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Infinity Ward Lead Developers Axed Unexpectedly 276

Posted by Soulskill
from the let's-blame-the-dedicated-server-fiasco dept.
RogueyWon writes "Kotaku is reporting that Infinity Ward, the development studio behind Modern Warfare 2, has been at the center of strange events recently. Jason West and Vince Zampella, two lead developers, have been fired by parent company Activision for 'breaches of contract and insubordination.' Speculation is rife as to the reasons behind this; following Modern Warfare 2's spectacular sales figures, it seems unlikely that the studio's performance could be to blame."
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Infinity Ward Lead Developers Axed Unexpectedly

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  • Activision (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sopssa (1498795) * <sopssa@email.com> on Tuesday March 02, 2010 @12:27PM (#31331926) Journal

    It's Robert A. Kotick's [wikipedia.org] business plan. Infinity Ward didn't want to work on more Modern Warfare games, as they previously stated, so Activision got angry as they obviously want to milk the cash cow more. It's even worse than how EA releases sports games every year (which still make sense to sports fans).

    - business strategy focused on developing intellectual property which can be exploited over a long period, occasionally to the exclusion of creating new, risky or niche titles.
    - he stated that focusing on franchises that "have the potential to be exploited every year on every platform with clear sequel potential and have the potential to become $100 million franchises"
    - "We have a real culture of thrift. The goal that I had in bringing a lot of the packaged goods folks into Activision about 10 years ago was to take all the fun out of making video games." Kotick later stated he tries to promote an atmosphere of "skepticism, pessimism, and fear" in his company and, "We are very good at keeping people focused on the deep depression."

    Yeah, Activision sounds just lovely. I just keep wondering why Vivendi doesn't put them in shape, but probably it brings money in now. I just hope Activision dies quickly. At least EA has started to bring some innovation again.

    Earlier Activision gave trouble to Brutal Legend developers, and they said it good [twitter.com]:

    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.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by radish (98371)

      That last bullet point was a widely misquoted joke, as plenty of people who were on the call in question have confirmed.

      • by Danse (1026)

        That last bullet point was a widely misquoted joke, as plenty of people who were on the call in question have confirmed.

        Only in the "it's funny because it's true" sense.

      • Re:Activision (Score:5, Insightful)

        by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Tuesday March 02, 2010 @01:05PM (#31332658)

        He's working really hard to turn that joke into serious business.

      • by TheLink (130905)
        So far it seems the joke is that it's true.

        > The goal that I had in bringing a lot of the packaged goods folks into Activision about 10 years ago was to take all the fun out of making video games.

        e.g.
        Firing lead developers of a rather successful game.
        Shutting down a fan-made game (even though allegedly the developers were given permission to make it).
    • Re:Activision (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fusiongyro (55524) <faxfreemosquito@yah o o . com> on Tuesday March 02, 2010 @12:52PM (#31332402) Homepage

      The games industry as a whole treats their programmers like crap. As a matter of fact, every romanticized occupation with a ton of people lined up outside the door treats their employees poorly. Apple pays less than their Silicon Valley neighbors because they get more applications and the job has that mystique. Coveted jobs = lower pay, higher stress, worse working conditions, more hours, etc.

      • Re:Activision (Score:5, Insightful)

        by jalefkowit (101585) <jason@jasLISPonl ... t minus language> on Tuesday March 02, 2010 @01:45PM (#31333284) Homepage

        Get a union.

        Seriously!

        Hollywood actors, screenwriters and directors all have strong unions. And when they strike (as the writers did in 2007 [wikipedia.org]), they are not easily replaced. If Joss Whedon walks off the set [blogspot.com] you can't just grab some random schmuck off the street to replace him.

        Game developers are creative people too. They have just as much leverage as the showbiz creatives in New York and LA do. All they need to do to stop being treated like crap is to exercise it.

        • by paiute (550198)

          Get a union.

          Seriously!

          Hollywood actors, screenwriters and directors all have strong unions. And when they strike (as the writers did in 2007 [wikipedia.org]), they are not easily replaced. If Joss Whedon walks off the set [blogspot.com] you can't just grab some random schmuck off the street to replace him.

          Game developers are creative people too. They have just as much leverage as the showbiz creatives in New York and LA do. All they need to do to stop being treated like crap is to exercise it.

