Remember that whole kerfuffle between Activision and former Infinity Ward heads Jason West and Vince Zampella? Yeah, well, it never ended. Also, it's done being a “kerfuffle.” When this much money and bad blood is on the table, we're legally required to call it by a name that packs a much larger punch. Yep, this one's been upgraded to a good old-fashioned gorilla manly man biceps cagefight squabble.
Not only has Activision finally put a price on its lawsuit, it's also taken aim at another alleged conspirator: fellow corporate King Kong Electronic Arts.
"Electronic Arts conspired with two former senior Activision executives, West and Zampella (the 'executives') to derail Activision's Call of Duty franchise, disrupt its Infinity Ward development studio, and inflict serious harm on the company," read Activision's motion to amend its countersuit.
The rabbit hole, however, runs even deeper if Activision's to be believed. Apparently, West and Zampella attended a private meeting in EA CEO John Ricitiello's house in order to devise a plan to wriggle out of their legally binding contracts – which still had two years left on them before expiration.
The publisher is also accusing its former Call of Duty dream team of purposefully stepping on fellow COD dev Treyarch's toes and continuing to “possess Activision confidential information long after they left which makes it likely that West and/or Zampella have misused and/or will continue to misuse valuable Activision intellectual property and trade secrets, including computer code, now that they have left Activision."
And finally, the big, ugly, slobber-knocking kicker: In addition to demanding $400 million, Activision wants the court to “prevent Electronic Arts and the former executives from benefiting from their illegal conduct." In other words, the publisher's spawn-camping Respawn Studios.
Joystiq has kindly posted the entire court document if you'd like to practically taste random flecks of dirt from all the mudslinging. Needless to say, it's a doozy.
Bungie may be best-known as the brains behind the world-shatteringly popular Halo series, but with Halo: Reach done and dusted, Bungie's moving on to greener (except not, because Master Chief was about as green as they come) pastures. As for what's next, we haven't the foggiest, but whatever it is, Activision's publishing it over the course of ten years. Yeah, it's going to be big. Better still, no more upturned noses or cold shoulders for us PC gamers.
According to a slide from Activision's presentation at the BMO Capital Markets 18th Annual Digital Entertainment Conference (as discovered by Big Download), Bungie's new title is in development for “Con/PC/Online,” or consoles, PC, and, er, online. If true, this will mark Bungie's first return to internal PC development since Oni way back in 2001.
Better late than never, though, right? Plus, Microsoft owns Halo – not Bungie. It's not like they really had a choice in the matter. This time, however, Bungie's ensured that it'll retain full ownership of its new brand, so no worries there. Color us cautiously optimistic – just so long as Halo's teabag-happy community doesn't follow Bungie wherever it's going next.
COD BLOPS may sound like something you should avoid like the plague (you know, because it sounds like some sort of plague), but that didn't stop one hojillion people from snapping it up on day one. Or, in real numbers: 5.6 million copies – for a total of $360 million.
Last year, Modern Warfare 2 took home the gold-plated space submarine for “biggest entertainment launch of all time” with $310 million. Black Ops, though, has pretty much given it a wedgie, hung it from a flagpole, and stole its multi-million dollar sum of lunch money. Activision, for obvious reasons, certainly isn't complaining.
“There has never been another entertainment franchise that has set opening day records for two consecutive years and we are on track to outperform last year’s five-day global sales record of $550 million,” said Activision head Bobby Kotick.
Between this and World of Warcraft, we don't imagine it'll be long before Activision will have accrued enough capital to secede from the union and form its own nation. Fitting, too, since the publisher's already made enemies out of organized crime and, well, the entirety of Cuba.
Another year, another Call of Duty controversy. This time, though, no Russian – only Cuban.
"What the United States couldn't accomplish in more than 50 years, they are now trying to do virtually," said an article posted on state-run website Cubadebate (via The Associated Press).
The article refers to a mission in Call of Duty: Black Ops that sees players skulking through Havana circa 1961 in an attempt to put an abrupt end to the then-brand new Castro regime. Obviously, you don't succeed, but that hasn't stopped Cuba from taking aim and launching a verbal volley at the mission.
"This new video game is doubly perverse," the article said. "On the one hand, it glorifies the illegal assassination attempts the United States government planned against the Cuban leader ... and on the other, it stimulates sociopathic attitudes in North American children and adolescents."
