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Activision boss firm on decision to fire Infinity Ward founders

Monday, 17th December 2012 00:59 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Call of Duty is one of Activision’s most important franchises, but CEO Bobby Kotick had no problems deciding to fire two of the chief creatives behind its success.

Infinity Ward founders Jason West and Vince Zampella were let go in March 2010 following accusations ranging from insubordination to corporate espionage to fraud. In a profile piece in the New York Times, Kotick indicated he didn’t have to give the matter much thought.

“You find out two executives are planning to break their contracts, keep the money you gave them and steal 40 employees. What do you do? You fire them,” he said.

The lawsuits between Activision, former Infinity Ward employees and EA which followed may have cost tens of millions of dollars. The case was settled out of court in May.

West and Zampella’s termination may have looked risky to some outsiders; Modern Warfare 2, the last Call of Duty game developed under their guidance, sold over 22 million copies and was one of the best-selling games of all time – until the next Call of Duty. Since the pair’s departure, the franchise has continued to sell phenomenally, with the Treyarch-developed Black Ops and and Infinity Ward’s Modern Warfare 3 breaking successive sales records.

West and Zampella now lead a new, EA-sponsored studio called Respawn, staffed by many former Infinity Ward employees. Its first game is expected to be revealed soon.

The Kotick profile has been much reported today, especially some of the more colourful parts, as when the CEO appeals to critics to stop PhotoShopping him as a devil because it makes it hard to get dates. There’s also a repudiation of claims that Kotick never plays games; you should probably read the whole thing.

Thanks, GameSpot.

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12 Comments

  1. Telepathic.Geometry

    I remember Kotick giving a key-note speech a ways back there, where he seemed to be a very nice and reasonable guy. Seemed…

    #1 2 years ago
  2. DEADEYES

    What a loser talks! Without them, will you have Call of Duty today, mr Stick Stick?

    #2 2 years ago
  3. The Auracle

    It’s hard to feel sympathetic toward the guy. I’ve long been a vocal critic of his and this was after years of playing THPS (a lovely series that eventually turned to rehashed rubbish) and Call of Duty (another series that eventually turned to rehashed rubbish).

    I don’t look at ActiVision as a games publisher any more. Everything that they embody is exactly what gamers hated about EA. Speaking of contractual obligations, how is “taking the money that we gave them” a violation of said contract and what possible excuse is that to retain the royalties the publishers of the then-best selling instalment in CoD’s history rightfully and contractually earned?

    Pachter hit the nail on the head (and he’s another twat I can’t stand for reasons different to why I can’t stomach Kotick): when you spend more time pandering to investors instead of trying to please your clientèle – that’ll be GAMERS – you’re asking for trouble.

    #3 2 years ago
  4. mistermogul

    ***Breaking News – Developers took the money that was given to them… ***

    @3 – The best example I believe where Activision took a series and turned it into rehashed rubbish has to be Guitar/Band Hero. How many damn games came out for that in such a short period of time? I lost count but they can only blame themselves for killing off their franchise.

    You (and Pachter) are correct in saying that publishers should look after gamers first. That way investors will be paid by default.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. Hirmetrium

    I want to point out a few things:
    1. Blizzard is successful without Activision. Diablo 3 and Starcraft II are both big sales without the publishers influence. It’s often stated that Blizzard stand on their own, but the article in question makes it sound as though Kotick is responsible for Blizzard’s success? (which we all know isn’t true).
    2. Kotick voted for Romney. Now, I’m not into US politics much, but I know enough to know that Romney was bad and Obama was good. That right there is enough reason for me to not trust a word he says.
    3. The man is divorced. He can make company stocks float, but he can’t keep his marriage together. I think that also speaks volumes about his character. Granted, we don’t know the reasons, but it still highlights an area of negligence.

