So check this out. It would seem some large and scary dudes showed up at Modern Warfare developer Infinity Ward’s Encino offices and… lurked. Apparently they’re a gift to the studio from owner and industry goliath Activision/Blizzard. Meanwhile two of the company’s top dogs, Vince Zampella and Jason West, weren’t in the office – they were at Activision. In a meeting. Now we hear that CTO/CCO West, at least, has been fired.
Activision recently made a SEC filing indicating that it was investigating human resources mismanagement and insubordination at one of its studios, and that this would likely involve terminations and litigation.
No one knows what is going on. Some inside Infinity Ward – one imagines them crouched under their desks, avoiding the steely gaze of their thuggish guests, desperately Twittering in the glow of an iPhone – have indicated that Activision is “flexing its muscles” in response to IW’s attempts to “push back against change.”
UPDATE: a bit more info from GamesIndustry.biz. Apparently West and CEO Zampella are both out.
So, you make your company a billion in profits in two months. Next thing you know, you’re investigated for insubordination, sued and sacked. Also, your team members are threatened by men looking like thugs yet not wearing uniforms. I guess Pandemic studios are now happy they were acquired by EA and not Activision. They just lost their jobs after making two moderatly successful games.
Seriously, breaches of contract and stuff, yeah, I can get behind that but having people threatened and reporting “insubordination” sounds like some proper gestapo shit. One would think that after making the fastest selling entertainment product in history, Infinity Ward would be given SOME credit by their Activision Overlords, but I guess Bobby Kottick was serious about the air of fear and uncertainty he wanted to prevail in the Activision cubicle farms. A fascinating story, can’t wait to hear the rest!!
I’m a little wary calling out anything too early but Activision isn’t exactly know for it’s good closure policy of studios, and removal of staff in the past.
What transgressions they’ve done as publisher-owned, slightly-more-independent-perhaps CO’s – who knows? Will we ever know? 🙁
Now that is how you handle insubordination. Send in security and throw their asses into the brig (i.e., fire them). I reckon this will be a long and ugly process as most HR-related matters are. As an attorney, I have had the (dis)plesure of reviewing various HR complaints and matters in my day. Needless to say the things people do at work simply boggle the mind.
It is awfully shocking that Infinity Ward, of all studios, would be made an example of with goons and firings. They’re kind of a golden-egg-laying goose.
Unless of course West and Zampella were actually doing something wrong/unethical/illegal, in which case I’d have to side with Activision. But if some of the tweets are true, and A/B is just trying to bring a rogue studio to heel, there are gentler ways to do it.
The plot, apparently thickens:
“Website BingeGamer (via VG247) was told by a collection of unnamed sources that not a single penny of the $1bn generated by MW2 has been seen by Infinity Ward. ”
This is still filed strictly under rumours and speculation but, if it’s true, then it’s fucking bizarre. I mean, I know IW are part of Activision, yet you’d expect their contracts to involve some bonuses on top of the salary should their games do well..
“The report also states that the “insubordination” IW bosses Jason West and Frank Zampella appear to have been sacked for was caused by secret discussions with rival publishers.”
Because in corporate America the only secret discussions allowed are those between the senior staff at your company.
OK, some more linkage:
Also, just for completion’s sake, a now legendary tweet by Tim Schafer regarding this situation:
“Getting mad at Activision for this kind of thing is like getting mad at an ape for throwing feces. It’s just how the beast communicates.”
So, what do we know after one day?
Activision has indeed sacked West and Zampella. Infinity Ward is supposed to be working on DLC for Modern Warfare 2 as we speak. There will be a Call of Duty title in 2010, made by Treyarch. There will be another Call of Duty title in 2011 although it is not yet clear who is going to be the developer. Infinity Ward is now temporarily headed by Activision’s employees Steve Pearce and Steve Ackrich but Activision also announced that a newly formed studio, Sledgehammer Games will be handling future Call of Duty games and will be “extend(ing) the franchise into the action-adventure genre”. Sledgehammer is headed by former Visceral Games executives Glen A. Schofield and Michael Condrey, which, upon playing Dante’s Inferno, I am not sure is the greatest idea ever…
1UP says: “In addition, they have formed a new business unit dedicated to publishing an annual Call of Duty game.”
