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Call of Duty: Warzone Mobile is out to eliminate mobile gaming’s stigma

Gameplay from Call of Duty: Warzone mobile

Activision may be under new ownership at Xbox, but that’s not slowing down its flagship series. After a few years in development, Call of Duty: Warzone Mobile is finally launching worldwide under the Microsoft banner. It’s a major moment for the shooter series that’s endured multiple industry changes over its long lineage. The new mobile game is the latest evolution for Call of Duty, bringing a high-quality battle royale experience to phones.

The importance of that evolution isn’t lost on Chris Plummer, the co-head of mobile at Activision. In an interview with Digital Trends ahead of Call of Duty: Warzone Mobile’s launch, Plummer painted a picture of how much has changed in the game industry since Call of Duty Mobile launched in 2019. An industry-shifting war between Epic Games and Apple, an enormous acquisition that’s turned Xbox into a mobile king, and a gradual shift in the general attitude towards mobile games — all of that has led to this moment. Plummer believes that the old days of players bemoaning cash-grab mobile games are coming to an end. The industry just needed its killer app; he believes Warzone Mobile could be that game.

“We do feel like there is a moment in time where people’s devices have evolved, our tech has evolved, the way people expect to be connected has evolved,” Plummer tells Digital Trends. “It’s all kind of happening right now, and we feel like we have the game that can change people’s minds.”

The road to Warzone Mobile

Call of Duty: Warzone Mobile is part of a wider shift for the Call of Duty brand that started to roll out in 2019. That was when Activision took the series to phones with the award-winning Call of Duty Mobile. Since then, the franchise has steadily grown into its own ecosystem. The launch of Call of Duty: Warzone in 2020 would help unite console and PC players. To fully complete the circle, though, Activision would need to fully loop its mobile experience in.

“If we’re going to connect the audience, what does that mean?” Plummer says. “So that’s us talking to players a lot. What do you want, what do you expect from a player’s perspective? The progression piece was, by a mile, the biggest request. Like, it would be so cool if I could grind out a camo on my phone, and then I go back, and it’s there on my console or PC. Which is pretty hard to do, but if we could pull that off, it would make our audience happy. To do that, we needed to build the game on our own technology, which then opened up a lot of other ways to realize this vision.”

If you apply console tuning to a mobile game, it’s going to be the worst experience of the platform you’re supporting.

Warzone Mobile looks to pay off that grand vision and that can be seen in a few of its interconnected features. For instance, players will see their Call of Duty friends in the mobile version on day one, and can even chat with players on other platforms. The mobile version would still require a bit of tweaking, with Plummer noting that console and mobile players have very different expectations when it comes to content cadence. Crossplay also ended up on the cutting room floor, but for a good reason: Neither players nor Activision wanted it.

“We’re not doing crossplay because, one, we asked our players if they wanted us to do crossplay, and they universally did not want it,” Plummer says. “The reason for it is that to do crossplay … is that you do have to tune that experience for some platforms. And mobile is different enough because of how it feels playing it on a small screen. If you apply console tuning to a mobile game, it’s going to be the worst experience of the platform you’re supporting. And we’ve seen that from other titles that have done it, and it’s a big price to pay.”

Cars drive away from a helicopter in Call of Duty Warzone Mobile.

Fan feedback like that has been crucial to the series’ evolution over the years, and it’s a core piece of Warzone Mobile, too. Plummer makes that clear when I ask about the franchise’s recent entries, which have been in a bit of a critical decline. Last year’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 led to poor reviews at launch, both from critics (it sits at a 56 on Metacritic) and users (Steam reviews have it sitting at Mostly Negative status currently). When asked how feedback to games like that shaped Warzone Mobile, Plummer focuses on the bright side.

“We’re looking mostly at feedback from mobile players, but we also look across the franchise to see what’s hot,” Plummer says. “And you’ll see things all the time that we’re adapting based on that feedback. Modern Warfare 3 got a lot of praise for its movement system, and we’ve adapted a bunch of that into Warzone Mobile. Not everything is wholesale 1:1 because some things didn’t work as well on mobile, but that’s kind of the way to think about it. If there’s stuff that’s working great, we’re going to make it work great on mobile as well.”

Keeping up with the times

Activision’s decisions could set Warzone Mobile up for success at launch, but making a game that can endure over time is a bigger challenge. Both the mobile and video game industries are defined by rapid change. Both worlds look entirely different now than they did when Call of Duty Mobile launched five years ago. Plummer isn’t shaken by that, though; he believes that Warzone Mobile is built to last.

“This is designed to be futureproofed,” Plummer says. “This isn’t a moment in time that’s fixed forever. This is the moment in time where the journey begins. As the engine evolves, as new technologies become available, as innovations come about, we’re going to be able to stay on the leading edge of that because we’re on this shared technology that’s always evolving … In fact, we’re testing some of this futureproofing at our worldwide launch by including some really powerful visual improvements on some of the most powerful chipsets as a proof of concept.”

This is really the first time [the battle royale] has ever been experienced properly on mobile.

It’s an ambitious claim, especially considering that the multiplayer battle royale genre is very different now than it was when Warzone launched in 2020. Fortnite, for instance, has long since diversified past the elimination format, adding entirely new modes that have reignited fan interest in it. While Warzone Mobile contains variations on its battle royale mode, that experience remains firmly at its core.

Plummer doesn’t see that as a problem, noting that the game’s reliance on real players instead of bots makes it an entirely different beast. “This is really the first time [the battle royale] has ever been experienced properly on mobile,” he says. With that accomplishment in mind, Plummer doesn’t see a need for Warzone to change its winning formula just yet.

“Will we always have that? Part of me thinks we’ll always offer that or something like it that slowly evolves over time,” Plummer says. “But we think there’s still a lot of interest in the core battle royale experience, and that is something we think we’re delivering the first taste of, legitimately, for audiences on mobile … There’s a little bit of that ‘Keep the things I know and love and expect intact, but give me some other things too that are new and fresh.’ That’s really what we’re committed to doing.”

A squad shoots guns in Call of Duty Warzone Mobile.

It’s not just the battle royale genre that’s changing; the entire mobile market could be poised for a seismic shift that could touch Call of Duty. Just this month, Apple reversed a ban in Europe that kicked Fortnite off its App Store after a long legal battle with Epic Games. The decision came after Apple received pressure from European regulators, a move that could loosen the mobile giant’s grip on how mobile games are distributed. When I ask Plummer about how that decision could potentially impact games like Warzone Mobile, the evolution theme comes back to the forefront.

“What’s interesting about it is that this is mobile. It’s honestly not new,” Plummer says. “Every couple of years, there’s some sea change type of thing that happens that can be driven by innovation, or hardware, or third parties. And here we are in it as usual! We’re always needing to adapt to the world around us and we’re ready for that. This, to me, feels pretty common for the mobile space. I’ve been doing this since the App Store came out in 2008, and every year or two, there’s some big change that forces you to do your business differently or creates a new way to approach it. To me, that’s part of what makes our industry exciting.”

That mindset, more than anything, perhaps explains why the Call of Duty series has continued to succeed even in its move to an unpredictable mobile market. Rather than getting rattled by the rapidly changing world around it, Activision seems to welcome and embrace that challenge. After all, that’s the same thinking that led to the creation of Warzone in the first place. Warzone Mobile is an extension of that philosophy, one that could hand Activision another megahit if it has navigated the storm correctly.

Call of Duty: Warzone Mobile is out now on Android and iOS.

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Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
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