In October 2021, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick pledged $250 million to boost opportunities for diverse talent after vowing to increase diversity in the company’s workforce.
The first initiative from that diversity fund investment is Level Up U, a rigorous 12-week training course to develop video game engineering talent. “This is the first of many Level Up U programs, and our plan is to expand to other skill areas such as art and animation,” stated Bobby Kotick.
The Activision CEO Robert Kotick has said that he is “incredibly excited about the potential of Level Up U.” He considers “passion and performance” to be the cornerstones of creativity and brilliance at the company. “Our responsibility to our players and each other are best served by a culture that recognizes and respects that true excellence comes from diverse views, voices, and talents,” said Bobby Kotick.
The program was created to educate enrolled participants on game development basics so they gain the skills necessary to take on engineering roles at the company. “In addition to traditional classroom and project-based work, those in the program will also have access to our incredible leaders who will serve as guest speakers and mentors,” stated Julie Hodges, Activision Blizzard’s chief people officer.
When creating a game, Bobby Kotick said, “We start with a team of passionate people who can articulate what it is that they're looking to create. Then, the ‘why’ of it, the ‘why’ they think they are skilled, and ‘how’ their capabilities as a team align with the opportunity they’ve identified. But I would say the No. 1 thing that usually is in principal consideration for us is the passion of the team.”
Tad Leckman will serve as the dean of Level Up U. Leckman brings 20 years of experience in learning and development to the position. He has been integral in the development of courses of study that teach participants the fundamentals of game development and how to work efficiently and effectively in teams. He worked with game engineers and learning teams to design the curriculum. The inaugural class will need to work together on a two-week project using one of Activision Blizzard’s game engines to create a new game mode.
This first installment of Level Up U started on July 11. According to a statement from Activision Blizzard, “We are looking for candidates who have a programming background, familiarity with [programming language] C++, and are ultimately seeking an engineering position within the company.” After successfully completing the training, the grads connect with the company’s recruiting team to pinpoint each individual's best full-time engineering role.
There are 104 participants, comprising newcomers and current employees, involved in this first Level Up U class. Hodges stated, “We looked at a broader set of skills, experiences, and capabilities that we believe matter most to an employee’s success at Activision Blizzard and revisited where those skills exist in the market. We hope this will lead to greater talent mobility both within Activision Blizzard and in the games industry.”
According to Kotick, “You want to have an appreciation that process has value, and inspired creativity has more value. But I think that we've always found that the benefit of both is that you actually have the right resources aligned with the right opportunities. I don't think you have to be more complex than that. It's the collaborative process that allows for a greater level of success. I don't know very many successful creative companies that don't have some real appreciation for the process.”
Bobby Kotick said that at Activision Blizzard, “We will always treat each other with dignity and respect. And regardless of differences, voices will be heard, perspectives welcomed, and contributions valued.” That’s because at the end of the day, he wants everyone to be able to do their best work in order to give consumers the best game experience.
“Our priority is audience focus — the recognition and appreciation that our audiences invest so much in our franchises and our responsibility to them to continually innovate within those. We feel a tremendous responsibility to our audiences to keep our franchises exciting,” Kotick said. “Great franchises provide great road maps for innovation and inspiration. Star Trek and Star Wars are great examples of sustainable entertainment franchises. Call of Duty is one of the most enduring franchises in entertainment. Of course, we are always creating new franchises. We are very good at innovating within franchises and equally good at creating new ones.”