Activision Decapitates Infinity Ward?

By Kieron Gillen on March 2nd, 2010 at 3:28 pm.

Our artist's impression.

This is, I suspect, only the start of a story which is going to grow and grow. G4 broke the rumour yesterday that “a bunch of bouncer types” had showed up at Infinity Ward, following the Infinity Ward heads Vince Zampella and Jason West’s reported meeting with Activision in the morning – which they hadn’t returned from. Kotaku picked up that Jason West’s facebook account claimed to be drinking and no-longer employed. G4 uncovers that morning Activision had an SEC filing stating investigation into “breaches of contract and insubordination by two senior employees at Infinity Ward.” And now VG247 are reporting rumours that unpaid royalties to Infinity Ward was part of the cause of stress. Oh – and Tim Schafer says the best one liner about the whole thing.

Really, all we’ve got right now is theories. Though, like Rock8man at Qt3, Bobby Kotick’s hailing of “skepticism, pessimism, and fear” does tend to leap worryingly easily to mind.

, .

184 Comments »

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  1. Bret says:

    Anonymous Coward said:
    I read somewhere that this is nothing but a PR stunts, that it’s IW and Activision putting a show since Bad Company 2 was just released and it’s the cool new game to play. Anyone heard that?

    That is a remarkably stupid conspiracy theory. Possibly the dumbest one today. Nice find.

    Mind, if it’s true…

  2. jsutcliffe says:

    I would like to declare a moratorium on forum posts that say “This” with no reference to what “This” is.
    In fact, let’s just drop “This” entirely. What’s wrong with “I agree,” or better yet a whole sentence?

    • Premium User Badge

      AndrewC says:

      Seriously, i’m like Roger Rabbit hearing those ‘daa da-da daaa daaa’ set up notes right now.

    • rocketman71 says:

      This :P

      (in reply to jsutcliffe, I was too slow)

    • jsutcliffe says:

      @rocketman

      You, ser, have just sealed your fate!

    • rocketman71 says:

      @jsutcliffe

      Rockets at dawn it is! ;)

    • SheffieldSteel says:

      Hear hear.

      Tho’ I’ve been guilty of ‘this’ing a post or two in my time :)

    • Radiant says:

      THIS.
      Let me tell you I Iove people telling other people how to behave.
      jsutcliffe you sir have earned this right.

      I QUIT BEFORE YOU FIRE ME

    • po says:

      At least you don’t have to put up with the lazy welfare epic/Honor/XP farming, difficulty reducing nerf demanding WoW players. The best they can manage is:

      ^^

    • TeeJay says:

      ^^^^^^^^^^^^^
      +1
      :)
      lolcats

  3. autogunner says:

    http://www.destructoid.com/bobby-kotick-says-he-isn-t-a-dick-164497.phtml

    worth looking at to hear the otherside of the story if you can stand kotick talking for 30mins. Fairly interestinghes obviously a smart(ish) person who seems to care about all the ahte directed towards him.

    • FunkyBadger says:

      There’s a wonder. Multi-millionaire is actually smart.

      (Apologies for the misdirected sarcasm, Autogunner)

    • Lilliput King says:

      “Kotick went on to explain that the evil comments he makes are usually to investors who are looking for those evil comments because they sound like things a money-making company would do.”

      Anyone else getting definite vibes of Nick Griffin?

    • autogunner says:

      @badger

      yeah sorry for the smart person is smart thing, i didnt know he was so involved with the industry for ages. I think most people reckon he brown-nosed and ‘networked’ his way into his current position.

    • terry says:

      I’m paraphrasing here but he did say something like “The reason I got into the games industry 10 years ago was to suck the fun out of making them”. As if there wasn’t proof enough of his gleeful bloodymindedness, he makes a habit of cheerfully highlighting it.

    • Premium User Badge

      drewski says:

      @ autogunner – Anyone who has ever worked for a mega-corporation knows that a) that’s how anyone works their way into a senior position and b) that doesn’t mean he’s not talented.