Isn’t that just so Activision?
Oh! Oh! I can name them! Call of Duty: Modern Warfare: 2010 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare: 2011! 😀
Oooh, wait, but we need other genres, wow! so much chance to have the “Call of Duty: ” namers busy for ages 😀
That’s abit unfair, Andrew.
Aren’t you forgetting “Call of Duty: Modern MMO” and “Call of Duty: Panzer Tankz Mini Kartz Racer!”?
Kotaku’s really trying to help Activision out: new titles and box art.
I’d play the Wolveriiiiiiiiines version! 😀
Hey, the Keeping The Peace version has my childhood neighbors on the cover!
Modern Gwarfare has practically infinite potential for cross marketing!!!
Call of Duty: Corporate Clusterfuck
This isn’t looking like a story that will go away anytime soon.
No, it won’t. More info:
“The lawsuit states that in the wake of Modern Warfare 2’s success, Activision refused to honor the MOU or the Emplyoment Agreement with West and Zampella, and instead launched a “pre-textual investigation against West and Zampella to create a basis to fire the two co-heads of Infinity Ward before the first Modern Warfare 2 royalty payment.”
“”West and Zampella were interrogated for over six hours in a windowless conference room; Activision investigators brought other Infinity Ward employees to tears in their questioning and accusations and threatened West and Zampella with ‘insubordination’ if they attempted to console them.”
Anyway, after reading the court document, I’d say it’s ironic that West and Zampella are fighting to retain control over Modern Warfare brand even though I imagine they are sick to death of it by now…
It’s not so much ironic that they are fighting to retain control over Modern Warfare brand even though they are likely sick to death of it by now, but rather very tactical.
According to the court papers and West and Zampella’s side of the story, this MOU gives them control over “Modern Wafare” and rights to certain royalties that were due in the next few weeks based on the sales of MW2. Control over MW is their biggest bargaining chip here. They file a law suit asking for that and the money and then when it comes to time for settlement talks they use their (alleged) leverage over one leg of Activision’s admitted three-legged stool as a way to get more money from them.
They are suing for $36 million worth of damages, if they “agree” to give unfettered control of the MW series to Activision, they stand a better chance to see more of that $36 million.
Complains in law suits are often like this. They ask very everything and anything, because it’s much easier to amend and pare things down than to amend and try to add things be it damages or additional claims.
I honestly wouldn’t have expected THIS level of greed, even from Activision. I mean seriously, the game made TWO BILLION DOLLARS, people. There’s enough to go around.
Infinity Ward is wholly owned by Activision, but I imagine all of its employees will probably quit in the next several months. I also wouldn’t be surprised if West and Zampella start a new studio and hire them all back. Doubtless all employees are bound by non-competes, but those are notoriously difficult to enforce, especially in the games industry.
The overriding feeling I get from this is is that, not for the first time, Activision are just swinging around their weight like some 500lb Gorilla, and whoever gets caught out by it.. well, tough luck.
This whole situation just smacks of arrogance. Arrogance that they’ve become no strangers to in recent times.. such as slapping a £55 RRP on Modern Warfare 2 in the UK (that thankfully few if any retailers actually stuck with).
With all this re-structuring (read: milking) I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s afew concerned faces at Treyarch, too.
Ok…aside from all the nerd rage that the “awesome” management of Infinity Ward got fired by their owner corporation lets analyze a few facts.
Infinity Ward was successful at creating a pretty good fairly engaging and scary single player game. That grossed an estimated 1.5-2.0 billion dollars in the first two months of release. About the third month we realize that the monolithic statue that is Infinity Ward has feet made of clay (about January 2010) when their various patches for the multi player FAIL to stop all sorts of hacks/cracks/cheats that absolutely ruined the game.
In November 2009 the entire games industry is hailing them as the 2nd coming (again). Their reviews are 9.5+ on every site.
Now its March 2010 and metacritic fan ratings push the game to a 5.5.
