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Polygon interviews DemonWare, the team behind Call of Duty servers

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Call of Duty has become an entertainment phenomenon across the world. On Xbox, 5 Call of Duty titles appear on the Top 20 list every week; players continue to play Call of Duty at an unpresedented rate. And with that, the servers have to be able handle all of this. Call of Duty games are known for their smooth launch – the game functions as you’d expect it too. Other titles like Sim City, Battlefield face issues at launch and even after trying to hold players on their servers.

So how does Activision do it? It’s because of DemonWare. A company based in Ireland, with a staff of 150 people. Activision purchased and now owns DemonWare, and their server rights and management.

“In 2005, when we were still a pretty small group of people, 12 to 14,” John Kirk, chief technology officer at DemonWare told Polygon in a recent interview. “I moved to Vancouver, Canada to set up a presence. Most of our customers were up and down the West Coast and it was much easier to support them on their own timezones.”

Pat Griffith, Activision’s vice president of online technology, said that they began working with the company initially to support matchmaking and storage systems needs on the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3. But it was their work on Call of Duty: Big Red One and Call of Duty 3 that won the publisher over.

“DemonWare’s level of collaboration with Treyarch on Call of Duty: Big Red One andCall of Duty 3 surpassed anything we’d ever seen before,” Griffith said. “We found the crew at DemonWare to be highly capable. DemonWare quickly demonstrated an exceptional level of knowledge and experience with our game engine and practices in addition to their domain-specific expertise.”

Originally, the first Modern Warfare experienced a rough launch. Activision, DemonWare, and the developers weren’t ready for so many people to play the title that the servers came to a halt. No one expected the amount of players would be online and buy the title.

“The launch of Modern Warfare came at a point where there was a lot more adoption of broadband internet connections,” Griffith said. “We had, and the industry as a whole probably had, some issues across the board.”

“We became more successful then we had prepared for,” he said. “That’s not just in the online world. Our sales of Modern Warfare were above our expectations.”

And from this experience, DemonWare learned and understood what they have to change and focus on to fix their mistakes.

“Many of our lessons about measuring and everything else, they come from that,” Griffith said. “It provided a foundation that we build on. I think that the nascent of our philosophy begins in that Modern Warfare game and what happened in that title.”

Another integral part that makes Call of Duty what it is is the fact if a certain feature isn’t available, they entire system doesn’t crash. For example, if the leaderboards have to go down, your gameplay isn’t affected. Same with the player count and the global map. If those features aren’t working, the core gameplay features will continue to work regardless.

“One of the things that can happen in any online system is if one bit of the system goes down it can take the whole system down,” Griffith said. “I don’t think it’s magic, I don’t think it’s anything that nobody knows, it’s just very hard to try and decouple and almost isolate a group of systems so that one will not have a knock-on effect on others.”

“Only a small subset of those are required to play a game,” he said. “If player counts or the service that creates the global heatmap, if those systems are down, they’re down but they’re not affecting gameplay. People can still get their profiles, matchmake and join a game. That’s what we focus on, making sure those core systems get a lot more attention and a lot more love then the ancillary systems.”

The team at DemonWare works 24/7 at initial launch phases to monitor the situations, and once the graphs and charts stabalize, their focus is reduced, until the next title hits. Daniel Suarez, vice president of production on Call of Duty, says that even to this day servers for old games are getting background updates all the time.

“I believe that DemonWare is crucial to the success of our online games for all of the reasons mentioned previously,” he said. “They give us a stable platform on which to build. They provide us with valuable data about how our games are played. And their collaboration with the game development studios like Infinity Ward and Treyarch has allowed our game teams to focus on making great games.”

SOURCE: Polygon

Activision

Sledgehammer Games open new UK Studio to support CoD: Vanguard seasons

Sledgehammer Games have announced they are opening a new studio in the United Kingdom to support Vanguard’s live seasons.

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The developers of the upcoming Call of Duty: Vanguard, Sledgehammer Games, have announced they will be expanding with a new studio in Guildford, UK.

Sledgehammer Games has grown drastically over the past couple of years, opening a new studio in Melbourne, Australia in 2019, hiring 150 new people to the team in 2020, and opening another new studio in Toronto in May.

With only a few weeks until Call of Duty: Vanguard’s launch, Sledgehammer Games has now announced they’re opening another studio in Guildford, England, to support Vanguard’s live seasons and “future projects.

Call of Duty Vanguard character using 1911

Sledgehammer Games announced on October 14 that they’re growing yet again with a new studio in Guildford, which will support the existing studios in the Bay Area, Melbourne, and Toronto.

“I’m just really excited to bring our studio brand to the UK, along with the incredible franchise we get to work on,” said Andy Wilson, COO of Sledgehammer Games.

“It’s another opportunity to do our own small part to grow the industry, in a place where there’s a huge number of talented developers. As we have done in our other locations, we will be looking to build partnerships with schools and universities to help nurture and grow the next generation of talent. It’s not just about finding people who already work in the industry, it’s about providing pathways for those who are looking to get in. I remember that daunting feeling very well and it makes me happy to be providing opportunity, especially as we emerge from a historic pandemic.” 

Sledgehammer is looking for team members in various roles, including Technical Artists, Senior Level Designers, and VFX Artists.

They said they are looking for “various levels of seniority” but will also be “prepared to create roles when great talent comes along.”

This news comes soon after Activision officially announced their new kernel-level anti-cheat software, RICOCHET, which may even detect Cronus users.

Expect more Operators, maps, weapons, and more from each season of Call of Duty: Vanguard, with the first bringing a new Pacific-themed Warzone map.

Source: Sledgehammer Games

Image Credit: Sledgehammer Games

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Blizzard Chief Legal Officer resigns as Activision Blizzard lawsuit controversy continues

Turmoil at Activision Blizzard continues as new investigations & details surface on the harassment lawsuit.

