On January 25, Microsoft announced an almost 9 percent reduction of its workforce in the company’s gaming division, totaling nearly 2,000 staffers who’ve lost their jobs across Activision Blizzard, ZeniMax, and Xbox. Some of these folks worked on Call of Duty, one of the industry’s biggest and most profitable franchises, indicating that no one, not even those working on this moneymaking juggernaut, is safe when corporations decide it’s time to make the “difficult decision” to reduce headcount and eliminate roles.
Across social media sites like LinkedIn and X/Twitter are (now former) Call of Duty developers saying their goodbyes as their jobs get thrown into the corporate trash can. Raven Software’s community manager, Austin O’Brien, announced that he’d been laid off after three years working on Warzone. Sledgehammer Games’ environment artist, Ethan Pflugh, was also let go after three years at that studio. Sledgehammer system designer Brad Dallaire said they’re now looking for work, while the studio’s senior quality assurance lead said they’d “lost basically [their] entire team” as a result of the widespread layoffs. Apparently, a new branch of Infinity Ward’s IT department was cut down to a single person. Even folks at Activision-owned High Moon Studios, which has assisted on Call of Duty and Destiny, have been impacted. It’s a bloodbath.
According to Kick streamer DougDagnabbit, who runs the ModernWarzone X/Twitter account, every single Call of Duty studio was affected by the layoffs. While there’s no figure attached to the devastation, it seems the scope is pretty massive.
In a memo to staff obtained by IGN, Xbox boss Phil Spencer said that it was a “painful decision” to cut approximately 1,900 people from the 22,000-person workforce, and stated that Microsoft would offer “severance benefits informed by local employment laws” for all of the impacted individuals while underscoring the company’s commitment to “bringing more games to more players around the world.” The ABK Worker’s Alliance, a group of organized employees at Activision Blizzard King, isn’t too pleased, telling Aftermath’s Nathan Grayson that its members will “continue to work together to attempt to help and protect our fellow employees, current and former.”
Almost every year, Call of Duty sells like gangbusters. 2023’s Modern Warfare III, one of the worst-reviewed Call of Duty games in history, still outsold Tears of the Kingdom. Despite Elden Ring’s popularity, Modern Warfare II outperformed the Soulslike epic. Some of the best-selling games on Xbox in 2023 were old Call of Duty titles. I could go on, but you get it. Just about every single time a Call of Duty game comes around, no matter the discourse around it or the crunch that went into it, the game inevitably becomes a top-seller for Activision Blizzard. Under capitalism, though, in which your employment is often at the whims of some CEO who makes millions—or billions—of dollars, job security is not guaranteed, no matter how successful or profitable the projects you work on may be.
Kotaku reached out to Activision Blizzard and Microsoft for comment.
All these layoffs are painful to witness. The year just started and nearly 6,000 folks have already lost their jobs. I’d like to believe that saying that “it gets worse before it gets better,” but if not even Call of Duty developers are safe from layoffs, it’s hard to believe it’s gonna get better any time soon.