This same management everyone has hailed were also grossly negligent in releasing multiplayer that was hacked/cracked/and full of about as many horrible cheats as I have ever seen in more than a decade of online gaming. The managment that allowed their code to be accessed by hackers to “look for bugs”. The same hackers who have destroyed the multiplayer experience. I’d fire them too. They really aint worth that much $ in the grand scheme of things and if they broke contract or NDA with another company/entities they DESERVE what they get.
As for that billion plus it is just a gross. As someone who works in games publishing let me clarify how this works. 60msrp. Retailer keeps $30.00 of that to keep the lights on in their store. Microsoft and Sony have licensing agreements for their perspective consoles that pay them around 1/3rd of the profit up till a game makes “platinum” status then the rate goes down. Its like a movie studio. So of the $30.00 left over after Walmart, Microsoft/Sony get $10.00. Uncle Sam/the Queen/your National Tax Collector gets $10.00 in varied corporate tax, leaving Activision/Blizzard $10 to divvy up as they chose to the creative studio (Infinity Ward). So a big chunk of change but not a Billion dollars. More like $167 million. A very decent chunk of change for sure. But when you consider blizzard/activision gets to keep about $32 million a MONTH from World of Warcraft, its not that impressive.
Likewise since West and Zampella were dumb enough to allow their code to be distributed onthe net I wouldn’t trust them to put out another game that wouldnt be just as messed up as this one was. There were high school kids playing MW2 two weeks before it came out for peets sake. Whent hey logged in after “buying a copy” all their perks were still there. All their points were still there. Now invariably when you play you will see hundreds of players with prestige 10, earned through boosting. The boosting service is SOLD FREELY for about 2000 microsoft points or 3 months live subscriptions.
My point is, Activision’s strongest case is that someone willingly let a flagship game of their Christmas lineup be hacked and passed about for free diminishing its value and that its value continues to diminish. Someone has to staunch the gouts of blood because quite honestly, folks who prefer a clean multiplayer game will never trust Infinity Ward again. If West and Zampella couldnt or wouldnt find the person(S) responsible for all that out and destruction of their lucrative multiplayer IP then Activision has every right to punish them financially and legally for ruining their good name. You notice the hacking and cracking is very difficult on WOW, it is strictly enforced and checks and balances are put in place to protect the fans. Infinity ward didnt do this or has thus far failed in its obligation ot the fans. Someone has to pay. Simple as that.
We’ve all seen that pie chart, Bowbe, but I doubt the studio leadership was fired for shipping an exploitable game.
Are you actually suggesting that Activision fired senior management because of problems with free DLC? Or that Activision cares that there is cheating in the game? Activision sees no revenue from online play. They could care less whether or not it works.
You’re free to be an apologist for Activision if you like, but your analysis of WHY Zampelli and West were fired doesn’t seem very plausible.
What isn’t plausible about shopping your parent companies Itellectual Property to hacker sites to look for bugs? Thats pretty cut and dried and thats what they did. That would be me posting up chapters of a book for WOTC/Hasbro on a torrent account while also submitting it for publication. You do that in any job you get fired. I’m not apologizing for Activision, I’m pointing out issues of corporate and leadership related negligence that will get you fired.
Gay bashing. Infinity Ward had two instances of that with this game, once with the youtube vid, 2nd with the in game “joke” about don’t ask don’t tell. Did I think they were funny? Sure because I have a sense of humor. If you work for a big ass company (Bank of America being one) and make a similar joke even on your facebook page outside of work guess what? Fired. Thats corporate culture now like it or not. Unless your a rapper that is.
Activision may not “make” the dough off the online play as you say but lets call an apple an apple shall we. How many people actually bought the game PURELY to play the 10 hour single player game? 1/10th of the sales maybe? You buy COD games for the online experience. Their negligence ruined the online experience and tell me it hasn’t been ruined after you’ve been buried in three dozen care package strikes. COD MW1 didnt have those issues. This one is rife with them. If your sitting with friends and 8 out of 10 of them agree the online blows and you were on the fence about buying it for yourself are you still going to buy it for full price? No, you’ll pick it up used and Activision certainly doesnt get any $$ off a resale. Check your worship of Zampelli and West at the door please.
