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Answering the Call of Duty

Kevin Petty looks back on his internship with Activision and how the MMM program helped prepare him for success with the maker of the popular video game series.

The year was 2003, and a young Kevin Petty (MMM ‘24) would spend hours of his teen life with his father, recreating World War II combat in the original Call of Duty video game.  Kevin Petty

Twenty years later, Petty became an intern at Activision, the company behind the immensely popular Call of Duty franchise that has sold more than 425 million copies, making it one of the most successful video game franchises of all time. 

In between, Petty was a helicopter pilot in the U.S. Navy.  

"One of the amazing things about military service is the amount of trust and responsibility you receive from a very young age," Petty said. "At 23 I was soloing in a military aircraft, at 24 I was leading a 30-person maintenance team, at 26 I was entrusted with a multi-million dollar helicopter and crew, and at 29 I was a flight instructor leading operations for a multi-billion dollar foreign military helicopter training program. Along the way I had multiple failures and successes, all of which helped me grow as a leader." 

Despite all of that experience, he questioned himself as he started at Activision as part of his internship in Northwestern's MBA + MS Design Innovation (MMM) program — a dual-degree program between Northwestern Engineering and the Kellogg School of Management. 

"I entered Activision with some serious imposter syndrome," he said. "I had no corporate experience, I had no marketing experience, and I had never worked in the industry. How could I contribute? I quickly realized my experience in the MMM program more than prepared me to excel.” 

Petty discovered the MMM program in 2022 as his 10-year military career reached an end. During that decade, he served as the deputy director for the Royal Saudi Naval Forces MH-60R training detachment, teaching the country’s pilots how to fly the sophisticated helicopter. He finished his Navy stint as the chief of staff to the commandant of the Joint Forces Staff College.

The Call of Duty franchise even played a role during his time in the military.

“During the chaos of deployments onboard Navy ships, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 was a favorite downtime activity and a welcome escape from the day-to-day,” he said.  

So when the opportunity came to join Activision for a summer internship as part of the MMM program, Petty happily accepted the role on the Live Ops Consumer Marketing team.  

The job involved partnering with the product management team to develop go-to-market strategies and to ensure different creative assets were aligned with brand and company goals. He also helped produce Call of Duty art and trailers while overseeing external creative agency partners.  

Petty also worked on a separate consulting project where he was given a large, open-ended problem and complete autonomy to develop an approach and recommendation to solve it.  

For that he relied heavily on his MMM experience, particularly the lessons learned from his Research, Design, Build (RDB) course.  

RDB is a pivotal component of the MMM program for many students, but when Petty began in it, he admitted that he struggled. The class showed him that the military had trained him to be extremely solution-oriented, which can be an impediment to human-centered design. That principle relies on a slower, more methodical approach to create useful products based on feedback from potential end users.  

Petty said applying those RDB lessons at Activision made a difference.  

“I was presented with a broad problem statement, and the first thing I did was go back to my RDB frameworks,” he said. “I conducted user research, developed themes and insights — all of which led to an impactful recommendation that was extremely well received by Activision key stakeholders and senior leaders.”  

Thanks to the internship, Petty said he is more confident in his abilities as a second-year student and more equipped to succeed.  

“We love to look to our left and right and create the false reality that everyone around us has it figured out and we are behind," Petty said. "I want to share with others that it is OK to feel a bit lost and to not have it all figured out.” 

One thing that helped Petty find his way at Activision was bonding with his coworkers. Much like the familial feeling he has with his MMM classmates, Petty developed strong relationships with those he worked closest with. 

What brought them together should come as no surprise. 

“There was always some downtime for a few quick rounds of Call of Duty with my team,” he said. “It’s a great perk having a console on your desk – you know, for research.”

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