The Inverse Interview

Why Call of Duty: Warzone Mobile Doesn’t Do Cross Play

Activision exec Chris Plummer talks AI, mobile gaming, and sniping in Verdansk.

Soldiers with parachutes descend near a building with an explosion, while a helicopter hovers in the...
The Inverse Interview

Verdansk is back, baby. Activision’s senior vice president of mobile, Chris Plummer, tells me about the iconic, blood-streaked map — as he simultaneously snipes at players from Chile during a game of Warzone on his iPhone, pre-launch. Verdansk’s fame is as well-known as the classic Fortnite map is, from the chaos of Tilted Towers to the slightly more relaxing Loot Lake. So for Warzone’s mobile launch, Activision is reviving the beloved, easily recognizable locales.

“One of the things that made Warzone successful when it first launched is the map for Verdansk – that was the debut map. It’s got this legendary status in the community. It has a very unique design, where, first of all, it’s massive, but it has these points of interest that are nicely positioned,” Plummer says. “You can really just look around and see everything, like, oh there’s a dam over here, there’s downtown over there, oh there’s the airport, there’s the hospital. The really, really well known Superstore. And if you’re not familiar with it, you drop in and can get to know your way around quite easily.”

The mobile version of Activision’s battle royale shooter is available on iOS and Android across the world as of March 21, launching with two maps: Verdansk and Rebirth Island. It’s the mobile version of a game that reached 100 million players in 2021, a year after launch. To bring Warzone to mobile, where its file size is only a tiny sliver of its massive 175GB PC version, took several years of development.

“It’s one of the most popular genres of games on mobile, and so it’s not getting smaller, it’s very vibrant. But unserved with Call of Duty.”


Although battle royale’s heyday began in 2017, Plummer doesn’t believe that Call of Duty is too slow on the uptake.

“It takes a while for us to adapt something that’s ambitious to mobile. And what we’ve seen is there’s a lot of appetite for this style of game,” he says. “It’s one of the most popular genres of games on mobile, and so it’s not getting smaller, it’s very vibrant. But unserved with Call of Duty.”

“Playing against AI has been there since the beginning of games.”

Plummer has a long view of the industry. Prior to joining Activision, Plummer worked at Zynga as vice president of games, and at Electronic Arts as an executive producer. He sat down with Inverse on a cold San Francisco morning at the Game Developers Conference to discuss generative AI, cross play and progression, and how tech policy has affected the game. And by the end of our interview, Plummer produced a victory royale, after beating back those poor, unsuspecting Chilean players.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

What are your thoughts on artificial intelligence and how it could impact Call of Duty?

Playing against AI has been there since the beginning of games. In Space Invaders, you’re playing against AI. This style of game is really meant to be played against other humans and with other humans. You want to party up and squad up with your friends, and it’s a super social experience when you do that.

That’s not taking anything away from great AI experiences, but there’s no substitute from actually dropping in with real human players. We’re excited by that. For me, AI is a tool. Like any other tool, you find ways to use it and do your job better. Over time, the industry will figure out ways to use those new tools, just like with old tools, like PhotoShop, Excel, proprietary editors, and other stuff. But for our player experience, this is definitely about humans. Humans against humans.

You said Warzone is supposed to have 120 to 150 players per game. Why is that not a set number and how do you decide how many players to include?

Think of it this way: It’s like they’re tuning knobs. So as we get player feedback, the maps will change. Sometimes, 120 people might feel like too many or it might feel too sparse. And if it’s too sparse, we can crank it up. There’s no technical limitation keeping us from increasing or decreasing the player count.

In our limited time modes and in-game events, we’ll take a classic mode that people know and love and we’ll modify it to make it different and fresh and more unique. It’s the same philosophy that we can apply to our main battle royale. We might try a limited time mode where it’s 150 players or something like that. And if people really like it, then maybe we’ll change the default tuning to that. It’s a live game, so we’ll always be making little fine-tuning adjustments.

Verdansk is back, baby.


While supporting a live service game, how does your team navigate burnout and crunch?

You have to have endurance and pace yourself for the live experience. We’ve been running this as a live game for two years. When you go through that type of cycle, you figure out how to find your pacing. We’ll always be building new stuff for the game. So you have to balance that. How much of your capacity is building new, how much is supporting the live game, keeping the lights on but keeping them on bright, and how much of the team is delivering the content and keeping it fresh. There’s a split of the team bandwidth against these different vectors. We have to figure out how to distribute that the right way over time. It’s challenging because you always want to do more and you always have the compulsion to want to do more. But you have to find out, well, we’ve got enough right now. This is the capacity we can do. You have to be energized and ready to go every day on a live game like this.

What about the stigma that mobile gaming has in the hardcore console gaming community? I remember League of Legends PC gamers were reluctant to try the game out on mobile when I asked them.

