Call of Duty continues to push on as THE most popular video game franchise in the world, and with Johanna Faries leading the team, that should continue to be the case for the iconic first-person shooter franchise.
The stats for Call of Duty are nothing to blink at. Since the release of the first installment in the franchise, COD has sold over 400 million copies and boasts over 120 million players since the launch of Call of Duty: Warzone, its free-to-play component, plus the 650 million global downloads of Call of Duty Mobile.
That streak would continue even after the so-called “Call of Duty fatigue” setting in following the release of 2021’s Call of Duty: Vanguard. That game “failed to meet expectations” set by Black Ops: Cold War but still was the best-selling game in the United States that year.
The most recent release, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II, firmly cemented the game franchise’s popularity earning the top spot in 2022, beating out Elden Ring, which many predicted would dethrone Call of Duty.
If you don’t know, now you do, Faries currently serves as the Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Call of Duty franchise. Before earning her current title, she worked for the NFL before making a smooth transition into the gaming industry, where she served as the commissioner of the Call of Duty League.
Hip-Hop Wired exclusively spoke with Faries about the future of Call of Duty, the Call of Duty League, the importance of seeing a Black woman leading the Call of Duty franchise, battling online toxicity, and more.
Hip-Hop Wired: Call of Duty has been the number-one game franchise in North America for over 10 years. Each of the games launched competitions of Call of Duty around the world, and they’re always a talking point every year when they come out. How do you guys stay on top and be consistent as far as keeping the standard that Call of Duty is best known for?
Johanna Faries: All credit starts with our development teams all around the world. Our studios are just cranking on new, innovative gameplay year after year, and that’s what’s been so amazing about this franchise. It’s also something that appealed to me when I wanted to join the ranks of Call of Duty because, to your point, it’s always coming up with something new and fresh. Always at the center of culture. It’s such a lifestyle that goes well beyond even the gameplay innovation.
This past year, in particular, with the release of Modern Warfare II, which was historic for us in many ways, was also this foray into a bold, multi-year future for the franchise. So we are still looking ahead and saying, “There’s more to come, there’s more innovation, there [are] more incredible world-class experiences for our players.” And again, that starts with great development and great world-class talent, making amazing fresh content year after year.
HHW: You were the commissioner of the Call of Duty League, and it continues to grow as one of the biggest esports leagues. Do you ever see tournaments being broadcasted on national television? And also, did you ever consider a separate league for celebrity Call of Duty players?
JF: Well, I came over from the NFL, and one of the things that appealed to me about launching a Call of Duty League, aside from just the incredible magic of the Call of Duty franchise, was this opportunity to take esport and esports leagues more to the mainstream.
So to your question, I am bold and bullish on the future of esports, not just for CDL. I think it’s an incredible experience when people get to go into an arena and see our 12 franchises go head-to-head on the main stage, but any esports league right now is top-tier competitive entertainment. So, I believe in the future of growth for the Call of Duty League and even our competitor leagues as well.
I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes more mainstream and across bigger media outlets. I’d love to see that. And we’re continuing to see year-on-year growth for CDL, in particular with viewership. And that’s just a signal that fandom is growing, and it’s happening at a rate that’s scaling. We should all be very proud of that, and I’m very excited to see it grow.
HHW: So, would you ever consider a separate league? Because many celebrities and athletes from professional sports play this game a lot too. Would you ever consider doing a respective league for them?
JF: We’re always thinking about, “What are the great models out there to chase?” The cool thing about celebrities who love Call of Duty is they often organically either attend our CDL events. So they’re always coming through either as a guest star on broadcast or just sitting with us and fans because they’re fans too of the pros. And I think there’s a lot of respect there, frankly. You have top-tier athletes from mainstream sports who respect how good you need to be a pro CDL player. And so, in many ways, that fandom is quite natural for them. We’ll see.
We often see celebrities and pop culture icons getting together in Warzone or other tournaments that are more ad hoc or grassroots, and we love to see that happening. What we do with it in the future, we’ll harness it for sure. But right now, all eyes are on the best of the best, most elite players. We treat them like the athletes and world-class performers that they are, just like any other sport, and we’re going to put them on the main stage.
HHW: We’re literally just days away from Black History Month, and you being a Black woman, you’re in a very important role, and you’re a significant face in video games. We’d like to know why is it so important to see someone like yourself in such a prominent position as VP of one of the most popular video game franchises in the world.
JF: It’s an honor in every way to be able to occupy this chair and this role. I know that it represents a lot for a lot of different people, beyond just being a business executive. People who have the ambition to be a part of great franchises and also be a part of tech and gaming, generally speaking, but also for women and minorities and underrepresented communities who are still coming up the ranks within our industry in particular.