          As I recall, when the writers struck, they were supported by agents, actors, politicians, and many other unions. This gave the other side incentive to negotiate.

          Who would go out on a financial limb to support striking game creators?

          • Who would go out on a financial limb to support striking game creators?

            First of all the union would support the strikers via strike pay which varies based on country, union, etc. but could be 2/3 of normal pay. Secondly, governments have enacted some pretty strong labor laws. You can't fire striking employees and simply go out and hire new people to replace them even if their job is trivially replaced (eg: a window cleaner). That applies even more for a developer who is difficult to replace due to the learning curve of jumping into a specialized software project midstream.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by zapakh (1256518)
          Can we call it a guild though (as the writers do)? Guilds are much cooler than unions.
        • As long as many more people want to be game developers than can be, most game developers are considered very, very replaceable. I have to think it's hard to make a union work in an environment like that.

          This is much less true for, for example, people who have been in the industry ten years and have shipped multiple successful titles -- but those people are relatively fewer and farther between.

        • Re:Activision (Score:4, Insightful)

          by magus_melchior (262681) on Tuesday March 02, 2010 @02:56PM (#31334462) Journal

          The key difference between programmers and actors/screenwriters/directors is that big publishing houses like Activision probably regard them as expendable. I'm sure the bean counters figure if the geeks organize, they'll just fire them and hire cheap replacements in China/India.

          Which would be just as well, because the quality of the product and support will plummet, ensuring the death of the beast.

        • Great idea I always loved the idea of somebody who I have never meet negoating my salary on my behalf and not getting a final say all while taking a cut of my pay check because they said they did a good job.
    • by longacre (1090157)

      EA releases sports games every year (which still make sense to sports fans)

      Before consoles were connected to the Internet, it made sense because you always wanted to have the latest rosters and usually the graphics would get incrementally better. These days the quality of the graphics has pretty much plateaued nd game play remains more or less the same. Now that these things can be updated online, there's no compelling reason for releasing new games every year other than to make money, very much like colle

      • by Rich0 (548339)

        I'm sure using names/rosters does incur some kind of licensing cost, so I don't actually have a big problem with charging for them. However, I do tend to agree with you that this should be more in line with a $1-10 DLC than a $70 new title.

    • Re:Activision (Score:4, Insightful)

      by assemblyronin (1719578) on Tuesday March 02, 2010 @12:59PM (#31332554)

      - "We have a real culture of thrift. The goal that I had in bringing a lot of the packaged goods folks into Activision about 10 years ago was to take all the fun out of making video games." Kotick later stated he tries to promote an atmosphere of "skepticism, pessimism, and fear" in his company and, "We are very good at keeping people focused on the deep depression."

      Well firing your top two devs will certainly help you with that goal. Imagine anyone's review, "You think you're *that* special? Shit son, we just fired our top two guys, now work 90 hours a week without over-time or you're out the door too!"

      Sadly, since this is the gaming industry, this cheese wad Kotick will not only get away with this abusive behavior, but he'll be rewarded (like you said, it brings in money). In most other industries, when a CEO tries to create a similar culture, the good people jump ship right away (go to the competition, or start their own company), and the average people jump ship as soon as the economy improves, and this works to punish the company by losing a lot of brain power. However, in the gaming industry, all you have to do is license an engine, hire and teach someone from the endless supply of sucker.. er.. talented prospects, and you're right back on track - abusing the new employee.

    • Re:Activision (Score:4, Insightful)

      by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Tuesday March 02, 2010 @12:59PM (#31332560) Homepage Journal

      It's always an interesting story when a big company decides to fire people who just made them a load of money.

      When are game developers going to understand what the movie-making workers have known for many decades: That they need to be in a union.

      Today, just about every body working on the movies you watch is organized. The writers, the directors, the cinematographers, the special-effects people. Notice that this has not "destroyed" the movie industry or even hurt profits one little bit. All it's done is provide some protection to the people who are actually bringing you the goods from the worst impulses of the flabby asses who sit in the boardrooms and CEO suites.

      As we've seen with Germany, having the entire workforce unionized is not only good for the workers, but it's good for business and it's good for the entire country's economy. Germany is probably the country in the world with the most favorable labor laws and the strongest unions. Yet, they are also the NUMBER ONE EXPORTING NATION, with exports almost 300% of China's. They're also the country in the EU that has the biggest trade surplus and the most cash in the coffers. When they bail out Greece, it's going to be Germany that puts up the dough.

