Weapon balance in Call of Duty: Mobile: A data-based, player-centric approach

Matt Lewis, VP of mobile at Activision, writes about the weapon balancing process on the tremendously popular Call of Duty: Mobile, and reconciling data with qualitative player feedback.

Matt Lewis is VP, mobile, at Activision

One of the hardest tasks of community management is tackling complicated feedback that varies player by player. In the year and a half Call of Duty: Mobile has been available and thriving in the mobile gaming world we’ve had plenty of challenges trying to make sure our teams are aware of player feedback, understand the context of it, and have it ready to reference when it comes time to discuss any potential changes to that related feature. All community and social teams are likely familiar with this never-ending struggle, but with the responsive and player-centric teams at Activision and TiMi it is a struggle that can lead to real progress.

Our most recent challenge has been around weapon balance. Sure, we’ve seen thousands of individual comments across the last year that are in some way about weapon balance, but that’s where it becomes mind boggling and complicated – each comment rarely references or clearly reinforces others’ feedback. If we had a magical social media management eight ball that bucketed all weapon feedback together, sorted it by weapon type, sorted it by weapon variant, and then sorted it by which aspect of the weapon (e.g. a specific attachment) or thing that’s perceived to be over powered (e.g. time to kill at x distance) then we could clearly see cohesive feedback about weapon balance. However, we don’t have that magic unfortunately and have had to rely on other methods.

While we value community feedback, we also don’t treat it as a single source of truth. If we saw a community post with 300 players talking about one clear piece of weapon feedback, then ideally, we’d check that against in-game weapon usage data to see if that reinforces or refutes those player’s feedback. We use multiple sources of data, in-game and outside of game, to help tackle improvements, changes, fixes, and more.

For weapon balance though we’ve generally been unable to do that, because it is very rare to see something like 300 people talking about one piece of weapon feedback and the complexity of weapon stats, especially since one of our weapons can have dozens of attachments affecting those stats, makes it a hard topic for players to agree on. However, we are lucky to have many dedicated players who are passionate about nitty-gritty topics like weapon balance and have pushed us to tackle this head on.

Thanks to our teams talking with many dedicated players we were able to compile a significant amount of weapon balance feedback (pages and pages of it) and circled it back to our weapon designers. However, even with the proposed changes being made based on community feedback we still had to see how a much wider player base perceived it through surveys and in-game data, and we had to decide how to surface that in a safe way.

The clear solution was something we like to do often and nearly every single season - deploy a public test build (beta build). In this build our teams implemented over 36 pages of weapon balance changes, and as one of the teams who has read through these changes’ multiple times, it is hard to downplay the sheer volume of proposed changes.

This public test build we opened to 30-40K players on Android from all over the world. Unlike our other test builds, there was no flashy new maps or modes to try here, but just a truly massive number of changes to all major weapon types we have in Call of Duty: Mobile. To quickly break down those changes:

  • SMGs – We aim to strengthen the close quarters abilities of this type through increased damage and mobility, while optimizing bullet trajectory to ensure viability at other distances.
  • Assault Rifles – We aim to strengthen the range and accuracy of ARs to ensure they have a superior combat range of 15-30 meters. This is done through improved weapon type differentiation in relation to bullet trajectory, handling, and recoil.
  • LMGs – We aim to strengthen the accuracy and damage efficiency of LMGs to ensure that suppression is possible at 30 meters away while also strengthening their overall capabilities at different ranges.
  • Snipers – We aim to optimize the attributes of sniper attachments, provide more combinations of attachments, and weaken the advantages of snipers in close range combat.

Through some of those summaries it might be clear what problems we are trying to solve, but through the community feedback and our own subsequent tests we found a variety of possible improvements that aim to solve one main problem - weapon types are not different enough. People were using snipers in close combat, LMGs at all ranges, assault rifles were being used to replace to SMGs, and SMGs were failing to fulfill their own specific niche.

Ideally each weapon type will be perfectly suited for different ranges and tactical scenarios, but like we mentioned earlier part of what makes it so hard to balance is our Gunsmith system, which is a blessing and a curse, because it means that every weapon has dozens of attachments that change the performance. Gunsmith is meant to create these wonderful scenarios where you take a SMG and deck it out with a loadout of attachments that makes it incredibly fast firing but poor recoil (perfect for close range) or where you add scopes, grips, stocks, and more to make a LMG into something that can suppress and dominate at an unusually long range. The system makes weapons unique, interesting, and truly your own to customize & tweak, but it also makes weapon balance complicated.  

Thankfully, our team approached these changes with Gunsmith in mind. While many changes in the 36 plus pages of weapon balance adjustments are just direct “increased damage” or “decreased recoil” there is also a hefty amount of changes that affect those previously mentioned attachments. All changes and designs are meant not to remove the possibility of making a SMG into an extremely fast firing but non-advisably high recoil weapon, but to instead make the base weapons fit better into their roles. Each type should excel in its own unique scenarios and challenges instead of constantly overlapping with other weapon types.

After many hours of discussions, both within our teams and with players in the community, we concluded this test with survey results that showed the large majority of players significantly supporting these changes. Our next upcoming task is to convey these changes to the community and to of course release them into the game without everything imploding upon itself.

Players can expect these new changes to go live around the launch of Season 4. We are so grateful for the feedback and engagement from the community.  We are sure there still is plenty ahead of us still to do, but we aim to keep solving challenges like weapon balance with multi-faceted approaches that consider in-game data and community feedback side by side.

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