First, we’re not trying to convert people from console or PC to switch over to mobile. That’s not the goal here. Mobile is the biggest platform in the world. There’s plenty of people who play on mobile, anyway. We’re mostly interested in giving our current audience another way that they can engage. We’re respecting their time. It’s time well spent. If you’ve got an extra few minutes and you’re on your commute, or your significant other’s watching reality TV and you would rather play a game on the couch, you can play it. But you might very well prefer to play on another platform, and that’s fine. This is not about trying to change your favorite platform, but I do think the core audience will be surprised at how authentic it really is and will value the fact that they can continue to progress. It's very much a missing link in the lifestyle of a Call of Duty fan and player.

The bigger prize out there is just an untapped audience we don't have. There's a lot of people who play this genre, who aren't able to play with real human players, are not able to play this AAA Call of Duty content. We think we're offering something that's pretty unique and fresh.

To bring Warzone to mobile, where its file size is only a tiny sliver of its massive 175GB PC version, took several years of development.


Does Warzone Mobile have cross play and cross progression? Why or why not?

As we started this game, originally, the first thing we always do is talk to our players and really understand what they are looking for. What's important to them? There were other games that were experimenting with things like cross play and stuff at the time. What the audience really wanted was the cross progression. I want the XP to carry over. If I buy something over here, I want it to be in my inventory over there. That's what they value, versus the actual idea of like: I'm on mobile, and I'm in the same actual virtual map as this person on PC and we're both playing at the same time. That was not as exciting to them. Because, for one thing, as soon as you do that, you have to peg the tuning to a particular platform. And what we've seen when other games have tried to do cross play is that they end up pegging the tuning to console. So console players have their normal experience and mobile players have the worst experience. We shouldn't screw up the mobile experience just to do cross play, especially if nobody wants it.

We try to have the best possible experience on mobile, the best possible experience on console, the best possible experience on PC. So that's what we're doing. We're delivering a made for mobile, best in class tuning, an experience that has the connectivity of cross progression, and shared friends lists and all that. But we're not doing cross play. We could do it if we decide in the future. That's something players really want but because we don't want to basically damage the tuning on one platform in favor of crossplay. We've chosen not to do that.

You can ride cars in Warzone too, but take care not to draw unwanted attention to yourself.


I can imagine an esports situation where mobile players might be disadvantaged against mouse and keyboard players.

There's a generation of players who grew up on the touchscreen and they are fantastic. They can play on that touchscreen as good as any keyboard mouse player. Some of our popular influencers go head to head against keyboard and mouse players and beat them with a touchscreen. But for us, it's really about making sure that people can play however they want. So touchscreen is where we spend most of the time. It's fully configurable. You can change the HUD layout, you can change the size of the buttons, you can do everything or just use the defaults that we've provided. But you can also do things like enable gyroscope, which I turn on because when you're sniping and stuff, you can bend your device a little bit, pow, just where you want it and that feels really awesome and it's really kinetic and feels immersive as anything.

And then of course we have Bluetooth controllers, the Backbone. You can hook up your console controller. When I'm in a hotel room, I have a HDMI cable and I'll plug into the TV and I'll just use it and play like a AAA quality cut experience just on the TV in my hotel room. AirPlay or Chromecast, you can just do it that way without cable. We want to support whatever type of controls people are down with. If you're a console player, you probably want to use a Bluetooth controller because it's just going to feel natural. Whereas for a mobile-first player, they are really comfortable with a touchscreen and they're always gonna play touchscreen.

There's a generation of players who grew up on the touchscreen and they are fantastic.


Call of Duty is known for its giant file sizes. (The mobile version is 3.93 GB, compared to the PC version’s 175GB.) How did you shrink it down for mobile?

Yeah, this is a big area of focus. We have really advanced streaming technology that allows us to keep the footprint on your device very manageable. Now we do have on the most cutting edge devices, we have a really advanced rendering package called Peak graphics. Peak graphics lets you choose to download that in a bundle up front and we tell you it's going to be a few extra gigabytes of data to do that. So you can have a pretty manageable install footprint and then the game will just stream the content as you play. And it'll manage that automatically. So it's pretty sophisticated technology to manage the footprint on your device.

Is there any stuff you removed for the mobile version of Warzone?

Rather than removing, we've adapted things to the mobile user experience. So we've tried to simplify things if it's just clutter or impractical. We do have chat. We don't do text chat. We do voice chat. So we're just leaning more into voice chat for mobile.

How has Activision been impacted by the Epic v. Apple trial and changing App Store rules?

It's been this way since 2008 when the App Store came out. Every year or two, there's some dramatic change or evolution or rule that makes you work differently or think differently. Today is just very familiar territory. It's just a different set of things to process and consider. So I find it really exciting that our industry is like that. It's not static. It's always dynamic. That's one of the reasons it's fun to work in mobile.

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