      Here's my new political slogan:
      "Socialism: It's Good for Business

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Wyatt Earp (1029)

        300% of China?

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_exports [wikipedia.org]

        People's Republic of China $1,194,000,000,000
        Germany $1,187,000,000,000

        • Population of China : 1.3B

          Population of Germany 82M

          So Germany has exports of $14,745 per head, whereas China exports about one tenth of one cent per person.

          So more like 134,000%

        • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

          Those are estimates for 2009, that do not take into account China's artificially managed currency.

          The figure of 300% comes from Deloitte's industry group, after taking into account currency valuations.

          And even that doesn't take into account the fact that China is 1200% more populous than Germany.

          So, a country with 1/12th the population exports more manufactured goods than China (by the last verified listings), and my point is that it's done with the most unionized workforce in the world.

          That should put an e

      • Visual Effects Artists, arguably the workers directly responsible for the highest grossing films of all time, are not organized.

        They're in a very similar position to game developers- short term projects followed by firings, no health care, OT scheduling shenanigans, etc etc.

        But all that looks like it might change soon- recent abuses and popularity of VFX movies is making more artists aware that they're getting the raw deal in the movie industry.

        http://www.fxguide.com/qt/2187/open-letter-and-animation-guild- [fxguide.com]

      • Re:Activision (Score:5, Insightful)

        by spun (1352) <loverevolutionary&yahoo,com> on Tuesday March 02, 2010 @01:45PM (#31333282) Journal

        Socialism is good for progress. In a climate of rapidly changing technology, a country has to be able to shift gears quickly. Whole outmoded industries need to be able to just die painlessly, without hurting the people in those industries. We need a social safety net so that people can leave old, obsolete careers without fear, and educational programs that will enable us to rapidly retool our society to take advantage of the next big thing.

        • What you describe isn't really socialism, though; it's socially conscious capitalism.

          • Re:Activision (Score:5, Insightful)

            by spun (1352) <loverevolutionary&yahoo,com> on Tuesday March 02, 2010 @03:51PM (#31335368) Journal

            What is socialism, then? Look at most of the countries that consider themselves socialist democracies, and you will see they attempt to function as I've described. Socialism is not communism, it does not mean collective control over all resources, and it does not mean the state owns all property.

            • Re:Activision (Score:4, Insightful)

              by shutdown -p now (807394) on Tuesday March 02, 2010 @04:08PM (#31335648) Journal

              Socialism is not communism, it does not mean collective control over all resources, and it does not mean the state owns all property.

              Actually, the classic definition of socialism is precisely collective (which doesn't necessarily mean state - it would be commune in anarcho-socialism) ownership of means of production, and collective administration of resources.

              Communism is much more than that - it's supposed to be a classless and stateless society where any such collective ownership does not have to be enforced, and is inherent in the behavior of all members of the society.

              By definitions above, there is a line between "market socialism" and "social capitalism". The former is when some amount of free trade is permitted, but not with respect to means of production and natural resources. A typical showcase would be late Tito's Yugoslavia.

              "Social capitalism" is where you can actually buy and sell factories and land, for example, but where all business transactions are regulated to ensure that they do not cause unacceptable harm to the society at large - this is what most Western countries today are.

              By the way, while I'm at nitpicking the terms, there is a difference between "social democracy" (which is what most countries actually label themselves) and "socialist democracy".

              The reason why I go into this kind of nitpicking is because, for too many people, socialism in its pure sense is unacceptable, and when you use the word merely to denote some socially conscious policies, you get an extremely negative reaction. Just look at some of the replies to your original post - I see someone has already brought up Cuba and North Korea...

      • If anything, this is a great example of why they shouldn't be unionized. Yes, they got fired. And yes, there appears to be some weird shit going on with it. What might have happened with a union though?

        Management would have made their lives hell until they quit. Nothing verifiable, certainly, but little things here and there until the developers left on their own.

        Compare that to now, and you'll see that the workers actually experience less stress this way than if they were unionized.

        The answer is never

    • by Bakkster (1529253)

      Yeah, Activision sounds just lovely. I just keep wondering why Vivendi doesn't put them in shape, but probably it brings money in now. I just hope Activision dies quickly. At least EA has started to bring some innovation again.