Please. I didn’t know Zampelli and West existed until last week. As for the grammatical wasteland that are your comments, if you worked in game publishing then you would know that once a game is bought it’s bought, that its tail is going to be about six weeks, shorter for a game like this because door busters see around 85% of the profit on Day Zero and Day One. You’d also know that as consumers, gamers are mind-bogglingly stupid, and will cheerfully buy games despite warnings of issues just because they’d always planned to.
Given that Zampelli and West are now suing, insisting that Modern Warfare is their IP, I’m guessing that they probably didn’t knowingly damage it. But who knows? Maybe Activision, a company that has spent the last five years exploiting franchises, closing studios, firing people without reason, arbitrarily raising prices, making stated company policy that an atmosphere of skepticism, pessimism, and fear was desirable at their wholly owned subsidiaries really is the affronted party here. Time will tell.
I don’t think anything is “cut and dry” here. I don’t think anyone is worshipping either of these guys either.
The only thing we’ve seen to date are Zampelli and West’s allegations set forth in their complaint and the brief, vague comments by Activision about “insubordination”. That term is incredibly vague and can mean just about anything in the corporate/HR world.
Given that this is now in litigation, rumor and speculation is all you’re going to get until more papers are filed.
As for their claim for damages, the $36 million they allege includes far, far more than just the royalties they think they are owned. It’s a combination of things.
As for the value of MW2 and the money Activision made off it, Activision has already announced that the game was incredibly successful and one of the main reasons behind its success last year. Regardless of the exact total revenue Activision saw as a result of sales (I’m sure it’s easily found in their public filings) it was a significant portion of their overall revenues.
Haha Steerspike. The only point I was trying to make is that if a parent company wanted to axe these guys they have ample reasons to use as their excuses for termination, most of which would stick.
Thats ALL I pointed out.
Leaked versions of the game two weeks before release showing you have no control over your own in studio employees or you willingly leaked the game (Check).
Inability to control the rampant cheating on multiplayer with 2 patches that did not work resulting in dillution of your IP(Check).
Use of illigitimate 3rd party hacker sites as “sub contractors” to your IP (Check).
If this was done without the knowledge of the parent company that (Also) could result in a clause for breach of contract.
Negotiation in private with a rival entity (Allegedly in this case EA?) for re-entry into the EA fold? Didn’t these bozos pull a similar stunt with EA to break from EA and go to Activision in the first place? Thats the big stinker here according to a lot of other sites that are just as informed as the rest of us.
The rest of us meaning… people who were not in the meeting. I cherish every time someone allegedly or directly affiliated with the “fired side” tries to win the court of public opinion with their lame twitter and facebook updates.
Is Activision trying to get out of paying their 10% to Infinity Ward? Probably. In this economy anything is possible, especially where stock splits and shareholders are concerned. Certainly not painting them as good guys here, just pointing out several “grounds for termination”.
You say cool stuff like “Do you honestly believe Activision cares about cheating” Maybe “Activision” doesn’t but the Blizzard wing sure seems to when it comes to cheating in their flagship product.
You also swing around big numbers like 2 billion dollars and then when I point out the number they recieve is much smaller you go in with the “We’ve all seen that pie chart…” and “Doorbuster specials”. So which is it? They made 2 billion or they suddenly lost their ass on the first two days of sales while Walmart and Uncle Sam reap the reward of Infinity Ward’s valliant effort? Maybe everyone hasn’t seen that pie chart.
Sorry dude but I’m not trying to sell a bunch of conflicting stories to win an internet argument with you. Note that when combing through my “gramatical wasteland” I again only point out reasons Activision could use to get rid of anyone affiliated with Infinity Ward that they wanted to, and all would be good and legitimate reasons in my book.
Infinity Ward started with great IP and the potential of a great product with this one. Single player was amazing, but I buy COD games for the online play. So do a lot of other people. I ain’t the greatest at the game but I finish in the top 5 on most rounds and thats good enough for me. CODMW (the first) played for about 6 months solid, had few errors, but bad lag during certain times of the day. There were almost no cheats except for a few wierd places on a couple maps where you could walk the sky and the game was frequently patched and regulated. That was in the day of “good Infinity Ward” They were unshackled by those evil opressive bastards at EA and they were out to make a good name for themselves right?
