Activision boss belittles Respawn, EA

CEO Bobby Kotick says "great people don't want to work for" Madden publisher, Jason West and Vince Zampella will struggle "being productive or successful ever again."


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Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick has garnered a reputation for inflammatory commentary. Of the executive's more eyebrow-raising comments, he said last September that Activision strove to instill within its studios a culture defined by "skepticism and pessimism and fear." More recently, Kotick cavalierly dismissed such studios as Valve, Epic Games, and Insomniac Games by characterizing Activision partner Bungie as "the last remaining high-quality independent developer."

Today, the outspoken executive has returned to the sideshow stage, attacking the likes of publishing rival Electronic Arts and former Infinity Ward leaders Vince Zampella and Jason West as part of an interview with UK gaming magazine Edge. As related by Edge's online arm, Kotick proclaimed Activision's superiority over EA by calling out the Madden publisher's working conditions.

Bobby Kotick doubts whether West and Zampella can strike gold for a third time.
Bobby Kotick doubts whether West and Zampella can strike gold for a third time.

"The core principle of how we run the company is the exact opposite of EA," he said. "EA will buy a developer and then it will become 'EA Florida,' 'EA Vancouver,' 'EA New Jersey,' whatever. We always looked and said, 'You know what? What we like about a developer is that they have a culture, they have an independent vision and that's what makes them so successful.' We don't have an Activision anything--it's Treyarch, Infinity Ward, Sledgehammer."

Kotick went on to note that he does not believe EA has the capacity to transform itself into the city-state architecture outlined by CEO John Riccitiello in 2008. As a result, he believes talented developers regard EA as a last resort, which in turn compromises the quality of the publisher's products.

"[EA's] DNA isn't oriented towards that model--it doesn't know how to do it, as a culture or as a company, and it never has," he said. "Look, EA has a lot of resources, it's a big company that's been in business for a long time; maybe it'll figure it out eventually. But it's been struggling for a really long time. The most difficult challenge it faces today is great people don't really want to work there."

"It's like, if you have no other option, you might consider them," he continued. "The team that makes Madden is a really great team; it's been able to manage, capture and keep some good people. But we have no shortage of opportunity to recruit out of EA--that's their biggest challenge: Its stock options have no value. It's lost its way. And until it has success, and hits, and gets that enthusiasm back for the company, it's going to have a struggle getting really talented people, which is going to translate into less-than-great games."

Kotick also had some striking words for Jason West and Vince Zampella, which helmed Activision's prized Call of Duty studio Infinity Ward before being fired for "insubordination." Following their dismissal, the pair sued the company, and Activision promptly sued back, alleging they had been plotting to start a new studio with Electronic Arts. Within weeks, West and Zampella did just that, forming Respawn Entertainment.

As relayed by UK gaming news site CVG, Kotick said in the Edge interview that he felt betrayed by West and Zampella, whom he considered his friends. "It shook my belief in two specific people, who were my friends," he said. "The frustrating thing about that is, the stuff that these guys did, I never would have expected them to do. We're a public company, we've got ethics obligations, and the things they did were…I would go to jail if I did them."

Kotick went on to note that he was all too aware that his decision to fire West and Zampella, who also created EA's Medal of Honor franchise, would result in turmoil at Infinity Ward. "When we bought the company, they were 20 or 30 guys--these were guys that shared vacation homes together, they were all best friends, they were at each other's weddings," he said. "We knew that when we had to fire Jason and Vince we were going to lose a lot of really talented people.

He continued: "That's one of those really difficult decisions as the CEO of a company, where you step back and say, 'No good is going to come of this. They're going to leave and probably have a really hard time ever being productive or successful ever again, and we're going to lose some talented people, and there's nothing we can do about it.' And there wasn't."

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