    • Premium User Badge

      Sagan says:

      @autogunner

      I believe the guy when he says that he doesn’t like the way he is regarded and that his opinion is misrepresented. But still, no matter what he says, in the end it matters how he acts. And when he is responsible for no longer publishing Brütal Legend and related games and then even suing the new publisher, and when his company is best known for ruining franchises like Tony Hawk or Guitar Hero and soon probably Call of Duty, and when his company is mostly making crap movie tie-ins, then I believe he simply isn’t a good influence on the gaming industry and shouldn’t be the head of the largest publisher in the world.
      And nothing he says will change me believing that, unless he also acts the part.

    • FunkyBadger says:

      Sagan: but look at the profits.

      Talented businessmen in any hobbyiest industry – gaming to a lesser extent, boardgaming, RPGing to a greater extent – stands out like a sore thumb because most of the people involved in running businesses couldn’t manage a whelk stall.

      Call it the Duke Nuken Forever effect.

      (As an aside, networking plays a part, but the higher up the pole you go, the more the bottom line matters, e.g. Kotick will probably last no more than 1 quarter of flat revenue growth…)

    • mister_d says:

      @Sagan

      How he acts? He’s at the top of a pretty big publicly traded company — what do you expect? “Oh hey Tim, you made some great games in the past, so even though Brutal Legend appears to be rubbish we’ll publish it anyway?” His job is to avoid publishing bad games and to exploit popular franchises to their maximum profit potential. He seems pretty good at it.

      It’s no use getting angry at a man none of us have ever met, or are ever likely to meet, just because he’s made some decisions that have been good for his company.

    • TeeJay says:

      It is a bad business strategy – from the point of view of major share-holders – to get short-term profits at the expense of medium and long-term profits.

      Some senior executives love building massive business empires (over-expanding, expensive take-overs) or trying to cash-in bonuses and retire, and some ‘predatory investors’ aim to buy up companies and liquidate their assets.

      Major institutional investors (eg pension funds, insurance companies, investment trusts) have to hold onto a broad-based ‘market index’ for long period, can’t easily switch away from equities (ie in effect a lack of liquidity) and therefore have a different time horizon and perspective about ‘expansion for the sake of it’ (eg the mid-20th century do-it-all ‘conglomerate’ is now out of favour in western economies – investors now prefer single-sector companies focussed on a specific ‘core’.). Long-term, major investors don’t want their investment ‘hollowed out’, company cash invested badly, a lack of development of the next generation of products, alienation of customers, employees and partners, even if these things give a few years of extra (short-term) profits. The board of directors on publically listed companies is meant to keep control and oversight over the executives on behalf of the shareholder for exactly these reasons, in extremis getting rid of the senior management and findin new ones (also by trying to ‘align interests’ by using ‘long term incentive schemes’). So ‘shareholder value’ doesn’t automatically = current year’s cash profits as the overall value of a company includes factors such as reputation, brands, talent, IP, investments and having a ‘going concern’ (rather than a soon-to-be basket-case).

      It’s also worth noting that this isn’t just a ‘business analyst’ issue – it is also spelled out in UK law:

      The Companies Act 2006, section 172 “Duties of directors”:

      “…to promote the success of the company – directors must continue to act in a way that benefits the shareholders as a whole, but there is now an additional list of non-exhaustive factors to which the directors must have regard. This was one of the most controversial aspects of the new legislation at the drafting stage. These factors are:

      1. the long term consequences of decisions
      2. the interests of employees
      3. the need to foster the company’s business relationships with suppliers, customers and others
      4. the impact on the community and the environment
      5. the desire to maintain a reputation for high standards of business conduct
      6. the need to act fairly as between members [ie shareholders]”

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Companies_Act_2006#Directors

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      Sagan says:

      @mister_d:

      It might have been a smart move that they didn’t publish Brütal Legend, except hindsight is 20/20. In hindsight it was a brilliant move that they bought Red Octane for only 100 million dollars. Because they made their money back ten times with Guitar Hero 3 alone. But nobody could predict that Guitar Hero would become this huge, and I think it was mainly luck that they became this successful with their purchase. The 100 million they paid was probably indicative of the kind of money that they expected to make back. (as in a couple hundred million over many years) The same could be said about Infinity Ward. Yes it was a smart move, but nobody expected five years in advance that Modern Warfare would happen. Infinity Ward was just another purchase like Raven Software and Treyarch.

