Yesterday, Activision-owned studio Toys For Bob announced that it was going to provide development support for the latest season of Call of Duty Warzone. The studio had previously worked on its own games, such as last year’s fantastic Crash Bandicoot 4, but has now effectively been consumed by the ever-growing monster that is Call of Duty. With that move, all nine studios directly owned by Activision are part of the Call of Duty machine in some capacity.
Toys For Bob isn’t the first studio Activision has tossed into the never-ending war-game talent blender. Here’s the breakdown of what the studios the company currently owns have done with the massive franchise:
- Toys For Bob is working on Warzone Season 3 content.
- Raven Software has been a support studio for CoD since 2010.
- Activision Shanghai worked on Call of Duty Online.
- Demonware does server support for Call of Duty.
- Former Transformers dev High Moon Studios helps support Call of Duty.
- Beenox has been working on CoD since Black Ops III.
- Collectively, Infinity Ward, Treyarch, and Sledgehammer have been taking turns developing Call of Duty games for the last decade.
Even parts of Activision that you wouldn’t expect to be involved with Call of Duty are in fact involved with Call of Duty. Blizzard, part of the larger mega-company Activision Blizzard, hasn’t developed a CoD game (yet) but it does sell them on its own digital store. King, the mobile game giant Activision bought for $US5.9 ($8) billion back in 2016, was working on a Call of Duty game for phones. (Already-launched Call of Duty mobile games have been developed by other, non-Activision studios.)
It’s hard to watch as talented devs part of successful and long-running studios get sent to the Call of Duty salt mines, unable to make anything unique or new. It hurts even more when it’s a studio with its own history of great games. For example, Raven Software is the studio behind Heretic, Hexen, Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, Marvel Ultimate Alliance, and more great stuff. However, since 2010 Raven has been stuck as a support studio for Call of Duty, often assisting on DLC. I don’t doubt the studio is still filled with skilled creators working hard every day. But I can’t help but wonder what those devs could be doing if they were free from Call of Duty and allowed to make something new.
Of course, with Activision and its obscenely rich CEO, sticking around as a Call of Duty support studio is often the best-case scenario. The likely alternative is your studio is shut down or absorbed into another studio within the publisher, leading to massive layoffs. This happened to Neversoft, Grey Matter Interactive, Bizarre Creations, Shaba Games, and many more.
Even if a studio is allowed to live on as a cog in the CoD machine, it doesn’t save them from layoffs, with some Toys For Bob employees seeming to confirm a layoff occurred at the studio following the recent release of Crash 4. Toys For Bob’s future doesn’t seem bright. It could live on for another decade, helping support Call of Duty, like Raven Software. Or it might get shut down after a few years on the CoD train, like Neversoft. My heart goes out to the staff at Toys For Bob and to those who were let go.
I’ve enjoyed Call of Duty games over the years, but it’s become harder and harder to play the newest entries and the ongoing Warzone mode as studio after studio is sacrificed to the franchise to keep it going. Call of Duty’s yearly release schedule, paired with each game’s increasing size and complexity, has created a superstorm that seems to suck up resources, people, and money faster and faster. And now Activision has no more studios to throw at it, because it’s already dun thrown them all in.
Will Kotick and his millions go hunting for a new studio to purchase soon? It seems when Activision buys up a new studio, an invisible timer starts, counting down the days until that new studio is either kicked overboard to die or gets “lucky” and lands on Call of Duty island, destined to work on military manshoots until the heat death of the universe.
Update: Activision PR released a statement disputing the reality of layoffs at Toys For Bob:
Reports of layoffs at Toys For Bob are incorrect. There has not been a reduction in personnel recently at the studio. The development team is operating fully and has a number of full-time job openings at this time. The studio is excited to continue supporting Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, and more recently provide additional development support to Call of Duty: Warzone.
Maloof referred to Nicholas Kole — who is no longer working for the studio and tweeted, “everyone I interfaced with and worked along was let go,” — as being part of an external art team. So not a layoff, per se, but it sure sounds like some developers are still newly out of work.