Activision vs Infinity Ward. And where does that leave Blizzard?


Bobby (Don) Kotick makes the Infinity Ward CEOs an offer they can’t refuse.

The big story in gaming this week was Actvision’s abrupt dismissal of the two most senior executives of the studio which made Modern Warfare 2. In case anyone missed it, that was not only the top selling game last year but is also touted as the biggest entertainment launch in history.

Not only that but Activision commented in a statement that they plan to create a new unit for future titles in the series, and mentioning insubordination as a reason for having taken such aggressive action. They also mention breaches of contract, which probably means that the two ousted execs had been dealing under the table with other publishers with a view to slipping the leash. Apparently the associated HR investigation involved extended interrogations in locked rooms also. (I swear, I couldn’t make this stuff up.)

Scott Jennings takes a longer look at the story on his Broken Toys blog.

We certainly haven’t heard the last of this. Because West and Zampella (the Infinity Ward executives) have also filed a lawsuit against Activision, claiming that the reason that the parent company came on so heavy was to avoid paying royalties for Modern Warfare 2 (which as mentioned, made a metric tonne of cash). They’re also trying to gain control of the Modern Warfare brand.

If there is any truth to this, then you have to wonder how Blizzard’s senior management are viewing the news. They’re likely to have three chart topping hits in the next few years (SC2, Cataclysm, Diablo 3). Would Activision be crazy enough to pull another fast one in order to cut off those royalties at the knee also?

And a bizarre side-effect of this story is that it makes EA look pretty good in comparison.

14 thoughts on “Activision vs Infinity Ward. And where does that leave Blizzard?

  1. Hmm…

    and for what “insubordination” did they finally get fired?

    I mean it is easy to make this Bobby Kotick look bad, he has that certain asshole personality and apparently really likes to say things that make people go nuts. But this does not make him a bully or per se bad person at all, it is just creating a certain image. I do not know him at all.

    There was a reason the guys were fired, and the two did not speak up for what reason exactly they could be fired.

    May I dare to suspect that the two golden hens are probably not innocent either and that they did not get killed just because Bobby K. likes to be Don Kotick?

    • The nice thing about this story is since they’re all going to court, we will get to find out exactly what was going on. On the other hand, no one would go to court if they didn’t think they had a winnable case …

      • It isn’t uncommon for the richer part (the big company) to go to court with the sole indention to stall the trial until the other part goes bankrupt and has to settle for an agreement.

    • From what I read (I think it was a link on Lum’s site), the insubordination issue was a setup by Activision. The word came down that Activision wanted Infinity Ward to axe 10% of the workforce (of 75). Rumor is Activision knew they wouldn’t do it, and the CEOs lived up to expectations. This fits with the CEOs’ stories that Activision was looking for an excuse to boot the guys to keep the royalties that should have been owed. But, again, this is just one side of the story.

      At any rate, a lot of developers are starting to look askance at Activision, and I’ll bet some bigger developers are almost certainly going to avoid them in the future if they can deal with anyone else.

  2. I’ve a confession to make – I’m a difficult employee.

    I’m not a jerk, and most clashes I’ve had with bosses have been in situations where I’ve been firmly in the right. In one case I went over my boss’s head and convinced the company to fire him, in another case I sued the company and won which aggravated the owner so much he shut the company down.

    So I can certainly empathise with the two guys fired who according to the scuttlebutt are also difficult employees.

    Now what happened in my scenarios, and I strongly suspect in this scenario too is that the person in charge felt he was losing control. Words like insubordination tend to come with a feeling of “you can’t speak to me like that, I’m the boss”.

    Now most creative industries are full of highly strung stressed people who tell everyone to piss off a lot. It’s normal, they don’t mean anything by it, and they’ll buy you a beer quite cheerfully after the working day is over.

    People who can’t handle that kind of behaviour are not good people to be in charge of highly creative people who act like that.

    If I could make a suggestion to Mr Kotick it would be this: hire someone with soft skills to supervise so you don’t have to directly supervise. Delegate. You’re probably pretty good at strategy and cost cutting and all sorts of other CEO stuff, but don’t get involved with day to day supervision of stressed out creatives.

    • The ‘insubordination’ comment caught my eye because I don’t think you’d see that in an employment tribunal case here, they’d talk about misconduct (or gross misconduct if you really pissed off your boss) instead. Insubordination is more something we’d associate with the army, the mafia, or darth vader.

      I was wondering if that speaks to a difference between UK and US employment culture.

      • Quite possibly.

        However people do do silly things. When I sued my employer they counter-sued me for damages arising from my suit. Which was of course nonsense, you can’t sue someone for suing you and win. Nevertheless they put in the claim.

        They also argued that not paying me my month’s notice was justified because I was a “bad influence” and a “ringleader”. Childish name-calling was very much part of their legal style (not that it did them much good).

      • Standard caveats here: I’m not a lawyer, this isn’t legal advice, etc.

        In the U.S. “insubordination” is essentially not doing what your boss tells you to do within the scope of your work. As I mentioned above, the specific insubordination I read about was them not firing people when told to by Activision.

        “Misconduct” usually refers to behavior that negatively affects the company. This may include theft, for example. I believe it could also include cases where you do something that hurts a company’s reputation.

        It’s a fine distinction, but that’s law for you. 🙂

  3. PPS:
    “Activision and Blizzard Entertainment still exist as separate entities.[9] The holding company does not publish games under its central name and instead uses its subsidiaries to publish games, similar to how Vivendi Games operated before the merger.[10] The merger makes Activision parent company of Vivendi Games former divisions.

    While Blizzard retained its autonomy and corporate leadership, other Vivendi Games divisions were not so fortunate. ”

    So in answer to your closing question Bobby Kotick’s growing monomania should have no effect on Blizzard.

    • According to Blizzard’s website:
      Headquartered in Irvine, Calif., Blizzard Entertainment, a division of Activision Blizzard….

      That usually means that it’s part of the same management structure. The footnote that Wikipedia article refers to is no longer valid, so I can’t verify what the real relationship is. I suspect that Activision and Blizzard existing as “separate entities” might be the same way Infinity Ward and Activision were separate entities.

      I suspect the hammer could drop just as easily on Blizzard. We’ll see if Activision is crazy enough to kill all their golden gooses in rapid succession, though.

  4. West: “I thought I told you this was a one-way mission”
    Zampella: “It still is. They’ll be looking for us now. Come on, I know a place…”

  5. Pingback: The Best Of The Rest: Nazism Edition - We Fly Spitfires - MMORPG Blog

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