      So hindsight is 20/20 and you could say he was brilliant for buying Red Octane and Infinity Ward, which made him half of his revenue before merging with Blizzard. But you could also point out that Tony Hawk is no longer interesting to anyone, Guitar Hero is slowly getting there and he is doing his best to get Call of Duty in the same direction. You could point out that half of their revenue last year were two games (Modern Warfare 2 and World of Warcraft) and that this year looks abysmal. (CoD 7, Starcraft 2 and… Tony Hawk Ride 2?) And I am certain, that the success of Modern Warfare 2 can not be repeated, because it was the biggest selling game ever. You can not repeat that.

      So I don’t see how Activision can remain successful with their current strategy.

      edit: And it still was dickish that they sued Double Fine.

  4. Frosty says:

    Soo…..they lose Inifinity Ward to another publisher who will then make a game that will sell MILLIONS or whatever.

    Where’s the business sense in this?

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      drewski says:

      They won’t lose Infinity Ward (as they own it) but they might lose most of the staff.

      But they probably figure that it’s the IP that sells, not the developer or the quality of the game. Unfortunately, it appears in the case of CoD, they’re right (thus far).

    • mister_d says:

      drewski is right. IP sells. If literally all the Infinity Ward staff were to leave, form a new studio, and develop a game called “Duty Calls: Contemporary Combat,” it almost certainly wouldn’t sell as much as a “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.”

    • Bret says:

      Short term, maybe.

      But, well….

      Remember Rock Band? Or Call of Duty itself?

      These things work out in the end. Somewhat.

  5. Larington says:

    I don’t particularly like linking to kotaku but, well http://kotaku.com/5484026/

    In 2011, Activision will release another new Call of Duty game from Sledgehammer Games, the recently formed studio lead by Dead Space creative leads Glen A. Schofield and Michael Condrey. The title will “extend the franchise into the action-adventure genre.”

    Action-adventure, I have a feeling that kind of bait and switch won’t go down well with gamers. Though i could be wrong, I remember the animosity for a certain release under the Baldur’s Gate franchise…

    • Nick says:

      As a result of Dark Alliance, there was some hilarious confusion as certain console gamers heard Dragon Age was like Baldur’s Gate. They were disappointed.

  6. Jahkaivah says:

    http://kotaku.com/5484046/infinity-ward-vs-activision-the-battle-for-creative-direction

    Didn’t Infinity Ward form because the founding devs were irritated about having no creative direction with EA? And one of the things they wanted to do a level where you never use a weapon, EA recently publishing Mirror’s Edge, a game which lets you do that.

  7. Helis says:

    So….. where’s our dedicated servers?

  8. EBass says:

    I got no sympathy for IW. None. Nonewhatsoever. Used to be a great company

    Them and Activision can both burn.

  9. Rock Tumbler says:

    I have absolutely no reliable source on this, but I read this on another forum:

    My understanding from inside sources are that the two execs at IW were on a tele-conference with the Activision execs and were being confronted about their discussions with a rival publisher. Apparently companies talk to each other. Who da thunk? At any rate in the middle of the conference one of the IW guys, Jason West, started muttering something under his breath. It was barely audible at first but he started to get louder and louder until it became clear he was saying:

    “Suck my dick, Michael”.

    He just kept repeating it and getting louder and louder until finally he was screaming at the top of his lungs. It was made doubly loud because the other IW exec had joined in so it was a duet of:

    “Suck my dick, Michael”

    directed at the Activision guys. After 5 stunned minutes the Activision execs started yelling back at them that if they didn’t shut up they’d be fired. This only led to the IW guys each giving the double bird (4X birds) and continuing their lusty screaming. Eventually Activision ended the call and called the security team. Apparently even after the call ended, up until the point security arrived, the two IW execs were still screaming:

    “Suck my dick, Michael.”