So like I said, it’s never lost on me. I serve as the executive champion of our Activision Blizzard King Black Employee Network as well.
That’s as much an honor for me in my job and my roles here as anything I’m doing on the franchise side. That includes seeing others succeed and continuing to mentor each other. I mentor a ton of people who are on the way up. I get mentored just as much by them and others. And it really is about looking out for each other and continuing to develop and mine for the best possible talent. If we can prove to ourselves and each other in the world that you can really come from anywhere. You can be whoever you want to be in terms of how you identify and still deliver a major impact in the gaming and tech industry. That’s a great opportunity for me personally and professionally.
” Toxicity is a real challenge across the entire media industry and landscape, let alone gaming. And we have no tolerance whatsoever for it in our games.
HHW: Now, what advice would you have for young and older gamers of color who want to work in some capacity in the game industry and are looking for just that way in? I’m literally still fresh into this. I’m two years in, and I took the video game journalism side. So, what advice would you give young Black and gamers of color to enter the industry?
JF: For sure. So two things. I’ll speak from personal experience. As I mentioned, I came from traditional sports and spent more than 12 years in the National Football League. I really didn’t think for much of that time that I would transition into finding a role, let alone this type of role, in gaming and tech.
And so my message there is sometimes you zig-zag your way into major career opportunities and keep your eye on doing the best possible job you can with what’s right in front of you because those doors will open, and those relationships will open. And your skillset belongs in gaming. If you’re great at your craft, there is a need for it in the gaming and tech space, whatever that is. And that’s how I learned that I, too, had a role to play in having impacted this industry.
The other thing I’d say is Activision Blizzard, in particular, started to really become even more intentional in our programming around recruitment and development at an early stage in someone’s career with an eye towards increasing diversity and equity, and inclusion within our workforce.
We just launched last year our inaugural Level Up University opportunity, which really focuses on onboarding early emerging talent to get them certified, to get them the types of skills that they’ll need ultimately to be able to have an impact in any part or any function that they’re interested in within gaming and tech. So really proud of that, and it was enormously successful as far as our first run. And to see that come forward was a huge initiative. We’re going to continue to develop more programming like that to make sure that we’re opening the doors intentionally and creating more diversity.
HHW: Now, of course, I have to ask, being that we’re both avid Black gamers and we want the community to be an inclusive space for everyone, I would be remiss in saying that sometimes that it’s not always a case, and it can be a challenging experience for people of color playing video games online and things of that nature. Can you speak to the active measures that Call of Duty has taken to address the matter of toxicity online and other forms of negative stuff going on while playing these games?
JF: Yes. Look, toxicity is a real challenge across the entire media industry and landscape, let alone gaming. And we have no tolerance whatsoever for it in our games. We continue to focus in on this as a 24-7, 365 initiative. We have strike teams and task forces that are constantly monitoring for how we moderate against toxicity in a sophisticated way using our tech and also using human smarts, frankly, to have that always on regulation of tamping down on these negative experiences that do creep into the ecosystem, unfortunately.
And so again, credit goes to us for prioritizing how we continue to find ways to leverage our technology to have in-game moderation, both in terms of what comes up in the chat, what comes up in the text, how we think about banning certain toxic gamer tags and other things that we know we can monitor for that are really deprecating players right to have a world-class experience.
We know there’s a lot more to do, though, and I’ve spoken to this before, that this is an always, likely never-ending initiative about how can we continue to stay vigilant and make sure that we’re always putting forward our best effort.
Last year, Call of Duty, in particular, issued our first-ever code of conduct. So when you’re loading up the game, you as a player now, or I as a player, have to take the time before I drop into a map to sign on and pledge that I’m going to abide by the code of conduct of making sure that I’m playing with integrity. These are small but mighty steps in the direction of making sure that we elevate this as a priority. And again, it’s never going to end in terms of how we focus on it and put it at the top tier of priority initiatives for us. So there is more to do, but also more to come.
HHW: What other games are you playing? What other games are you picking up the sticks for?
JF: It’s funny, I travel quite a bit, and Candy Crush is my best friend when I’m not able to pick up a stick because it’s right in the palm of my hand, and I can zone out and play a lot of Candy Crush. And my kiddos love it too. So, big fan.
But other than that, I’m really focused. We’ve got season two for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II and Warzone 2.0 coming up, and super excited about the new content that’s about to hit in a few weeks here for the community. And like I said, there’s so much rich content going on in Call of Duty alone that I really try and spend as much time as I can there, and it’s a great experience.
HHW: Wow. Candy Crush, I haven’t heard that name in a long time.
JF: Yeah, also part of the Activision Blizzard King portfolio.
Check out this AB Newsroom Q&A with Johanna Faries to learn more about her amazing story from the inside.
Photo: Getty Images / Call of Duty
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