Learning Strategy

Why You Don’t Need New Ideas: How Activision-Blizzard Turned Old Content into a $3 Billion Goldmine

Content everywhere, all at once

In a world drowning in content, from endless Netflix series to an avalanche of apps, the question arises: do we really need more?

The digital age has given us more content than we could consume in several lifetimes.

This is the same for learning products.

Just think of all the courses, resources and platforms we’re exposed to daily. There’s no sign of them slowing down either. Generative AI just gave many the license to replicate even more!

What’s old is new

This brings us to an intriguing thesis:

Can you achieve greater success by iterating on existing content rather than continually pumping out the new?

Activision-Blizzard’s strategy with its Call of Duty: Modern Warfare gaming franchise suggests that the answer is a resounding yes.

They’re certainly not the only one to have benefitted from this strategy in modern times. Yet, they look to be the one making the biggest mark in the playbook.

An AI image of Call of Duty Modern Warfare

Case Study: How Activision-Blizzard made billions with recycled content

The Franchise’s History

Call of Duty, a first-person shooter game, has been a cornerstone in the gaming industry since its inception in 2003.

It has spawned numerous sequels and spin-offs, becoming a multi-billion-dollar franchise.

It’s been so successful that roughly 1 million gamers only play this one game on their console of choice. This success was no doubt a big factor in Activision-Blizzard’s acquisition by Microsoft for nearly $70 billion.

The Modern Warfare Trilogy

Among the franchise’s most successful iterations is the Modern Warfare trilogy.

Initially released between 2007 and 2011. These games set new standards for storytelling and gameplay in the first-person shooter genre.

The original Modern Warfare trilogy sold over 60 million copies, generating billions in revenue.

According to Activision’s 2020 annual report, the new Modern Warfare trilogy has so far generated over $3 billion in revenue.

The first game alone raked in over $550 million within the first five days of its release. AZ knew they had a winner on their hands. Investors were no doubt chuffed too.

But what next?

The Remakes

Fast forward to recent years, and Activision-Blizzard decided to remake this successful trilogy.

I mean, if you’ve made billions with the same content before. Whose to say you won’t do that again? Turns out they were onto something.

With improved graphics and slight story tweaks, the company managed to breathe new life into old content.

To say the remakes have been a commercial success would be a gross understatement.

The first remake generated over $600 million in its first three days.

AZ discovered quite quickly that fans were up for recycled content with a bit of polish. It wasn’t just old fans that engaged, plenty of new fans emerged too.

We must remember that not everyone will be captured the first time around.

Some didn’t care, whilst others may have missed it completely. It’s like the old marketing adage of saying the same thing a thousand times, a thousand different ways.

Why iterate vs create

Why did Activision-Blizzard choose to remake these games?

The answer lies in the risk-averse nature of the business. Developing a new game is expensive and risky. Remaking a proven success, however, offers a safer bet.

Commercial success aside. New audiences can be captured in modern times.

We see this with films and tv shows all the time. The gaming world adapting this playbook is no surprise. The pace of recycling might be though. The MW series was hardly a decade old when it was remade.

This strategy is everywhere

South Korea has a term which fits this piece well called “Newtro”.

It represents the blending of traditional elements with modern influences.

From fashion to technology, Newtro is everywhere in South Korea. Classic Korean dishes are being reimagined with modern culinary techniques, and traditional Hanbok dresses are getting contemporary makeovers.

It’s a nod to the past with a flavour of the modern.

This is exactly what Activision-Blizzard did, and you can too.

Create once, distribute forever

Both Ross Simmonds of Foundation Marketing and Neil Patel of NP Digital are big advocates of the distribution flywheel.

This is when you create once and distribute forever.

We forget about this in our content heavy world. There is power in updating, recycling and resharing existing content. It saves time, gives you something to work with and even saves energy.

Activision-Blizzard tapped this goldmine to excel their Call of Duty franchise.

They already had a very successful IP. So, why not iterate it for modern times? They start with an advantage and have the data that points to at least a decent success.

This is something to reflect on with L&D products.

You can reap significant rewards by taking what’s already successful and making it even better. In a world already saturated with content, perhaps the future lies in reimagining the old rather than inventing the new.

What L&D Operators Can Learn from this

1. The Value of Iteration

Instead of constantly striving for something completely new, consider revisiting your most successful pieces. Update them, add new insights, and re-release them to your audience.

Just like a smart writer never starts with a blank page. You don’t need to start from nothing either.

2. Risk Mitigation

Developing new content is not just time-consuming. It’s risky.

You never know how well it will resonate with your audience. On the other hand, iterating on existing, successful content can be a safer bet. You already know it has an audience. You’re just giving them more of what they found valuable.

3. The Longevity of Good Content

Good content doesn’t have an expiration date.

Smart people call this ‘timeless not timely’.

Just like the Modern Warfare trilogy, your best pieces can continue to engage audiences for years to come. They can be updated, expanded, or even repurposed into different formats.

This is a philosophy that can be applied to all learning content. Blend old wisdom with new insights to create something that feels both familiar and fresh.

Be the smarter L&D operator.

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