The recession is pushing companies to make some pretty stupid decisions lately. How else can you explain Activision firing two guys who made the company more than $1 billion on one game alone?
Last Monday, Activision CEO Bobby Kotick stepped in it by unceremoniously firing Infinity Ward studio heads Jason West and Vince Zampella for unspecified insubordinate actions. This is the same Bobby Kotick who infamously has said he focuses on "taking the fun out of games," wants to charge consumers more and sees the future of the industry as marketing mostly sequels and games with expensive pack-in peripherals, so he's already not a fan favorite. But now that he's booted the creators of the blockbuster Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, he's got a real fight on his hands.
Alleging they were questioned for six hours over President's Day weekend before being terminated, West and Zampella are suing Activision for more than $36 million. You see, it seems West and Zampella were conveniently due royalties in a few weeks from MW2, which was released in November, and they want to get paid.
"From the very beginning, it was clear that the purpose of the investigation was not to uncover any facts concerning any actual wrongdoing but to manufacture a basis to fire West and Zampella," the filing read. "Activision refused to tell either West or Zampella what specific acts or omissions Activision believed they had committed or what was prompting the investigation, insisting instead in Orwellian fashion that West and Zampella 'already have a clear understanding of what they have or have not done.' "
Kotick's cabal fired back on Kotaku, saying "Activision is disappointed that Mr. Zampella and Mr. West have chosen to file a lawsuit, and believes their claims are meritless." Their defense? Hey, they funded Infinity Ward for eight years, so West and Zampella had better fulfill their obligations to the company. I guess making the company $1 billion simply wasn't enough.
If I had to guess, this "insubordination" likely involved the duo refusing some ridiculous idea Activision put forth, like setting MW3 in outer space, or having the Russians invade America (wait, they already jumped that shark). No doubt some mediator will decide West and Zampella did plenty for Activision and award damages, but just who will be making the next Call of Duty game will be up in the air for months, if not years. Treyarch can only do so much, you know.
The publisher's feverish pawing for the franchise rights will hurt gamers no matter who ends up with them, but there's one bright spot: This is the same kind of shady backstabbing you see in Hollywood all the time, so I guess video games have officially become a viable entertainment medium!
— Joshua Gillin writes about video games and entertainment news for tbt*. Feel free to challenge his opinions at firstname.lastname@example.org.