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The turmoil over the lawsuit for Activision Blizzard continues as a high profile executive of the company has announced their departure.

Blizzard Entertainment’s Chief Legal Officer, Claire Hart, has shared on her LinkedIn that she’s left the company on Friday, September 17.

Hart said in her message on LinkedIn that “the past three years have been full of unexpected twists and turns, but I feel honored to have worked with and met so many great people at Blizzard and across the Activision Blizzard businesses.”

She did not comment on whether her departure was related to what was happening at the company currently. Activision Blizzard also declined to comment beyond confirming her departure.

The news of her departure comes as this week the company confirmed new investigations by the SEC over the company’s handling of the lawsuit scandal.

This week, the situation heated up as Activision Blizzard is now under investigation by the SEC for potentially misleading investors over the brevity of the lawsuit and harassment that occurred at the company.

Activision Blizzard confirmed that they are cooperating with the SEC as part of their investigation into the company.

The lawsuit from California State, which surfaced in July, primarily focused on Blizzard Entertainment’s harassment and scandal issues, including sexual harassment, inequality amongst staff pay, and more issues.

Blizzard’s President of J. Allen Brack was the first executive to leave the company, resigning at the end of July. He was replaced by Mike Ybarra and Jen Oneal as the new co-leaders of Blizzard Entertainment.

So far, Activision Blizzard has refused to met employee’s demands to chart a better future for the company. An employee group, A Better ABK, has been formed to provide their feedback to the executive team.

In other news in regards to Blizzard, the Executive Producer of Overwatch 2 is departing Blizzard this week.

Chacko Sonny, who was highly respected at Blizzard and seen as the person to chart Overwatch’s future following Jeff Kaplan’s departure, told staff in an email that he’s leaving, per Bloomberg. Sonny was perviously one the masterminds behind Call of Duty ELITE service back in 2011.

We’ll continue to update as the situation unfolds.

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Activision Blizzard provides update on workplace initiatives as US government opens investigation

Activision Blizzard is now being investigated by the SEC over sexual misconduct and discrimination allegations, as fallout from initial lawsuit continues.

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The fallout on Activision Blizzard over the initial revelations of workplace harassment at the company continues as the company is now facing new legal challenges from U.S government agencies.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) has issued a report stating that the SEC, the Securities and Exchange Committee, opened an investigation into Activision Blizzard recently over the workplace harassment and pay inequality issues.

The SEC has also subpoenaed Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick to appear in court, along with several other Activision Blizzard senior executives. Specific names beyond Kotick were not shared.

The SEC is investigating whether Activision Blizzard’s failure to provide proper information in regards to the harassment and inequality situation prior to it becoming public via the California state lawsuit on July 21, 2021 caused investors to lose money over a drop in the company’s stock prices.

The WSJ states that, per documents and files they’ve reviewed, the SEC is asking for information dating back to 2019.

The agency is specifically inquiring about the communications of senior executives over the harassment and diversity situation and what decisions were made at that time.

Activision Blizzard’s Chief Communications Officer, Helaine Klasky, confirmed to WSJ that the SEC is investigating the company and confirmed they are cooperating with the SEC.

In addition to the SEC, the WSJ reports that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has been investigating Activision Blizzard separately since May 2020 over workplace misconduct and discrimination.

Per reports, Activision Blizzard and the agency are in talks over a settlement agreement which would see the company pay millions of dollars in fines.

Activision Blizzard has been under fire since the California DEFH lawsuit came to light on July 21, 2021.

Employees of the company formed a group, known as A Better ABK, to list their demands and how they want to proceed forward with the company, following a company wide walkout in July. So far, the company’s executives have not met their demands.

Activision Blizzard provides update

Since these new investigations have come to light, Activision Blizzard has issued a statement revealing some progress that the company claims to have made over the last two months.

Bobby Kotick, Chief Executive Officer of Activision Blizzard, said, “We are deeply committed to making Activision Blizzard one of the best, most inclusive places to work anywhere. There is absolutely no place anywhere in our Company for discrimination, harassment, or unequal treatment of any kind. While we continue to work in good faith with regulators to address and resolve past workplace issues, we also continue to move ahead with our own initiatives to ensure that we are the very best place to work. We remain committed to addressing all workplace issues in a forthright and prompt manner.”

Activision Blizzard confirmed investigations are underway by the SEC and the EEOC, which were reported by the WSJ. The company says that they are “cooperating” with the investigations.

Kotick also said that the Company continues to productively engage with regulators, including the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), and the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) with the goal of improving its workplace policies and procedures and ensuring compliance.

The Company is actively engaged in continued discussions with the EEOC and has cooperated with the EEOC’s investigation concerning certain employment practices. It also confirmed that it is complying with a recent U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) subpoena issued to the Company and several current and former employees and executives regarding disclosures on employment matters and related issues. The Company is confident in its prior disclosures and is cooperating with the SEC’s investigation.

In addition, Activision Blizzard states that they have made several changes to the company and the company’s culture. They state that there have been many exits from the company and have “refreshed” their HR team.

Activision Blizzard recently announced the hiring of Julie Hodges as their new Chief People Officer, who will be responsible for HR. Hodges begins her role on Sept. 21. She replaces the current head of HR, who has left the company.

Activision Blizzard has made a number of important improvements including significant changes to personnel, exiting a number of employees, and expanding compliance resources. In addition, the Company has refreshed its HR organization and, this week, will welcome a new Chief People Officer, Julie Hodges, who joins the Company from The Walt Disney Company. The Company has also expanded training, performance management, and anti-harassment resources.

We’ll continue to provide updates on the situation with Activision Blizzard.

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