[04.09.2010 Update] Hey all. Just wanted to chime in real quick and note that Blizzard has caved in and reversed its "First Name Last Name" forum policy as of 9:47 a.m. (PST) today. That's Murphy's Law: 1. Blizzard: 0...
Ugh. I was all set to write this totally awesome column about how World of Warcraft's latest Real ID measures are The Lich King's gift to proper forum management, and it's just one more reflection of much of what I talk about in this weekly column--the idea that the walls are slowly lowering between our various online identities as we transition our lives into a tell-all kind of digital tale.
Of course, resident Maximum PC gaming pundit Nathan Grayson beat me to the punch. With respect to Mr. Grayson, however, I don't think that he's really covered enough ground in regards to Blizzard's announcement that any World of Warcraft players seeking to post on the company's forums will now be identified by their first and last names--the "Real ID" I speak of.
What I find most curious is that this situation blows open the various degrees of user permissibility in an open world of data. What does that mean? Simply put, there are varying levels of sharing that people are comfortable with in the digital age, and it's funny that so many are complaining about an unsheltered digital lifestyle that we're headed toward anyhow.
Last year, Modern Warfare 2 attempted to permanently pull the plug on dedicated servers. “Bad Infinity Ward! Bad!” PC gamers shouted in response. “Don’t make us roll up this Internet petition and hit you on the nose with it!” Fortunately, Treyarch is not Infinity Ward. Treyarch has apparently played a multiplayer PC game before.
"I think dedicated servers are excellent. I don't see any reason not to [include] them unless... well, I just don't see any reason not to,” said Treyarch studio head Mark Lamia.
"We do work very hard to reconcile the desire to manipulate and modify those dedicated servers with offering them the persistent experience and benefits that the console system provides,” he added.
So best of both worlds, basically. Which is a good thing, because we really don’t know how to Internet petition harder than we did last time – short of tying it to a brick, throwing it through a window, and kidnapping/hoping it hits Activision president Bobby Kotick. Which would be fun, admittedly, but if Bobby Kotick fires men who make him billions of dollars, just think about what he’d do to kidnappers. Yeah.
After losing upwards of 35 key employees within a month, one might be tempted to declare Infinity Ward a shell of its former self. Honestly, though, in all likelihood, a shell of Infinity Ward still beats the pants off most other developers. Which – we’re guessing – is why Activision has elected to keep the developer’s headless, gutted torso working on what’s arguably Activision’s most important franchise.
“We don’t usually do this at this time. We’re very focused on our communication right now on the release for this year [Black Ops]. What we have said is that Infinity Ward is working on a Call of Duty title and you’ll hear more details as we advance through the year,” Activision COO Thomas Tippl said during a recent earnings call.
Not too long ago, analysts were abuzz with the idea that Infinity Ward would be “essentially closed” after it put the finishing touches on Modern Warfare 2’s second map pack. Dead studios tell no tales, however, so it would seem that Infinity Ward isn’t down for the count just yet.
And hey, no one’s left Infinity Ward in, like, two days! See? Things are looking better already.
Update: Here's the trailer, which is sure to blast the sleep from your eyes with fast-cut camera work, ominous music, and loud explosions. Sorry Starbucks, your services won't be needed today. Better still, it actually looks quite good, if you ask us. The game appears to be set in modern times, as well, which is a bit unexpected considering the connotations that go along with a potential Vietnam setting. Enough from us, though. Go see for yourself.
Original Article: While Activision scrambles to pick up the pieces from Infinity Ward’s slow-motion explosion, Treyarch’s picking up the slack. As was rumored, the latest entry in the ridiculously popular shooter series will be subtitled “Black Ops.” Videogame publishers who are not Activision, take note: Black Ops is launching on November 9. You can go ahead and delay your games now. We’ll wait.
Problem is, that’s all we actually know about the game right now. Fortunately, the debut trailer is dropping later tonight, so we’ll be sure to update this post as soon as it happens. For now, though, we’ve got some not-quite-concrete info in UK retailer GAME’s near-confirmation that the game will be set in Vietnam, Cuba, and the Arctic – among other locations. But that information has since been pulled.
