The lights are on
When I first met the three core members of Infinity Ward – Jason West, Vince Zampella, and Grant Collier (who left the company after Modern Warfare) – I was instantly drawn to their love of games. In particular, their games.
These guys had an infectious swagger. They weren’t afraid to tell you how “kick ass” they thought their games were, and once you saw an IW game in action, it was hard to disagree.
From the first day we met, I could sense these guys had a chip on their shoulder. And I don’t mean this is in a bad way, I mean it as a compliment. They are honest and hardworking guys who love playing and making games, and anyone or anything that got in the way of their passion was perceived as an injustice. I instantly liked these guys. They had values, passion, and, more than anything, a lust for making great games.
I’ve spent plenty of time with the Infinity Ward crew over the years, and heard lots of stories off the record that can’t be repeated about their days with Medal of Honor and EA, and now perhaps from their days with Activision. But there was that one common thread in all these stories. These guys got pissed at the publishing people they worked with when lawyers, marketing teams, public relations departments, and corporate executives got in the way of their creative process. They weren’t bashful about letting their displeasure be known, either.
Before you start throwing around terms like “prima donna,” think about how you would feel if you put in 100 plus hour weeks for multiple years to create a game with a team you hired and guarded from the world. If your creative decisions were responsible for the well being of all the families of your employees, wouldn’t you take offense at directives that impede your creative vision that has proved so successful in the past? Would you not guard your game and your company like a grizzly bear protects its cubs?
That’s the way I view Jason West and Vince Zampella. These guys were take-no-prisoner grizzly bears who wanted to be left alone to make kick ass games. When people moved in on their turf, they let them know – Activision, EA, you name it.
Their displeasure for the man may also have been a driving force in why their games were so great. In essence, they wanted to show the people that got in the way of their vision that they were right, and you were wrong. Spite and one-upmanship can be very powerful motivators.
The news of the duo’s ouster that came to light Monday night is extremely unfortunate, as it means the two people who cared more about Call of Duty than anyone else in the world no longer work on the franchise. Call of Duty lost the two guys who would have done anything and everything to protect the IP. In terminating their contracts, Activision lost the two guys who drove the innovation in the franchise and compromised the culture of the developer that created a billion dollar hit.
Creating hits of this magnitude isn’t an accident. I was speaking with Naughty Dog co-president Evan Wells at DICE this year about this very fact (yes, I said fact). Developers that make great games don’t make them by accident or happenstance, they know what it takes to make great product. Jason West and Vince Zampella did it first with Medal of Honor, proved it again with Call of Duty, and will likely follow with another amazing title, no matter where they land.
If I ran Activision, I would have done anything and everything I could to keep West and Zampella as the force behind the Call of Duty franchise, like Microsoft did with Bungie. But I don’t. Now the cat is out of the bag, the lawsuits have begun flying back and forth, and the relationship can never return to the way it was. Everyone loses in this scenario.
Given the history of antagonism between the two companies, I have long thought that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 would be the last game that West and Zampella did with Activision. I was unable to get concrete information about their contracts with the company, but I was under the impression that they were ending soon, and that basically the two developer heads were going to leave because Activision refused to give them what they wanted to continue. However, I never dreamed it would end like this.
I wish the best of luck to Jason and Vince. We can only watch and see if this is the beginning of the end for Call of Duty, or simply the end of the first chapter in its history.
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