It then went on to cite studies correlating violent videogames and violent tendencies, claiming that taking an active role in the proceedings gets people's blood boiling a lot faster than kicking back and, say, watching a movie.
If it's any consolation, though, Call of Duty's apparently suiting up to hit the space marine scene, meaning that Castro's probably out of the question for future installments. Well, unless it's, like, a giant space robot version of Castro or something. Actually, on second thought, we really, really hope that's exactly what it is.
Are you getting sick and tired of the same old Call of Duty formula year-in and year-out? Are you ready to visit new places and violently murder new people? Well then, try this one on for size: space marines. You know, like normal marines, but in the future and, well, space. Still not ringing a bell? Think Master Chief from Halo. He's pretty much the king (or outer-space equivalent) of space marines. However, if Activision has its way, that may not be the case for too much longer.
According to sources that spoke with Gamasutra, the Sledgehammer-developed Call of Duty spin-off will exit the bounds of the past or present and – with them – the realm of pseudo-possibility. (Granted, one could argue that Modern Warfare 2's plot already put the whole “possibility” thing out to pasture – and probably set it on fire for good measure.) They went on to say that the game will feature, “for lack of a better term, space marines.”
Granted, the “for lack of a better term” bit could mean that we're not necessarily dealing with Master Chief's long lost cousins here, but only time will tell. While we're waiting, though, what's your take? Does Call of Duty need to start pitching curveballs? And if so, is the far-flung future its best bet? Or do you think it should stick with something a little closer to home?
You know, Activison CEO Bobby Kotick, maybe we were wrong about you. You've said some pretty ridiculous things in the past, but now you've gone and mentioned a StarCraft movie. Perhaps its time we learn to forgive and forge... wait. What did you just say? Sorry, what?!
"If we were to take that hour, or hour and a half [of StarCraft II cut-scenes], take it out of the game, and we were to go to our audiences for whom we have their credit card information as well as a direct relationship and ask, 'Would you like to have the StarCraft movie?', my guess is that ... you'd have the biggest opening weekend of any film ever," he said during Bank of America Merrill Lynch's Media, Communications & Entertainment Conference (via Gamasutra).
"Within the next five years, you are likely to see us do that. That may be in partnership with somebody, it may be alone," he added.
Oh, but that's not all. Instead of hitting the big screen, Kotick plans to put these suckers online, where he hopes the other kind of sucker – you know, the kind far richer in wallet than common sense – will spend up to $20 or $30 to watch them. So basically, he wants to charge more for less.
We could fill an entire book with ways this idea could go horribly wrong, but instead, we'll sum it up with one word: Youtube.
Ever thought of starting up your own World of Warcraft server? Given the billions of dollars Blizzard has raked in over the years we don’t blame you, but a recent court ruling suggests it probably isn’t worth the effort. A federal judge has awarded Blizzard over $88 million in damages inflicted by private gaming server “Scapegaming” which has been found guilty of violating the companies EULA along with aspects of the DMCA. Scapegaming allowed users running a modified version of the client to join their third party server, and the owner recorded over $3 million dollars in revenue by selling virtual items.
According to Blizzard “By agreeing to the EULA, you promise not to "host, provide or develop matchmaking services for the Game or intercept, emulate or redirect the communication protocols used by Blizzard in any way, for any purpose, including without limitation unauthorized play over the internet, network play, or as part of content aggregation networks." Essentially this is a lawyers way of saying Blizzard is the one and only provider you are entitled to use.
Given how drastically the penalty outweighs the company’s revenue I doubt Activision/Blizzard will actually get paid, but clearly that’s not the point. The main victory here is the ruling which helps the company establish a precedent that should help deter others from trying this in the future. Since it takes Blizzard almost 10 years to develop and release a new game, I guess it’s important to defend the cash cow that keeps the lights on.
There are very few things we're absolutely certain of in this world, but here's one of them: Activision likes money. If it gets you to whip out your wallet in a hurry, it's in. If not, it's out faster than you can say, “Isn't it just a teensy bit odd that none of Activision's big-name titles feature female leads?” According to sources within Activision, it's no mere coincidence, either. Case in point: True Crime: Hong Kong. Or, as it was once known, Black Lotus.
