The company behind 'Call of Duty' says it's funding COVID-19 treatment research while it figures out how to produce video games remotely (ATVI)
“Call of Duty: Modern Warfare”/Activision
- The latest “Call of Duty” game produced record sales numbers, even for an annual blockbuster franchise, in the first quarter of 2020.
- The game “sold through more units and has more players than any prior ‘Call of Duty’ title at this point after its release,” according to its publisher, Activision Blizzard, which announced first-quarter earnings on Tuesday.
- The game has done so well partially due to “shelter-at-home tailwinds,” as the company puts it. Simply put: With millions of people stuck indoors due to the coronavirus pandemic, many are turning to games like “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.”
- But “there’s no ‘winning’ in an environment like this,” CEO Bobby Kotick told Business Insider in an interview on Tuesday afternoon. “I’m spending virtually all of my time focused on employee health.”
- Activision Blizzard is going so far as to fund clinical trials of coronavirus-fighting drugs, Kotick said. “We’re funding trials right now on blood serology tests. We’re funding a clinical trial on an antiviral drug that was used in Japan,” he said. “If you were to ask me a year ago would we be funding a clinical trial on a drug? I wouldn’t even know how I would’ve answered that question.”
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Every holiday season, you can expect a new “Call of Duty” game.
It’s become an annual tradition in gaming: Like “Madden” in August, so can you expect a new “Call of Duty” come October or November. And every year, also like “Madden,” the new “Call of Duty” game sells a ton of copies.
But the latest game, “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare,” has broken records — even for a franchise that regularly outsells the competition. The game, which came out last year, “sold through more units and has more players than any prior ‘Call of Duty’ title at this point after its release,” according to its publisher, Activision Blizzard, which reported better-than-expected first-quarter earnings on Tuesday.
The games industry has been one of a few to see success during a pandemic that has seen more than 30 million people in the US file for unemployment. It had its best March in over 10 years, as the COVID-19 crisis has forced most of the country indoors.
For Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, the financial gains his company has enjoyed are dwarfed by the human impact of the pandemic.
“There’s no winning in an environment like this,” he told Business Insider in an interview on Tuesday. “I’m spending virtually all of my time focused on employee health.”
In addition to employee health, Kotick said that the company was funding coronavirus treatment research.
Like many companies, Activision Blizzard moved employees to remote work starting in March. Since then, the company has refocused priorities on employee safety and health, Kotick said.
“When you think about what is going to be most important for employees and their families going forward, it’s going to be: What’s the kind of health care that you can provide, and how do you ensure safety in a work environment,” he said. “When you think about the ability to send people back to work, it’s going to require a completely reconfigured work environment.”
How to make blockbuster games remotely
“Diablo IV”/Blizzard Entertainment
Many of the video games that Activision and its subsidiaries make are so-called “blockbusters” — the types of games that have budgets in the tens of millions of dollars, with celebrity cameos and sweeping orchestral soundtracks.
Some components of that type of game production — motion- or performance-capture and symphony recordings, among other things — are difficult or near impossible to do from afar, but that isn’t stopping Activision from attempting to solve as many of those issues as possible during the pandemic.
“When you look at things like voice acting or being able to record a symphony, what we’ve been doing now on things like motion capture and voice is we created these home recording studio kits that we send to our voice talent,” Kotick said. “We’ve got these very sophisticated motion capture suits that we’ve created that we can actually send to an actor’s home.”
Ben Gilbert/Business Insider
Those suits are a temporary solution awaiting a longer-term one that Kotick said he’s implementing company-wide: “We’ve bought PCR machines, and we have a pathologist who’s working with us full-time on how we’re going to deploy testing across every different part of our business.”
Kotick said he was also turning his attention and finances toward the pandemic. Activision is funding trials for drugs that can treat and fight the coronavirus, he said.
“We’re funding trials right now on blood serology tests,” Kotick said. “We’re funding a clinical trial on an antiviral drug that was used in Japan.” It’s a pretty major departure for a company that exclusively focuses on the production, marketing, and sales of a handful of blockbuster video game franchises — a major departure that isn’t lost on Kotick.
“If you were to ask me a year ago would we be funding a clinical trial on a drug? I wouldn’t even know how I would’ve answered that question.”