      And that's the rub. By focusing on time-tested franchises that are basically guaranteed to be profitable, rather than new properties, they increase revenues and reduce risk. Both are good from a corporate standpoint, in general. Unfortunately, creativity doesn't always pay the bills. It just drives home that Activision is a production company that happens to specialize in games, rather than a game publisher.

      That said, Kotick obviously understands the downsides of this approach. He even stated he regre

    • by Pojut (1027544)

      I will say that it's reassuring that the Infinity Ward team was ready to move past Modern Warfare 2...they are obviously a talented group of people, and it would be nice to see them put together another high budget title that has nothing to do with Call of Duty.

      It's weird...as EA has slowly been redeeming itself (they still have a long way to go, but they are better than they were), Activision has been taking over the role as "biggest douche in the industry".

      • I will say that it's reassuring that the Infinity Ward team was ready to move past Modern Warfare 2...they are obviously a talented group of people, and it would be nice to see them put together another high budget title that has nothing to do with Call of Duty.

        The only way to get out of a franchise is to jump ship and create a new company. You are essentially taking a risk that the current company won't. The other thing is only create a new game engine if you have the time talent and a real need. Too many

    • Infinity Ward didn't want to work on more Modern Warfare games, as they previously stated, so Activision got angry as they obviously want to milk the cash cow more.

      You'd think companies would learn that Activision knows best, especially after those morons at Harmonix jumped ship to do their own thing. Did anything ever happen with that whole "guitar hero with other instruments" thingie they wanted to do?

    • by hardburn (141468)

      I'm surprised he's so forthright about it. The modern office environment of cubefarms is deliberately designed to induce at least a little stress, because stress tends to focus your efforts in a step-by-step manner.

      This method actually makes sense for most office jobs and perhaps even the "codemonkey" developers who generally only work on one part of a larger design at any given time. It's absolutely counterproductive to those who need to make software designs, and I'd imagine even more so for game designs.

    • A company is legally liable if they list the reason for termination, especially since none of it has been proven. All a company can legally state is that the person was employed and that they are no longer with the company as of a specific date.

      I worked for a company that terminated all the developers. They came in to find the doors to their offices rekeyed and locked.

      Companies can terminate you for any reason at any time unless contractually obligated to do so otherwise.

      Yes, Activision was quite heavy ha

    • Of if I understand this right (and I’m very sure I do), their plan is to completely and totally remove all creativity, and just focus on milking cash cows... Which of course makes no sense, since after a few iterations, they will be empty and their business, now unable to come up with new ideas, will die.

      Yeah, short-term cash with complete ignorance of long-term sustainability is all the craze nowadays. It’s managers that just care to look good until they move on to the next company, leaving the

  • I'll go way out on a limb and speculate that personality and egos are involved somewhere.
  • BOOM! (Score:4, Funny)

    by hadhad69 (1003533) on Tuesday March 02, 2010 @12:33PM (#31332026) Homepage
    Double kill, nice
  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Tuesday March 02, 2010 @12:33PM (#31332028)

    The head of Activision got tired of being P0wed by both Jason West and Vince Zampella using Danger Close with Scavenger and claymores.

    Talk about "rage quitting"...

  • One of them (Score:5, Funny)

    by adml_shake07 (1757848) on Tuesday March 02, 2010 @12:37PM (#31332114)
    probably whispered "union" and he and all his close contacts were immediately fired.
    • probably whispered "union" and he and all his close contacts were immediately fired.

      Are you advocating that software developers form a union?

    • probably whispered "union" and he and all his close contacts were immediately fired.

      If that were true, then both of them would have some pretty serious lawsuit material. It's against the law for firing someone for wanting to unionize. Yeah, you can cover up the firing by giving another reason, but there are plenty of lawyers who would take the case (and win) anyway, since the feds are inclined to look suspiciously at any firing in close proximity to a unionization attempt.

  • Good. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hatta (162192) on Tuesday March 02, 2010 @12:37PM (#31332118) Journal

    These guys will have no problem getting another job, and they won't have to work under Activision anymore.

    • Re:Good. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by kimvette (919543) on Tuesday March 02, 2010 @01:06PM (#31332672) Homepage Journal

      When you're fired, such agreements are usually considered null and void since the employees are acting in good faith but the employer is not.

