The Creator of Sony's Fake Exec Hero Moves To ActivisionS

Activision Publishing's new head honcho may be the man who created Sony's tie-wearing, trash-talking fake spokesman Kevin Butler, but that doesn't mean the largest publisher in the world will be getting their own fake executive hero soon.

Eric Hirshberg, who becomes Activision Publishing's new CEO in September, acknowledged some of the issues Activision faces when it comes to the way gamers think about Activision and promised to help repair that damaged relationship, just not with a second Butler.

"Kevin Butler was the right solution for Sony," Hirshberg told Kotaku.

How is he going to deal with Activision's perception problem? He's not saying, but he knows it's there.

"I'm not in the building yet," he said. "I only have my perceptions as a outsider to go on. I think that Activision, based on the number of great gaming experiences they have delivered, should be a more beloved brand than you would think they are by reading the core-gaming blogosphere.

"I think I will be helping to kind of find an equilibrium between that and the general tone of the public discourse."

And while Hirshberg's experience is with marketing, that certainly won't be all he will be doing as the company's new CEO, a position that reports to Activision Blizzard COO Thomas Tippl and CEO Robert Kotick.

"I'm really looking forward to having a relationship with developers," he said. "That is one of the biggest attractions to me: Building a creative culture, attracting the best creative talent; the chance to do that on a completely different stage and a stage I'm equally passionate about."

Hirshberg describes himself as not just a gamer, but a lifelong gamer, one who has owned, if not every gaming platform ever released, then most.

And as an executive and father of two boys, Hirshberg says he still finds the time to game. When I asked him his favorites, he was quick to respond.

"I know you're going to roll your eyes when I say this, but I love Call of Duty," he said. "I think it's the biggest visual feast in popular culture. I'm actually not great at it, but I'm pretty unbeatable on the drums on Guitar Hero. I love LittleBigPlanet, I play that with my kids. I thought it was such a creative use of social media and interaction. I love sports games. I'm a perennial Madden and NBA 2K player."

Hirshberg has always found ways to blend his love of gaming with his professional life, he says.

When Deutsch LA, the marketing and advertising firm he runs, landed the Sony account, the company built a gaming lounge stocked with Red Bull, bean bags and every console released for "research" purposes.

"It's literally research and it's legit," he said. "If we are managing a Twitter feed in Kevin Butler's name, or writing a speech for him for E3, or writing an ad, we have to be authentic."

In his new job, Hirshberg will help oversee some of gaming's biggest brands like Guitar Hero, James Bond and, of course, Call of Duty.

When I asked Hirshberg how he plans to handle the growing discord surrounding the dueling lawsuits over Modern Warfare 2 and Modern Warfare 3, the future CEO of Activision Publishing said he wouldn't talk about it. But he did offer up an anecdote about how he believes contentious issues should be handled.

Deutsch LA was handling Sony marketing when word started to spread that a trailer shown for Killzone 2 was stuffed with non-interactive computer-generated imagery. The backlash among hardcore gamers was intense.

"For the core gaming community, that game became the game everyone loved to hate," Hirshberg said. Sony "had a huge headwind going into that launch."

So his marketing firm decided to create a single commercial that showed a full second of gameplay slowed down to a snail's pace. Then the company released an interactive version of the video to gamers so they could explore it and experience the full in-game graphics unfiltered.

"By walking right into the controversy we were able to turn the problem around," he said. "The trick is to deal with this transparently and head on.

"In this day and age with such an engaged and passionate audience, the brand doesn't belong to the company, it belongs to the consumers."