So yeah. Keep an eye on this space. Huh? What about the other eye? Well we just assumed that you were a normal human whose eyes worked in tandem. What kind of weird alien are you, anyway? Geez, Call of Duty really does have a lot of fans, doesn’t it?
“Continued defections from their Infinity Ward studio have created meaningful uncertainty around the future of their Call of Duty: Modern Warfare franchise," Hickey said.
"We expect Infinity Ward studio will be essentially closed after their next map pack release, with development work on Modern Warfare 3 spread between two studios not historically tied to the franchise.”
As of last count, more than 30 employees have departed from Infinity Ward within the last month or so – many of whom resurfaced at former IW heads Jason West and Vince Zampella’s Respawn Entertainment a short while later.
Thus far, there’s been nothing but radio silence as far as the next Modern Warfare 2 map pack goes. It is, however, in the works, according to Activision.
So, for now, Infinity Ward soldiers on. With the developer beheaded and rapidly bleeding employees, though, we're not sure scrambling for cover and waiting a few seconds for the strawberry jelly to disappear from their screen is going to work this time.
The Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series has earned Activision a lot of money, and now a beef with the game's developers might end up costing the publisher up to $125 million. That's the higher end of what more than three dozen former and current employees of Infinity Ward, the development studio behind CoD:MW, are suing Activision for, claiming the publisher owes them anywhere from $75 million to $125 million in unpaid royalties, and maybe more if damages get factored in.
Activision's legal troubles began when, a little over a month ago, Activision fired Infinity Ward's two main guys, Jason West and Vince Zampella, who subsequently filed a $36 million lawsuit claiming unpaid royalties. West and Zampella went on to form their own studio called Respawn Entertainment and signing a deal with Electronic Arts. Since then, other employees have left Infinity Ward, some of them to join Respawn Entertainment.
The lawsuit alleges that Activision withheld royalty payments in an attempt to prevent the max exodus that has taken place. There are 38 employees represented in the lawsuit, 21 of them former employees of Infinity Ward, while 17 still work there.
"Activision engaged in this inappropriate course of conduct in an attempt to force employees of Infinity Ward to continue to work at a job that many of them did not want just so Activision could force them to complete the development, production and delivery of Modern Warfare 3," the suit says.
Naturally, Activision sees things another way and claims "the action is without merit." According to Activision, the publisher has every right to determine the amount and schedule of bonus payments for CoD:MW "and has acted consistent with its rights and the law at all times."
Maybe so, maybe not, but either way, this one's headed to court.
When Infinity Ward's Jason West and Vince Zampella left Activision / Infinity Ward, many of us wondered, just how bad could things possibly be? Well if you believe Activision's side of the story "We treat our developers extremely well" said COO Thomas Tippl.
"If their games are successful, they are compensated better here than anywhere else. We've been paying our talent millions of dollars for their work. Our setup provides a win-win opportunity. We ensure your work will reach a wide audience. Therefore, we have attracted, and we will continue to attract the top talent in this industry."
If getting paid millions of dollars could be considered "being treated extremely well", then I guess they have a point. But that doesn't explain why the Infinity Ward's quit count is up to 10, with many of those rumored to be moving over to an EA backed competitor called Respawn Entertainment.
It will be interesting to see just how many end up jumping off the Modern Warfare bandwagon in the coming months, and if it ends up creating a viable competitor for the Call of Duty series. After all, Palm is made up of ex-Apple employees who never managed to launch an iPhone killer.
So is it talent, circumstance, or both that make a game great?
As they sometimes do, another “inside source” has decided to don their feature-obscuring trench coat, find a spot in the corner of a parking garage where the shadows cover their face just so, and make with the blabbing. The topic? Call of Duty 7, which will apparently be known as Call of Duty: Black Ops.
The most shocking revelation to emerge from this leak in Activision’s patented Info Pipes comes in the form of a change to the traditional Call of Duty format. Instead of sticking with one time period, Black Ops is set to weave its yarn through multiple battles that fall under the umbrella of “recent history” -- with locales like WWII, Cuba, South America, an Iranian embassy in London, and the present day being explicitly mentioned.
