In 2008, anyone who would've said Activision would be culling the studios behind the Guitar Hero and Call of Duty franchises would've been laughed off as a lunatic. However, last month Neversoft's staff was drastically trimmed as part of a large wave of layoffs and the Guitar Hero IP handed over to Vicarious Visions. RedOctane, which Activision bought for $100 million in 2006 so it could own the Guitar Hero brand, is apparently also being prepped for all-but-complete closure.
Having just finished developing the $1 billion dollar-grossing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Infinity Ward was considered safe--untouchable, even. However, Monday afternoon, Activision amended its annual report with the Securities and Exchange Commission to include a notice that two top members of the studio are being fired.
The filing read, "The Company [Activision] is concluding an internal human resources inquiry into breaches of contract and insubordination by two senior employees at Infinity Ward. This matter is expected to involve the departure of key personnel and litigation. At present, the Company does not expect this matter to have a material impact on the Company." (Emphasis added.) Activision bought Infinity Ward outright in 2003.
Though it offers no names, the SEC filing appears to coincide with the sudden departure of Infinity Ward president, game director, co-CCO, and CTO Jason West. The veteran developer LinkedIn profile lists the studio under "past employers" and his end date as occurring in "March 2010." West helped cofound the studio in 2001.
West's departure was backed up by an unconfirmed screenshot of his Facebook page (sent to gaming blog Kotaku) that lists his status as "Jason West is drinking. Also, no longer employed."
Deepening the mystery is an as-yet unverified G4 report that paints a sinister picture of the day's events at Infinity Ward. Citing an unnamed source, it claims several weeks of "tense" interaction between Infinity Ward and Activision culminated in a meeting this morning between several studio heads and some publisher brass. Those heads included West and cofounder and Infinity Ward CEO Vince Zampella.
After said meeting, the Infinity Ward heads reportedly vanished--and a group of gruff "bouncer types" suddenly appeared on Infinity Ward's campus outside Encino, Calif. The source allegedly said the men refused to say why they had shown up unannounced, leaving the developers "freaked out."
According to Zampella's LinkedIn status, he is still employed with Infinity Ward. However, the iconoclastic developer has often criticized his corporate masters in the press, publicly declaring last October that "Activision…did not want Modern Warfare" and pressured the studio to make more World War II games.
[UPDATE] Vince Zampella has now changed his LinkedIn page to reflect he no longer works at Infinity Ward. His departure--combined with West's--casts doubt over Infinity Ward's upcoming "unique new IP" for which they signed long-term contracts with Activision in 2008. It also raises questions about the upcoming Modern Warfare 2 downloadable content pack, due out this spring.
Activision has confirmed another Call of Duty game will arrive during 2010, believed to be a Vietnam- or Cold War-themed title from Treyarch (Call of Duty: World at War). While that game will be unaffected, the changes lend some credence to rumors that another studio may be developing Modern Warfare 3, possibly the recently founded Bay Area shop Sledgehammer Games.
As of press time, Activision corporate communication reps and the lead spokesperson for Call of Duty had not responded to requests about the developing situation at Infinity Ward. The studio's director of communication, Robert "FourZeroTwo" Bowling, offered the following non-comment via Twitter: "I should also say, while I appreciate all the calls, tweets, messages and hearing my ringtone a lot. They're in vain--as I have no info."