonplace in other industries, it happens every season where I work. Activision’s response definitely fits the bill. Especially considering it’s, you know… Activision.

    • MCM says:

      “Cynicism”? “Conspiracy”? Please. This is standard procedure in all media relations now – marketing, politics, everything.

      1. Have idea (policy, product, whatever)
      2. Leak idea to press/public
      3. Gauge reaction
      4. Choose one: (A) embrace public reaction and build hype, or (B) disavow leak as outdated, false, etc.

      For example, Bioware chose to disavow the Mass Effect 3 script as “outdated” and said that “significant changes have been made since then” because it was from an “older build” once all the message boards made clear that the public thought the Mass Effect 3 script was total garbage.

      So here, it turns out that reaction was mostly positive. Embrace reaction, provide more info, etc.

    • dangermouse76 says:

      MCM, like everyone else all I am making is a judment on no evidence, that in this case ” I think ” no leak. But it’s a guess as is yours. But I accept that it does happen as part of a marketing strategy.

    • Kandon Arc says:

      Yep. “Leaks” are common place in the music industry. They’re free publicity AND can be used to show how piracy is out of control. Win – win!

    • Ed123 says:

      Guys, please. What some of you are suggesting would involve Kotaku conspiring with Activision’s PR department, which would border on journalistic malpractice and be totally out of character for such a highly-regarded, ethically-driv…..hey, where are you all going?

    • dangermouse76 says:


      Out of interest do you think that, that type of behaviour is something they would do at Kotaku. I may be naive but I would be incredibly insulted if I found out that they had published a story as a leak and it was infact PR.

      I am not saying I treat the site like the BBC but that would be pretty terrible breaking of trust.

    • Sergey Galyonkin says:

      Leaks are used if you have a problem securing a coverage, so I do believe in leaks in music industry where thousands of perfomers compete for media attention.

      But for MW3 promotion it would be easier to control everything and do it old-fashioned way. Makes it way more predictable :)

    • dontnormally says:

      I may be naive but I would be incredibly insulted if I found out that they had published a story as a leak and it was infact PR.

      Hate to break it to you kiddo, but this sort of thing happens all the time.

      I have no proof that Kotaku specifically engages in this sort of behavior, but just think about it:

      1. PR department with multi-million dollar budget.
      2. Journalist making 40k/year.
      3. Profit.

    • Nallen says:

      I have no proof but here’s wild speculation! Yes very good.

  2. jonfitt says:

    They took the sensible path, which is unusual. Perhaps Apple could take a leaf.

    • simoroth says:

      Apple leaks a massive amount of info to select establishments.

    • Optimaximal says:

      The key is, Apple never admit to their leaks. Keeps everyone guessing and allows them to lead the press by a carrot on a string.

      You know, *just incase* some info drops.

  3. jimjames says:

    This is a great find! Thanks for posting it up.

    I kind of feel that perhaps retrospect has greatly helped this presentation, but its still an interesting in-sight all the same!

  4. Kollega says:

    Hard to imagine Activision, of all companies, trying to take advantage of a leak instead of trying to deny everything and shut everything down like big corporations usually do.

    Then again, maybe they are on top of everything partly because they know what to do, even if “what to do” amounts to rehashing CoD every year.

    • diebroken says:

      [ Insert Valve’s Half-Life 2 leak was a conspiracy theory here… ]

  5. JayC1407 says:

    It’s easy to get distracted here and see “Activision”, “COD” and immediately get caught up in the shoutings of “ungame, “evil”, “exactly like the previous game” etc etc. And all of those things are valid, representative of the horrible practices of that company and so on, in my opinion anyway.

    But what you have to remember here is that Activision sells rediculous numbers of copies of games whilst setting record marketing expenditures. And that’s the key here. The strength of Activision IS its marketing and PR departments. It’s their marketing division that enables them to get away with what they do. Therefore it is thouroughly expected that they will have a top of the line marketing department, and they would behave just as you would expect such a department to perform.

    In addition, whilst the developers are certainly not doing a good job, the marketing department are giving the highest quality work of anywhere in the business and should not be villified for the shortcomings of the developers/ heads of the company. It should come as a surprise to no-one that an Activision CEO looks like a Godsend when he’s talking about marketing/PR and an absolute d**k when it comes to whats best for development/ gaming.

  6. Flukie says:

    Pff, take advantage.

    I don’t usually take the whole tinfoil hat stance on this, but I really doubt this was a leak.

    I mean 2 weeks after the leak there was adverts up along Sainsburys aisles.

    I didn’t even check before that 2 week mark so they could have been put there before hand, I just seriously think they either really rushed forward with marketing or it was planned all along.

    • Calneon says:

      That’s what he said in the video, they rushed their marketing forwards because their fans had basically started their marketing campaign for them.

  7. JackDandy says:

    Didn’t the same thing happen with Deus Ex: Human Revolution?

    People thought the game would be all consolized, casualized, an embarrassment to the franchise, you name it.
    Then the leak came out, and the internet fell in love with it. The devs didn’t even mind discussion about it in their forums!

    It’s too bad the entire game wasn’t on the same level as the leak (That final and level and endings were terrible), but it definitely helped market the game.

    • f1x says:

      Only terrible thing were boss encounters, everything else was awesome,

    • JackDandy says:

      I think the boss encounters weren’t as bad as people made them out to be, but the final level was just terrible- such a drastic mood change, it was just… silly. Final boss and endings were lame, too. The whole Megan thing really left a bitter taste in my mouth, as well.

  8. arboreal says:

    “pouring over all the details”

    Water shame.

  9. Multidirectional says:

    Can’t say I can even find it in myself to believe these “leak” things anymore. Therefore, cannot be impressed by this, sorry.

  10. seamoss says:

    “Our fans […] are pouring over all the details…”

    …must not be a slow leak, then!

  11. Nogo says:

    Really guys? Ignoring the fact that CoD absolutely doesn’t need additional press beyond the regular teaser, trailer, mountain dew promo, why would you create an intentional leak consisting of totally lifeless gun renders and a complete description of your single player plot and levels?

    • ankh says:

      Ok. You have changed my mind. I didnt know what the leak actually was so I’ve checked it out and I think you’re right. If they were gonna stage a leak then they would have ‘leaked’ better things given the already huge popularity of the franchise. I will put my tinfoil hat in storage for the time being.

  12. Chorltonwheelie says:

    It’s an Un-Leak.

  13. stillwater says:

    Kudos on the particularly good pun in the title :D