"Black Lotus was a great project internally," an unnamed source told Gamasutra. "We were all very proud of what we were trying to make and the team was excited. We made great progress."
Apparently, the game was originally an over-the-top love letter to Hong Kong action-cinema starring a heroine based on actress Lucy Liu. But then 2007 happened. After watching games like Halo 3, Madden, Modern Warfare, and Assassin's Creed climb to the top of the charts powered by a tasty cocktail of testosterone, Mountain Dew, and live grenades, Activision decided that “guy stuff” sold.
"We were all on board, and then Activision killed it, said they don't do female characters because they don't sell," the source continued.
"Activision gave us specific direction to lose the chick," said another source.
Black Lotus was then handed off to a United Front Games, where – after a few nips and a couple tucks here and there – its main character re-emerged as a gruff, tough manly man. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Since 2005, Activision's only female leads have been locked into their roles by preexisting licenses. You know, Barbie, Dora the Explorer – that kind of thing. Apparently, Activision's empire is one where the latest trends are king, and games are frequently re-worked mid-development to appease the whims of allegedly sketchy focus tests.
When reached for comment, Activision denied the whole shebang, noting that it “does not have a policy of telling its studios what game content they can develop, nor has the company told any of its studios that they cannot develop games with female lead characters."
Somewhat hilariously, this scuttlebutt emerges from the woodwork mere days after Activision lost a sexual harassment case to the tune of at least $1 million. Oh universe, you and your love of comedic timing.
You could be forgiven for thinking that even Blizzard – perhaps the only company more powerful than the natural disaster it's named after – might not escape a run-in with and subsequent buy-out by Activision unscathed. After all, if the Infinity Ward fiasco proved anything, it's that Activision isn't afraid to bust down the doors and assert control when it feels like things aren't going its way. But unless Activision's got some kind of 24-hour hypno-ray constantly blasting Blizzard's offices, it sounds like Activision has yet to recreate the Warcraft, StarCraft, and Diablo developer in its image.
“Since we had our merger with Activision, it hasn’t changed anything at Blizzard,” Blizzard VP Michael Ryder told MCV. “We operate in pretty much the same way we already have. Since we have been working with Activision we continue to be who we are. We make the same decisions in the same way we always have, and the relationship with Activision hasn’t changed that.”
“For example, one of our values is that gameplay is supremely important. We talk about play nice and play fair, which has to do how we work with each other and our partners. Preserving that culture is a key part of our ability to continue to deliver great games. We nurture it, protect it and take care of it as much as we can, because it is a big part of who we are.”
So yeah, if you thought Activision might have been pulling the strings behind the whole Real ID debacle, this seems to suggest that you were wrong. Granted, we're not ready to about-face and start handing out fliers for St. Activision's Church just yet. After all, what happens when Blizzard starts pitching something that doesn't fit nicely into its steady diet of Warcraft, StarCraft, and Diablo? If the goose stops laying golden eggs, will its goose be cooked? Tough to say. Hopefully we'll get a definitive answer when Blizzard reveals that new MMO it's been working on.
Who says adventure gaming is dead? With a handful of exceptions, the adventure game genre might not be particularly lucrative anymore, nor will the Call of Duty crowd ever understand what all the fuss was about. But for those of us constantly looking over our heads for three-headed monkeys (or "look south" for you Zork-anites), we're pleased as punch to see fellow fans keep the genre alive.
Such is the case with Phoenix Online Studios, a collection of fan developers who at one point received a cease and desist letter from Activision for their work on a fan-made sequel to King's Quest called The Silver Lining. After extensive discussions and a recognition of "the overwhelming community support," Activision eventually caved and allowed the project to go on.
Eight years in the making, the first chapter in The Silver Lining is finally available for download, and not only is it free, but it gets the nod from Roberta Williams, the famed game designer responsible for the original King's Quest series.
"Now, there is a chance that many can truly find out what happens to the royal family of the Kingdom of Daventry," Williams is quoted as saying on The Silver Lining's site. "This game is very true to the original series and features many of the storylines and characters, especially of King's Quest VI. I found it beautiful and fun to play. I, too, like many other fans, would like to see how this story unfolds!
Robert, like the rest of us, will be able to do that through five episodes, the first of which is available now.