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Game Buzz Special: Activison Atrocity Aftermath

Jonathan Lester
Activision, Features, Game Buzz, Infinity Ward, Jason West, Kotick, Vince Zampella

Game Buzz Special: Activison Atrocity Aftermath

Game Buzz is a new weekly opinion column designed to take an irreverent look at one of the biggest news stories to break in the past week. Every Friday evening we’ll be bringing you another slice of reaction to topical gaming news, and inviting you to agree, disagree, shout assent, vent rage, scream and complain to you heart’s delight. We interrupt this week's usual schedule to bring you a Game Buzz Special!

Yesterday was a great day to be a games journalist. Activision's sensational firing of key Infinity Ward personnel took us on a breathtaking rollercoaster ride of scandal, thrills, chills and spills that simply doesn't happen very often in the industry. Journalists and pundits scurried over each other to bring us an orgy of breaking news, rumours and the occasional blatant falsehood in rush for fresh, tasty content. However, everything's calmed down a bit now, so here's the result of that exciting Infinity Ward Snafu now that the dust has settled...

What we know:

  1. Jason West and Vince Zampella have been fired... The sacking of Infinity Ward's leadership was was the biggest headline yesterday. West hit the bottle early (according to his Facebook profile), and their departure has since been confirmed by their social networking profiles, Linkedin pages and subsequent Activision announcements.
  2. ...for "Insubordination". Buried in Activion's latest Annual Report are mentions of a Human Resources investigation into alleged contract violations and insubordination. This wasn't mentioned in the latest press release- but two employees were mentioned and two were fired. Coincidence? Not likely.
  3. Treyarch will make this year's CoD Title. Not that much to say, really. It'll be set in Vietnam... and will probably be pretty good. They usually are.
  4. Sledgehammer Studios to Develop 'Action Adventure' CoD. Pundits predicted that Sledgehammer would be involved in developing the next Call of Duty title- but that's not the case. Instead, they'll be working on an action-adventure title that almost certainly won't be an FPS. Exciting stuff.
  5. Infinity Ward will still be "central" to CoD development. A leaked memo made its way into the hands of the press, suggesting that Infinity Ward (under interim leadership) will still play a major role in Call of Duty development. They will certainly be involved in the MW DLC and map packs, though their involvement beyond that is still up in the air. However, there's still a 2011 release up for grabs- and Modern Warfare 3 would sell like hot cakes.
  6. IW hasn't received any royalties for Modern Warfare 2. This doesn't mean that they haven't been paid, but it does mean that they haven't been paid enough. Maybe removing a couple of execs could take the public eye off this little nugget of information for a while?

Game Buzz Special: Activison Atrocity Aftermath

What we can surmise:

  1. Activision are Desperate to retain full control over CoD. The Activision Annual Report contained more than dry figures and hidden claims of contract breaches. It also demonstrated that over 68% of their revenue stems from three franchises: World of Warcraft, CoD and Guitar Hero. Activison will be effectively crippled if a single title fails, and yesterday's sensational events reek of Kotick's desperation to rein in the studio and crush any dissidents in the wake of Guitar Hero's floundering sales.
  2. Subscription Based Multiplayer/ MMO is on its way. We've covered this story before, but the latest announcement pretty much clinches it. Activision want to impose Blizzard-style subscriptions onto the Call of Duty franchise, which will be a deeply unpopular move unless they can offer a unique and groundbreaking FPS experience.

What we don't know...yet.

  1. The exact nature of West and Zampella's "insubordination". To be honest we may never know exactly why the IW leadership was fired, though subsequent lawsuits may bring out a few juicy details down the line. Expect Infinity Ward to have NDAs up to their eyeballs, mind.
  2. What will happen to IW down the line. Infinity Ward is currently under the interim leadership of chief Technology officer Steve Pearce and head of production Steve Ackrich. Their short term contribution will be to MW2 DLC, but there's likely to be a huge shakeup and redistribution of personnel somewhere down the road.

I'm not going to pretend to be an unbiased pillar of impartiality. I'm a hardcore gamer; and like many of my kin I find Activision's business practices to be absolutely disgusting. Deploying security guards to lock down a developer during layoffs is akin to declaring war on your own staff: and experience tells us that happy employees make better games. Just ask Valve, Bungie and Naughty Dog. Morale will always suffer in a climate of fear- and Activision are setting themselves up for nothing less than a mutiny or mass suicide pact down the line with their shock tactics.

Game Buzz Special: Activison Atrocity Aftermath

However, I am surprised that West and Zampella's newfound unemployment was the leading story of the day, as it overshadowed far more interesting developments that didn't necessarily make the front page. Like two game announcements, for example.

There are always two sides to every decision. Regardless of my personal feelings, video games development is a business- not a charity. If I was insubordinate to my editor then I'd expect to be fired: and it's the same for West and Zampella. Sure, Kotick might've asked them to do something terrible. Something disgusting. But he pays their wages and (to quote an old phrase) he's paying the cost to be their boss.

Imagine that you're working at McDonalds and your boss orders you to make a Big Mac. Sure, you know that you could make a superior burger with better ingredients. You may not like the creative direction that McDonalds is taking with the Big Mac. But you do it anyway because it's your job and your boss asked you to do it... or you get the sack.

At the end of the day, the act itself isn't all that important. CEOs and CTOs are hired and fired every day without a huge effect on the workforce as a whole. Infinity Wars still employs a large number of skilled professionals who contributed much more to the franchise than West and Zampella ever did. However, the way Activision carried out its sacking has essentially cemented Activision and Kotick's emergent reputation as gaming's greatest villains, and has irrevocably damaged their chances of acquiring new studios and IPs. Beware, Harmonix... stick with EA if you know what's good for you!

Game Buzz Special: Activison Atrocity Aftermath

Noticed something I've missed? Disagree with anything I've said? Want to insult my parentage? Have your say in the comments!

Add a comment5 comments
Ashpolt  Mar. 3, 2010 at 13:45

Great article, Jon. Like you, I think the whole thing's disgusting on Activision's part, and is a sure fire sign that the CoD franchise is going to be whored out for maximum short term gain just like Guitar Hero. Sadly, unlike Guitar Hero, in this instance I don't think a decline in quality will see a steep decline in sales: the CoD franchise, particularly Modern Warfare, is just too popular now. Sure your "hardcore" guys are going to think twice about future titles, but those 15 year olds that scream at you on XBL won't.

Kudos to West and Zampella though, assuming it really is the case of them sticking to their guns against shady business practices. I understand your McDonalds analogy, but I still fully support their actions and wish them the best in getting work in the future. I don't think they'll have to look too far.

So there you have it - Kotick's culture of "scepticism, pessimism and fear" in action. He's succeeded in "taking all of the fun out of making video games."

ODB  Mar. 3, 2010 at 14:12


You being serious?? COD 7 in The 'Nam???





ODB  Mar. 3, 2010 at 14:19

perhaps the subs thing will be on PS3 only? Cant see XBL charging then that Activision charge on top!

Chris  Mar. 3, 2010 at 19:21

Great, more old warfare...

Great article here, a lot of information well summarised. It will be VERY interesting to see what happens next, and if the CoD franchise is now going to fall very, very hard or will the next lead team actually continue the success.

Damn shame about the shake up though. Also, subscription for Cod? To hell with that, I'll stick to MW2 in that case.

Matt Gardner  Mar. 3, 2010 at 19:30

Infinity Ward's contract with Activision runs out later this year....I hope they walk.

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