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What Activision Told Its Employees Today About Modern Warfare 3's Leak

Activision details how the reveal was supposed to work...and how it changed.

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"Hey gang," starts an email that I've obtained, sent to Activision employees this morning, penned by Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg. Hirshberg's email marks Activision's first company-wide internal acknowledgement of last week's Modern Warfare 3 leak on Kotaku.

The email's tone is not unlike the candid interview Hirshberg conducted with Joystiq about earlier this week. In fact, the Joystiq interview is actually referenced within the email.

"I wanted to reach out to you today and address the Call of Duty intellectual property leak that occurred last Friday," started Hirshberg. "Of course, Activision takes very seriously any abuse of our intellectual property – the event is under investigation and we’re confident it will be resolved quickly."

The email does not provide any details on where Activision suspects the leak came from. I've heard several theories, none of them with definitive proof. But with so many developers and outsourcing companies working on massive, fast-tracked projects like Modern Warfare 3--well, stuff happens.

"What I want to tell you about is how we handled the event internally," he continued. "We were lucky in that we were very close to our scheduled reveal date, and therefore, we had a number of assets that had not yet been released, but were ready to go."

== TEASER ==

Activision and Infinity Ward rolled out a series of teaser trailers to YouTube that evening. There have also been prominent advertisements running during the NBA conference finals, promising a revealing trailer next week. The companies pulled the very same marketing trick for 2009's Modern Warfare 2.

"When it came to light that we had suffered a significant security breach, it became clear that a leak of this size had the potential to throw our launch off of its schedule, or worse, blunt its momentum," he wrote. "As a company, we needed to look both backwards and forwards simultaneously. Of course we needed to immediately begin finding the source of the leak. But we also needed to deal with the fact that, like it or not, our launch had just begun."

Activision and Infinity Ward's decision to simply acknowledge the leak and move on was a smart, if rather unexpected move. With the "real" launch so close, the two could have just put their heads down. Instead, beginning the reveal allowed them to capitalize on traffic and attention otherwise on Kotaku.

"Our leadership team and key members of the Call of Duty team met to discuss strategy," he said. "I, for one, was incredibly proud of the team’s performance in that critical meeting. Instead of panicking, we took the fire of interest that had been started by the leak, and poured gasoline on it. Through Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, we released our four teasers (which were not scheduled to launch for another week) onto the web. With equal agility, our worldwide sales organizations managed to put both the retail and .com presale programs and assets into launch mode in no-time flat. Everybody involved delivered under pressure."

The announcement strategy for Modern Warfare 3 is not unlike the one for the last game.
The announcement strategy for Modern Warfare 3 is not unlike the one for the last game.

Kotaku spoiled the goods--or parts of it--a week early. Some teasers would have begun rolling out this week, laying the viral groundwork for the official trailer during the NBA Finals.

"The result?" he said, numbers at the ready. "We had over 4.8 million hits on the various Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 teasers over those first 48 hours. To put that in perspective, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and Call of Duty: Black Ops had 61,000 and 89,000 hits, respectively, in their first two days. Pre-sales for MW3 are off to an amazing start. Perhaps, most importantly, we migrated the dialogue from one that was between our players and the leakers, to one between our players and us."

Translation: Modern Warfare 3 is going to be huge. The Kotaku leak may have even helped fan the flames, as gamers descended upon the site and other blogs to learn "secret" details about the game.

"Very few companies could have woken up with a crisis of this magnitude, and gone to bed with an undeniable win," he concluded, echoing similar comments made to Joystiq. "Everyone should be extremely proud. We’ve got a long way to go. But under very challenging circumstances, we managed to get our launch off to an incredible start."

We expect to learn plenty more at a little thing called E3.

Patrick Klepek on Google+