Exclusive: Activision had a working DMZ build before Warzone devs even started on Verdansk

Brad Norton
Warzone 2 DMZ cover art

In our recent sit down with Infinity Ward, two lead multiplayer developers on the Call of Duty franchise confirmed longstanding rumors that they indeed had a working DMZ prototype before work even began on what would become Warzone’s original map in Verdansk.

When Warzone burst onto the scene in early 2020, it took the battle royale genre by storm. Dropping 150 players into one giant map and having them fight with Call of Duty’s pristine FPS fundamentals proved to be a recipe for success.

More than 100 million fans jumped into the game during its initial boom period, helping Activision generate billions in revenue. However, it turns out the wildly popular BR formula wasn’t actually first in line to break the traditional multiplayer mold for the CoD series. Rather, a more tactical game mode was surprisingly built first, though one that didn’t see the light of day until 2022.

Confirming earlier rumors that Warzone 2’s new DMZ mode had been in the works for quite some time, devs revealed to us at Dexerto they indeed had “working prototypes” before work even began on Warzone’s original Verdansk map.

Warzone 1 Verdansk gameplay
Before Verdansk ever came into focus for the CoD dev team, DMZ was already playable, to a degree.

Originally, seemingly as early as 2018, Infinity Ward “felt ripples” and “saw trends” in the FPS market they wanted CoD to capitalize on. One such example was the rising popularity of more tactically-focused, survival-based games such as Escape From Tarkov. Thus, the idea for the ‘Demilitarized Zone’ (DMZ) came into focus.

The concept as it was five years ago, largely remained intact for what we now have in Warzone 2 today. Dozens of players dropped into a vast, open battlefield, engaging with AI, securing loot, and extracting valuable goods before doing it all over again on repeat. Devs were actively playtesting CoD’s take on this style of FPS before work began on the first Battle Royale iteration.

“We actually had working prototypes before we started making Verdansk,” Multiplayer Design Director Geoff Smith told us. “We felt that was a direction we needed to go. We felt those trends that early, but we didn’t have the bandwidth to execute on it at the time.”

DMZ gameplay
Had Infinity Ward doubled down on DMZ early on, CoD fans could have been waiting a number of years longer for Warzone.

In a different timeline, it seems there’s a very solid likelihood DMZ could have reached the market long before Warzone. Devs had the foresight to begin planning many years ago, though ultimately pivoted to focus on what would become a massively successful BR instead.

“In general, good game development is to try crazy, scary stuff,” Smith joked after revealing DMZ’s early origins. Part of the gig is to keep tabs on the industry as a whole, check in on the competition, and see how new ideas can come to life under the CoD umbrella, he explained.

“Just trying different things, sometimes they’re first person, sometimes they’re third person, sometimes they’re one life, sometimes they’re respawn, sometimes they’re console or PC,” Infinity Ward’s Joseph Cecot continued. “Always playing and looking at what’s there. It’s just like anyone who writes books, they read a lot of books. Anyone who makes TV, they watch a lot of TV. So you kind of want to know what you’re getting yourself into and how you can stand out.”

Warzone gameplay
Who knows what else CoD devs may already be experimenting with for an eventual release years down the line.

Given how early DMZ was clearly being experimented with, there’s really no telling what the CoD devs may already be planning for the next few years. Evidently beyond just annual releases themselves, but even more expansive, franchise-defining modes could very well be in their prototype stages today.