Infinity Ward vs. Activision: Whose side are you on?

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I’m sorry, but I’m absolutely loving this Infinity Ward-Activision brouhaha. Here you have one of the most respected developers out there at odds with a publisher that must seriously have no idea what it’s doing. If Activision thinks it can slap the Call of Duty name on any ol’ game, made by any ol’ developer, ha! People are dumb, but they’re not that dumb? Would you rather play Call of Duty 4, developed by Infinity Ward, or Call of Duty 3, developed by Treyarch? Exactly. (Nothing against Treyarch, of course, but a better game is a better game.)

The founders of Infinity Ward, Jason West and Vince Zampella, have filed a lawsuit against Activision, claiming that they are owed “substantial royalty payments” from the sales of Modern Warfare 2. You’ll recall that the game made a lot of money for Activision. Like, a lot.

This comes after West and Zampella were fired earlier this week. Activision, in its most recent SEC filing, listed “insubordination” (what a terrifying word and concept, by the way) and “breach of fiduciary duty” as reasons why it canned the duo.

The two are not happy. Says Zampella:

We were shocked by Activision’s decision to terminate our contract. We poured our heart and soul into that company, building not only a world class development studio, but assembling a team we’ve been proud to work with for nearly a decade. We think the work we’ve done speaks for itself.

There are so many things going on here I don’t know what to say. Activision apparently sees Call of Duty like a Madden-type game, something that should come out yearly for $60. And it sees it like an MMO, and like a million other things. A plain ol’, polished FPS that takes several years to develop? Nope.

You have to feel for the Infinity Ward guys, too. So many years spent making the same game, or the same type of game—why shouldn’t they be allowed to try something new? Maybe they want to take a stab at, I don’t know, a puzzle game? That’s their prerogative? Well, not really, since Activision holds the purse stings; they do what they’re told, or hit the bricks.

UPDATE After I wrote the above, but before it was published, Activision released a statement on the lawsuit, first picked up by G4, filed by West and Zampella. It’s about what you’d expect.

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.

A very management thing for Activision to say, and you’ll never find me side with management during labor disputes. “We paid you to make something, and this is how you treat us?” It’s like, yeah, they made you Call of Duty 4 and Modern Warfare 2—you’re trying to tell us you didn’t make your money back? How much do you pay a top-tier developer? Let’s say something crazy, something like $200,000 per year. Modern Warfare 2 had made, as of January, more than $1 billion. So don’t even give me that “we made you guys rich.”

No, Activision, Infinity Ward made you rich, not the other way around.

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