This new game was a mess from the get-go that benefitted from lots of hype, fat reviewer scores and millions of dollars in advertising. My friends and I played for about two months almost nightly till all the care package nonsense and the modded guns started showing up everywhere.
Even in the beginning there were the “turn invisible cheat” in the Afgan map and “unlimited ammo cheats” and “hide down the smokestack and rack up a million kills cheats to get all your nuke patches and what not. Allowing prestige points in private matches? Wow, a booster’s paradise. Thats horrible game design right there. All that is on Infinity Ward and not Activision. They are the studio they designed it, put it out flaws and all as a finished product.
Too cheap for dedicated servers with that “2 billion dollars” your talking about? Way to piss off the PC gamers and console gamers alike. I should have known something was up when the “online agreement” page flashes by faster than a booster on crack with all run/sprint/knife/akimbo shotgun choices selected. Is that crap Activisions fault or Infinity Wards? Probably a combo of blame in that reguard.
We waited and checked status of updates/patches and all that came up was “oh we’re working on it,” all the hack tools were available for it before it even launched. Youtube has had daily exploits posted up. People send you messages to you in game wanting 2000 microsoft points or 3 months subscription to LIVE in exchange for 10th prestige.
All the bells and whistles that should have made the game great are meaningless now thanks to the cheating. All that stuff you strive for as a gamer went up in smoke almost overnight once the non-stop care package exploits were in full swing. I don’t blame Activision for that. I blame Infinity Ward for allowing that to happen on ALL platforms of the game and will likely never buy a game from them or another entity run by Zampelli and West again. IW ruined its reputation with this gamer for sure. I can buy $60 worth of real bullets and have an awesome afternoon at my local gun club instead.
You are right about one thing though. Gamers are dumb and will knowingly buy a game that is going to break their heart because they “hope” that all the bs will be fixed the next time they play, or when the next version comes out but just like Madden, it never is.
Now THAT’S a good response, Bowbe! I don’t agree, but I respect the use of logic and the lack of bile.
Allow me to rebut…
Blizzard can care about cheating until the universe dries up; the position on one game (where cheating might impact PAYING customers) doesn’t dictate company policy. I didn’t intend to imply that Activision doesn’t care about cheating regardless of game, only that they don’t care when it comes to MW2.
Never argued that Activision couldn’t produce reasons to fire West and Zampelli. Particularly if they were talking to other publishers – which wouldn’t surprise me. Total breach of contract. I never said Activision was acting illegally. The only point I wanted to make was that if I were Activision, and I was faced with losing a studio that just made me *coughcoughcough*illion dollars (no need to incite you further), I might have approached with a different tone…
along the lines of…
“Hey, guys, I know you’re looking and I don’t want you to leave us. How can we work this out?”
Instead of sending thugs to the office and firing the leads.
As for the litany of exploits you list, yeah, it’s a broken game. Most games that ship are broken. But the industry doesn’t care about quality – on account of the gamers are stupid thing. All they care about is dollars, and MW2 made a zillion of them. They’re not selling Toyotas, you know. No one dies if a game is shitty.
The bug issue with MW2 is an interesting one for sure, particularly when you consider what the reaction to so many glitches and cheats would have been if this was Treyarch’s year on the job. I was late onto the World at War scene so barely experienced much of the multiplayer myself, but I noticed the game received one hell of a tough ride from the community about the bugs in the multiplayer. I can’t recall many if any of them being as high profile or consistent as some of the floods of MW2 glitches that have appeared.
Infinity Ward didn’t come up with anything like Nazi zombies either, and if COD4 is any indication, are nowhere near as supportive of their products with DLC either as Treyarch.
Still, I don’t really think this is about calling Infinity Ward “awesome” or siding with them against Activision for the sake of it.. or “nerd rage”. IW might have published a buggy as hell game (serves them right for being arrogant over not releasing a beta) but this is just one in an increasingly large number of PR balls up’s by Activision. As Steerpike says, there are surely other ways of dealing with stuff like this other than sending the heavies in and coming out with comments about “subordination” and the like. This is video games development, not an episode of 24.
Just as an aside, I’ve pretty much called time on Modern Warfare 2 myself now, although that is less to do with the games bugs than it is to do with the simply awful “community” that follows that game around..
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