Sledgehammer Games is one of Activision‘s major game development studios, producing games such as Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Call of Duty: WWII. But the studio suffered some big blows when its founders left in 2018, and rumors surfaced last year that it was having trouble working with Raven Software to create the next Call of Duty for 2020.
We don’t know what’s coming this fall, particularly as the pandemic plays havoc with the schedule for new games and platforms. But Activision Blizzard announced last week that the next premium Call of Duty title is on track for the fall. And while working from home isn’t easy, Activision Blizzard said that it hasn’t put the game behind schedule.
Meanwhile, Sledgehammer Games has about 200 people working in its studio in both Foster City, California, and Melbourne, Australia. It plans to add 100 more workers over the next year.
Sledgehammer cofounders Michael Condrey and Glen Schofield left the studio in 2018, during a time when PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds was shaking up the first-person shooter market with its battle royale mode. After the founders were gone, they went off to start their own studios. Condrey started 31st Union in San Mateo, California, while Schofield started Striking Distance Studios in San Ramon, California. All three companies vied for candidates, and dozens of people left Sledgehammer.
But Sledgehammer Games stabilized with new management, and Andy Wilson, a former executive at 2K’s Hangar 13 studio, joined Sledgehammer Games as chief operating officer. We spoke with Wilson in an email interview about how the studio is bouncing back and hiring more people.
In an interview with GamesBeat last week, Kotick said, “I think we’re changing the trajectory in the interest in Call of Duty. I think it started last year with [Call of Duty: Modern Warfare] launch and mobile. And I think Call of Duty: Warzone did a good job of bringing back lapsed Call of Duty players but also introducing new players.”
In other words, the official party line is that Call of Duty fans shouldn’t be nervous. Here’s an edited transcript of the email interview with Wilson.
GamesBeat: Sledgehammer had a number of departures when the founders left and started their own studios. How has it dealt with this or adapted to it? Did you have to take any unusual measures to get more people to stay, stabilize the studio, and then grow its numbers again?
Andy Wilson: Our industry tends to see a lot of movement in general. The gaps between projects usually coincides with a larger number of people deciding to make a change. That said, the story of the last year for us has been one of solid growth. We’re not looking in the past. We are excited about where we’re headed and our focus is on looking forward. In my case, since joining SHG, my focus has been squarely on the future and so one of the first things we did was celebrate the studio’s 10th anniversary to launch an initiative called “Decade II.” The point was to treat that moment as the first day of the second age of Sledgehammer Games and not just a celebration of what came before, because for all the studio’s success, we could see there was so much we could do going forward: culturally for certain, but also in terms of structure, the move to more than one project, the continued growth of the team in Melbourne, and so on. The great thing about Decade II, Day One was that was actually the end-point of months of solid work to establish a clear plan for the future. The result is a team and studio with a clear roadmap and an enormous opportunity ahead of it, with a lot of great new team members signing up for the journey. Even since California and Australia enforced full remote-working, we’ve had well over 2,000 applications for our open roles. The icing on the cake is that we’ve also seen numerous people return to the studio of their own volition and their feedback on the positivity taking place here has helped to validate a lot of the thinking.
GamesBeat: Are you folks hiring? What kinds of jobs? What locations?
Wilson: Sledgehammer Games is entering a period of growth across both of our main studio locations: Foster City, California and Melbourne, Australia. We’re now a multi-project studio and we’re looking for a substantial number of new team members to join us. We’re looking across every discipline and various levels of seniority. It’s a pretty exciting time for our studio.
GamesBeat: How many people do you have?
Wilson: We’re currently over 200, and we plan to add upward of 100 new Hammers over the next year.
GamesBeat: Why have the different locations in the first place?
Wilson: There are huge benefits to having studio locations in different parts of the world. First, it opens up multiple talent pools for us and gives us access to people who we otherwise might not be able to bring onboard. Then there’s the amazing diversity of thought you get from having one team spread over different cultures and countries. We believe that’s essential to make truly global games. Another important consideration is the way games are released and played now. The launch is really just the start, as games are being played around the clock, it’s a great advantage to be able to cover more of the 24-hour cycle for things like live operations and support. Finally, there’s a certain momentum you gain from having the baton passed constantly between a team in one location finishing their day just as another is winding up for theirs.
GamesBeat: Are people still quite spread out beyond those two locations?
Wilson: We have always had people who work remotely. We decided long ago that we need to be accommodating when members of our team experience life changes that mean they would otherwise have had to leave Sledgehammer Games. We have also made a number of new hires since the stay at home orders came into force, so we’re adding additional people to the team who won’t be based at one of our permanent sites until sometime down the road.
GamesBeat: How are you proceeding with the hiring, given the coronavirus impact on meeting in person?
Wilson: Obviously, you lose something from not being able to sit in the same room as a person you’re interviewing, but we’re lucky that technology has reached the point where the impact is relatively minimal. For instance, when I first emigrated to Canada in 2011, video calls back home were laggy and low-res, whereas now I can have an HD meeting with zero lag and tens if not hundreds of people in attendance. We’re able to have substantive conversations through video conferencing software and although it’s a little more awkward than in-person, we’re all getting much better at it as the weeks go by. Humans adapt pretty quickly, and I think there’s been a very quick acceptance that this is the new norm for the time being.