    #5 2 years ago
  6. Joe Musashi

    It’s easy to hate on Kotick. This is not about being happy and smiley. This is about running a multi-billion dollar business. One thing that is apparent is that Bobby Kotick is good at his job and Activision under his stewardship are more successful than they’ve ever been in their long, long life.

    Nobody gets to be in that position by making easy decisions and sticking to popular choices. I suspect only Kotick and Infinity Ward know the full details of the situation. All the internet can do is pick sides based on slivers of information and bias.

    JM

    #6 2 years ago
  7. mistermogul

    @6 – BK may be good at his job as far as pleasing investors is concerned, though I wouldn’t say he is good at pleasing his customers.

    It is usually said that primarily you must please your investors, however without a customer base how do you do that?

    (fyi, I’m not saying they do not have a customer base as clearly they do but rather they could please it more than they already are).

    #7 2 years ago
  8. Hcw87

    So if you guys were head of a multimillion dollar company and found out some employees were planning to break their contracts, leave and take 40 people with them. What would you do? Leave them be?

    Everyone with a brain would do the same as this guy.

    #8 2 years ago
  9. Joe Musashi

    @7 I think BK knows who he has to please and is doing just that. When Activision did the whole ‘no dedicated servers’ in MW2 they, apparently, upset a lot of customers. They still sold millions of this offending product to these outraged customers.

    Talk is cheap – especially on the intenet. When people talk with their wallets, that’s the message you listen to.

    I certainly don’t have answers or am an authority on the topic. If I were then I’d probably be sitting in a far more expensive chair than my current one ;)

    @8 Agreed.

    JM

    #9 2 years ago
  10. DrDamn

    @8
    Well obviously, but you also have to ask how did it get to that situation in the first place?

    #10 2 years ago
  11. Hcw87

    Look at it this way, now the founders can focus on making something NOT CoD and maybe something that’s actually a good game.

    #11 2 years ago
  12. NeoSquall

    @5 It’s more than that, the article tries to picture BK as an innovator while Activision is really the most conservative and focused publisher in the industry (they killed off almost anything but Call of Duty).

    I found jarring this statement:

    “The strategy is to have customers pay $60 or more to traverse for hundreds of hours through story lines with orchestral soundtracks and realistic, hologram-like heroes and heroines.”

    hundreds of hours through story lines?
    realistic, hologram-like heroes and heroines?

    What game are they discussing about? even the first Call of Duty didn’t last more than 12 hours, and WoW is anything like a story driven game with hologram like heroes and heroines, same for Diablo III.

    Just under that statement:

    “With each new version “we need more resources, more time, and our development schedule has to get longer,” Mr. Kotick says. “How do you make the games better each year?””

    Yeah, because when you axe any other possible franchise because they don’t sell gazilions of copies in the first 15 hours you MUST milk your franchise every year, regardless of the shit you throw at your non investor-customer.

    Aside from the funky history of how young Bobby went from a garage company to millionnaire CEO thanks to a casino magnate, I despise Mr. Schwartz, the West and Zampella lawyer, who didn’t mention that Kotick paid a PI to snoop into Infinity Ward’s private server and find anything that could help him fire the couple and that the HR executive admitted that the contract which promised an extra compensation if MW2 overperformed the previous instalment and creative control over the CoD franchise was a hoax and Kotick wouldn’t give either.

    Those are the reason why Kotick wanted to settle the question out of trial, because he knew he couldn’t walk out of it with just a fine.

    @8 This is bollocks.
    Kotick fired West and Zampella because he made them sign a contract he didn’t want to fulfill and took advantage of the innocent (we can debate over this, though) appreciation party thrown at them by Riccitiello because of the huge success of MW2 to call it a breach of contract (I imagine a small written line saying “You can’t talk with anyone outside of company, not even your family. Sleeping outside of your offices is discouraged. You must hand out your passport to HR and ask for it with a justified letter before traveling abroad. You must agree to the implantation of a subdermal tracking chip.”) and fire them.

    #12 2 years ago

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