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Tuesday March 02, 2010 @12:40PM (#31332156)

    ...that I can buy the next MW again and we'll get servers again?

    (yes, I'm selfish)

    • by sopssa (1498795) *

      I really doubt that was Infinity Ward's decision, but rather something coming from Activision. They're the bad guys here and it would fit them exactly.

      • That's basically what I meant. Yes, the IP of MW might be with Activision, but who cares about the IP? I care about the game, and the game was made by the people who were just kicked out the door.

        IP has become something in games, but it's not be-all, end-all. If you take the IP and fire the people that made it to the valuable IP it is, you can squeeze out another crappy knockoff with some cheap hires, maybe even two if you don't blunder too badly, but then your IP is dead. Games are still made by people. No

    • by wjousts (1529427)
      I'm betting not. Activision Blizzard no doubt still hold the rights.
      • Do you care whether the next MW is called MW? They can keep the IP, it's not like "multiplayer shooter in a modern war setting" is limited to a certain name.

        Yes, it won't be called MW. So what? Viral marketing will get the word out that this is the next game from the people of IW, the makers of MW, and that they just can't call it MW but it's still the successor (which they will heavily deny for liability purposes).

        Think gamers care too much what it will be called if it plays like MW and feels like MW and l

        • Read soppsa's post, they didn't want to work on MW anymore. Isn't MW2 essentially CoD 5? The series is tired, let it die.

          Hopefully they'll make something fresh, not a "not MW, but like MW." Its hard to use the word fresh and new FPS in the same sentence but you get my drift.

          • It's hard to use fresh and new with pretty much anything A-Title in games these days. Simple logic will tell you why.

            A-Titles cost a metric ton of greens. The very last thing you want after spending 7-8 digits in front of a fat "USD" is to find out that your idea is basically something that looks great on paper but fails completely as a game (unless you put enough PR behind it, for reference, see Spore).

            So what do A-Studios do? Rehash a formula that works. Simple as that. The next FPS, the next RTS, the nex

    • by dave562 (969951)

      I just started playing the MW series with MW2. What is the benefit of having servers? The match making component seems to work fine. If you want to play with friends you can all join the same party. If you want to host a private game, you can setup your own match and invite whoever you want. The only lag I've ever dealt with in the game was network lag and not hardware lag. It seems like their P2P model works pretty well. I live in southern California and often times end up playing with other people

  • i bet these guys didn't like the no personal server part and slipped some code in or left some code from earlier versions in there and leaked it to the internet.

  • by postmortem (906676) on Tuesday March 02, 2010 @12:46PM (#31332268) Journal
    In a nutshell, developers had better vision for products and keeping niche on right track than management, so managmeent fired them.
  • Awesome! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Kingrames (858416) on Tuesday March 02, 2010 @12:55PM (#31332488)
    Jason, Vince, if you can read this, form your own company and hire me - please!
  • I'm actually more interested in the fate of folks around here than these obscure guys.

  • OK (Score:3, Insightful)

    by koan (80826) on Tuesday March 02, 2010 @03:31PM (#31334978)

    Here's hoping the pair were trying add a dedicated server mode in addition to IWNET, or that Activision is going to implement dedicated servers, or that someone at that company actually cares about the end user.
    Otherwise, one of the best games I've played in terms of playability, weapons load out, and graphics is hobbled by IWNET, "migrating Host", no admin, no kicks, to many hacks (PC side) no end user mods, the list goes on.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Lehk228 (705449)
      from what i hear, bad as the hacking is on the PC side, it's worse on console.
      • Re:OK (Score:4, Insightful)

        by koan (80826) on Tuesday March 02, 2010 @05:21PM (#31336740)

        I don't use consoles so not up on that, I have heard rumors of hacking occurring using the IWNET style connection.
        The constant interruption in game play is what I can't tolerate, choppiness, never play with the same group of guys, lousy VOIP set up (see Quakewars for a good VOIP setup). to make it short FRUSTRATED.

  • Strange everyone immediately is so confident Kotick is in the wrong here. TFA has them being rolled out the door by security and there's a SEC filing for litigation (admittedly, it doesn't say who will be the pursuer). Maybe Kotick is an asshole (never met him myself) but there's a lot of possibilities here. I understand the US favours employees less than it does in the UK, but over here being thrown out the door either means the company is about to get shafted by an employment tribunal or those guys did so

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