    The really odd thing? No one on the call was named Michael.

  10. jti says:

    Maybe, just maybe, they have mushroom problem over there.

  11. Anthony says:

    The most transparent attempt to maintain a cash cow in probably forever.

    There’s so much irony here it hurts, considering Activision originally formed to counteract bad publishing practices by the likes of Atari and IW originally formed to counteract bad publishing practices by the likes of EA. I guess a billion dollars will do this to those sorts of ideals.

    Kotick can eat a whole bag of dicks.

  12. Makarov says:

    Remember, no Activision.

  13. Dominic White says:

    There’s been some mention of Brutal Legend here, but I’d like to highlight just how insane Activision has become. A simple point-by-point breakdown of the situation:

    Double Fine develop Brutal Legend. An Action/RTS hybrid (very Herzog Zwei). Activision to publish.

    Activision get the music-game bug. Order the game to be redesigned into a Guitar Hero spinoff (no joke)

    Double Fine refuse to develop plastic instrument game, continue developing Action/RTS.

    Activision drop the game and Double Fine, because plastic instruments are the future.

    Brutal Legend almost immediately get snapped up by EA as publisher, because EA not crazy.

    Activision sue, because…? They were there first? Five second rule? I dunno.

    Seriously, there seems like there was no legal basis at all to the lawsuit.

    Corporate brain-rot, really. The company has gotten big, senile, reactionary and violent. You cannot assume their decisions have rational reasons behind them anymore.

    Activision are no longer a rational actor.

    Oh, and as for whether EA publishing the game was a good call or not.. well, I’m not sure how much it cost to develop, but word is it shifted at least a half-million copies, which isn’t to be sniffed at. And anyone who says it’s a bad game is wrong.

  14. corbie says:

    Activision’s attitude makes more sense to me when I assume that they are relying on the brand selling a game instead of the game selling itself: in that buisness model frequency can be more profitable than quailty.
    Many people never look past the badge when purchasing a Dyson, for example. To a certain extent that is -sadly- true with games but I think that gamers are more demanding and engaged in “the product” than is the case in other fields.
    In purely objective terms did MW2 deserve to sell as well as it did? I dont think so, but high expectations set by the previous game combined with clever franchise manipulation and plain old aggressive marketing made content that 10 years ago would have barely merited an expansion pack into the best selling game so far.
    Activision (maybe just Bobby, who knows) don’t strike me as crazy, they strike me as out of touch. They want to do what Car and clothing and Electronics companies have been doing for years. Establish a brand, get a core base of consumers then thrash it for all it is worth for as much cash as can be shovelled.
    I seriously doubt they consider the people at IW intrisic to the process. Its just another product. Do you know who designed your car?
    /Corb

    “your finger, you fool.”

  15. King Too Tall says:

    Here’s a thought. Quit complaining about the game publishers and how much money they make because so and so made this decision! MAKE AN OPEN SOURCE GAME that beats the crap outta them, and let them smoke they’re money pipe for awhile! I’ve written a number of utilities that actually WORK for call of duty 4 and are freeeeeeeeee! (and they work with other games too). The big multi-million dollar men cant make and empire if they don’t have to PAY for it. Lets make ours bigger, without the all mighty whitey dollar involved! Or are you scared of that too cause your NOT guaranteed a profit? Think about it…

    Thanks
    King Too Tall
    http://www.clan-atf.com

    make of (all free):
    GameConfigFileManager
    COD4 Chopper Config Generator
    KingsWarFare mod for cod4

  16. Larington says:

    The former Activision heads have filed a lawsuit citing breach of contract, wrongful termination and unpaid royalty payments: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/27509/West_Zampella_File_Lawsuit_Against_Activision_Over_Sacking.php