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Activision's Modern Wardfare Continues

You’ll probably have already picked up on the ongoing fallout from Tuesday’s Activision-Infinity Ward oh-so-modern warfare, but as the talking point du jour we should probably cover it. The story so far: Infinity Ward heads Vince Zampella and Jason West didn’t turn up to work after a meeting with the developer’s owner Activision – but some hired muscle did. Shortly afterwards, Activision filed suit against the pair for “breaches of contract and insubordination”, a charge that is yet to be explained. Since then, Zampella and West have filed right back at ’em, with accusations of withheld royalties and “Orwellian moves” to construct a case for their dismissal. Activision have duly refuted the claims, but it’s increasingly looking like this stems from a tussle for control of the Call of Duty and Modern Warfare franchises. Oh, why can’t more happy things happen in the videogame industry?
Zampella/West say they had an agreement with Activision that IW would have sole creative responsibility for any Call of Duty game set post-Vietnam or carrying the Modern Warfare moniker, which in turn guaranteed them royalty payments from the series. It’s not specified what Activision have done to breach that agreement (if indeed they have), but it’s possibly related to the rumoured Nam-set Treyarch COD due later this year, and to the newly-revealed COD action-adventure (i.e. not an FPS), to be handled by Sledgehammer Studios. Zampella/West’s assertion is that there’s been a calculated plan to fire them on trumped-up charges before the first Modern Warfare 2 royalty cheque hits.

Activision, meanwhile, have responded by reiterating that they believe the pair have been insubordinate. Which may or may not be related to an apparent leaked memo that seems to chronicle their investigations leading up to the shock dismissal. A memo that suggests the pair were seeking to setup a new studio independent of Activision – possibly with the assistance of Electronic Arts.

Which is just crazy. Infinity Ward were, after all, originally created to escape Electronic Arts, and being shackled to the Medal of Honor franchise. What goes around comes around, even weirder and nastier than before. So… does that make EA the good guys now?

Lawks only knows who’s right, or if any of this mudflinging holds any merit. Perhaps it’s greedy businessmen on both sides of the argument, or perhaps it’s an enormous misunderstanding. At this stage, it seems impossible to predict how it’s going to turn out, but it’s certainly meant a week of uncomfortable drama. It’s possible it’ll mean an end to Modern Warfare games, though at least the Call of Duty wagon doesn’t seem in any danger of grinding to a halt. Here’s where the matter currently rests, in Activision’s public response to Zampella/West’s $36million lawsuit:

“Activision is disappointed that Mr. Zampella and Mr. West have chosen to file a lawsuit, and believes their claims are meritless. Over eight years, Activision shareholders provided these executives with the capital they needed to start Infinity Ward, as well as the financial support, resources and creative independence that helped them flourish and achieve enormous professional success and personal wealth.“In return, Activision legitimately expected them to honor their obligations to Activision, just like any other executives who hold positions of trust in the company. While the company showed enormous patience, it firmly believes that its decision was justified based on their course of conduct and actions. Activision remains committed to the Call of Duty franchise, which it owns, and will continue to produce exciting and innovative games for its millions of fans.”

I lost track of how many times it says Activision in that one paragraph.

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Alec Meer

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Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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