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Sledgehammer Games has been dramatically expanding during its second decade as one of Activision Blizzard’s major Call of Duty development studios. And now it’s expanding into the United Kingdom with a new studio in Guildford, U.K.
The San Mateo, California-based company is leading the launch of Call of Duty: Vanguard, and it is now in its second decade of operation as one of the major studios on the Call of Duty franchise, which has sold more than 400 million copies to date. As Call of Duty expands with Warzone, Zombies, premium games, and Call of Duty: Mobile, so too do the development tasks.
And so it’s no surprise to see Sledgehammer Games keep expanding. It previously started studio expansions in Melbourne, Australia in 2019 and Toronto, Canada, in 2021.
As we’ve noted in our stories for a while, it’s an explosive time for Sledgehammer, as it is part of Activision Blizzard, which the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued for sex discrimination and more allegations supporting the lawsuit and a difficult culture for contract employees. Some players have said they plan to boycott Activision Blizzard’s games as a result of the lawsuit, and the parent company has begun removing some Blizzard leaders. But some women working for the company have also said they prefer players to play their games while supporting their cause.
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Sledgehammer said today that it is focusing on areas with great talent, and that’s why it chose Guildford.
“Guildford has a long history of video game development, and as a result, there’s a lot of top-tier talent and an existing game dev community there and in the surrounding towns. We’re also an easy reverse commute in from London, which has a huge talent pool,” said Liz Wyle, general manager of Sledgehammer Games Guilford, in a statement.
The new Guildford studio will partner with teams in the Bay Area, Melbourne, and Toronto to support Call of Duty: Vanguard’s Live Seasons as well as future projects planned for the years ahead.
The studio has openings in art, design, engineering, animation, user interface and user experience, production, audio, and more.
“I’m just really excited to bring our studio brand to the UK, along with the incredible franchise we get to work on. It’s another opportunity to do our own small part to grow the industry, in a place where there’s a huge number of talented developers,” said Andy Wilson, chief operating officer of Sledgehammer, in a statement. “As we have done in our other locations, we will be looking to build partnerships with schools and universities to help nurture and grow the next generation of talent. It’s not just about finding people who already work in the industry, it’s about providing pathways for those who are looking to get in. I remember that daunting feeling very well and it makes me happy to be providing opportunity, especially as we emerge from a historic pandemic.”
I’ve written about the company’s history a couple of times in the past. Sledgehammer began in 2009, founded by former Electronic Arts executives Glen Schofield and Michael Condrey, who worked on the Dead Space franchise at EA’s Visceral Games. They started Sledgehammer in the shadow of EA in San Mateo, California and began working on a game in the Call of Duty universe. But Activision quickly enlisted Sledgehammer to work on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.
That was because Jason West and Vince Zampella of Infinity Ward had a dispute with Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick about the management of the Call of Duty franchise and the proper payment of royalties. West and Zampella left to start Respawn Entertainment (maker of Titanfall) and took a lot of developers with them. Sledgehammer Games had to help with MW3, as the game had only about 20 months until its launch and was in a state of disarray. Infinity Ward had to rebuild, and Sledgehammer assumed its role in the rotation alongside Treyarch as one of Activision’s major Call of Duty studios.
Sledgehammer got into the groove as one of three major studios working on three-year-long Call of Duty projects so that Activision could launch a major Call of Duty game every year. It shipped Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare in 2014, and then it followed in 2017 with Call of Duty: WWII.
Then came Sledgehammer’s own time to go through upheaval.
In late 2017, Brendan Greene and PUBG Corp. (now part of Krafton) launched PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds as a free-to-play battle royale game. It became extremely popular, as did the battle royale game from Epic Games, Fortnite. The leadership turned over at Sledgehammer, with Schofield and Condrey first being reassigned to a new project and eventually leaving to start their own studios. As Schofield and Condrey staffed up their separate companies, an estimated 100 people out of 300 developers left Sledgehammer to go elsewhere.
And then the rebuilding began for Sledgehammer. In February 2018, Aaron Halon became the studio head. And Andy Wilson (no, he is not Andrew Wilson, the CEO of rival Electronic Arts) later joined as chief operating officer. Sledgehammer made contributions to Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War, but those responsibilities were shifted to Treyarch and Raven so Sledgehammer could focus on Vanguard. Fortunately for Activision, Cold War was a huge hit, as was the accompanying free-to-play battle royale mode Call of Duty: Warzone. Call of Duty: Mobile also took off at the same time.