INTERVIEW: Rob Bowling Part 1: ‘We compete with ourselves’

Activision Blizzard recently held a press event where MCV went hands-on with the superb multiplayer of CoD: Modern Warfare 3 and interviewed creative strategist Rob Bowling.

Would you say Call of Duty is currently leading the pack in terms of post-launch support amongst AAA titles?

It’s definitely something that we strive to do, because we have such a massive audience who (to this day) still puts hundreds of hours into several iterations of the game. You have hundreds of thousands or millions of people playing Black Ops of course, but you also have a similar number playing Modern Warfare 2 and even Call of Duty 4.

So I’d definitely agree with that statement, especially this year with Call of Duty Elite being on top of the in-game support that we’re doing.

Does ongoing post-launch support directly correlate to the number of hours people put into the games? How extensive is Infinity Ward’s post-launch plan?

It definitely has a big impact on people continuing to play the game. The core gameplay is what makes them stick around, but the support is essential. With Modern Warfare 3, we have an extreme focus on post-launch support, and that was baked into the entire way we designed the game. Obviously we don’t start thinking about DLC until we’ve finished with the core game, but we’ve baked a lot of things into the back end which will allow us to do the free updates, addressing player concerns, adding stuff to the game more quickly and efficiently than we’ve ever done before.

But then there are also things like playlist updates, changing game modes, introducing new game modes based on user feedback, there is now a ton of private match options that allow the player to create their own game modes. They can take existing modes, change the parameters and spawn sets and then take those game modes and turn them into their own completely personal playlist, and using Elite can share that playlist with the community as a whole.

So what I will personally be doing is playing those lists and watching those lists and seeing which ones people are voting up. We’ll be using that information to introduce even more game modes and playlists to players, so not only are you getting new content, maps and weapons that players want, but also a heap of ongoing new content well after launch.

How difficult is it to stay this reflexive and adaptive as the market leader?

I think it’s all about understanding your audience, and that’s what we focus on doing. Our biggest competition is always with ourselves. There are still millions of people playing our last games in the franchise as a whole, and our last games as developers. So, it’s about looking at that and using that knowledge base to guide our decision-making in the future. We have very passionate ideals, so we go with our core beliefs about what makes our games good, and then on top of that we take the knowledge base of the 30 million people playing Black Ops online and try to blend those ideas to determine where we want the Call of Duty experience to go; how we’re going to change that experience.

Given that there are still so many people playing older Call of Duty games, what proportion of players migrate to the new game each and every year?

It is definitely the majority of people. Just looking at the concurrent players now, the players at launch and the Modern Warfare 3 pre-order numbers, it is a massive amount of people. Our audience is very much lined up for the next iteration, and I think that’s because we are extremely accessible as developers and the fans genuinely know that they have that relationship with us. They can trust that their feedback has been important to us, has been listened to, so they’re very excited to see something that they very much have had an ability to shape.

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