Meanwhile, in an attempt to strike before the zombie bubble inevitably bursts, Treyarch’s reprising its ever-popular Nazi Zombies multiplayer mode. Unfortunately for the Nazi Zombies – who, based on their fortuitous mix of controversial political affiliation and undeadness, seem to want attention more than anything else – they’re only an appetizer for the real meat of the multiplayer news: dedicated servers.
Yep. Seems Activision learned its lesson after finding itself physically unable to dispose of angry letters from PC gamers faster than they arrived. Also, we have to imagine a bit of competition from a certain other multiplayer shooter franchise didn’t hurt.
Granted, this is all unconfirmed, and as such, should be taken with a grain of salt. Still though, if it’s true, color us interested. Treyarch may not have Infinity Ward’s near-flawless shooter pedigree (though, then again, Infinity Ward might not have it anymore, either), but Treyarch’s ambition can’t be denied. Here’s hoping we get an official announcement sooner rather than later, which is likely, since the game's apparently launching in November 2010.
Well, we suppose it was inevitable. After being handed their walking papers earlier this week, former Infinity Ward bosses Jason West and Vince Zampella have rallied their lawyers for what promises to be the court equivalent of a train wreck colliding with the last two Matrix movies and the remnants of M. Night Shyamalan’s movie career.
“We were shocked by Activision’s decision to terminate our contract,” said West. “We poured our heart and soul into that company, building not only a world class development studio, but assembling a team we’ve been proud to work with for nearly a decade. We think the work we’ve done speaks for itself.”
“After all we have given to Activision, we shouldn’t have to sue to get paid,” Zampella added.
And boy, are they trying to get paid. The duo hopes to come away from the suit with “at least $36 million” in addition to full rights to the Modern Warfare brand.
Activision, meanwhile, has dismissed the lawsuit as “meritless.”
“Activision is disappointed that Mr. Zampella and Mr. West have chosen to file a lawsuit, and believes their claims are meritless. Over eight years, Activision shareholders provided these executives with the capital they needed to start Infinity Ward, as well as the financial support, resources and creative independence that helped them flourish and achieve enormous professional success and personal wealth,” said a statement from the publisher.
Modern Warfare 3 who? Looks like World War 3’s going to be waged in a courtroom. Grab some popcorn, folks. It’s time for fireworks.
Yesterday, we brought you word of a rapidly escalating quarrel between Modern Warfare 2 developer Infinity Ward and publisher Activision that culminated in the firings of two Infinity Ward bosses. On one side of the spat, there was Activision -- playing the part of the dejected parent who was forced to administer some tough love to its “insubordinate” child. Meanwhile, Infinity Ward positioned itself on the receiving end of Activision’s volley, claiming to be “confused” and “freaked out.”
Were Activision’s seemingly shady actions warranted, though? And is Infinity Ward really the innocent little lamb to Activision’s money-hungry wolf? A few analysts gave their two cents on the situation.
First up, speaking with GamePro, videogame industry legal expert Tom Buscaglia took Activision to task for what he believes to be an underhanded “last resort.”
"I did employment law for 20 years," he said. "In my experience, insubordination is a justification of last resort because it's completely subjective. If I see that [in a wrongful termination lawsuit], it's usually complete bullshit."
"In any game, somebody has to be the keeper of the vision," Buscaglia said, speaking of former IW bosses Zampella and West. "So now [Activision’s] killed the goose, but they have a golden egg."
However, Infinity Ward may not have been playing entirely by the rules either. Speaking with Joystiq, analysts Michael Pachter and Jesse Divnich pointed out that Activision’s rumored refusal to fork over IW’s royalty fees was far from abnormal.
"I couldn't speak to what the royalty agreement between Activision and Infinity Ward is,” Divnich said. “If royalties haven't been paid out yet, I wouldn't consider that too alarming. The game has only been out for a little over 90 days. Additionally, it is common to see royalty agreements based upon factors such as hitting release date, review scores (a.k.a. 'Metacritic Clauses') or revenue milestones. I think if you just replace the word 'royalties' with 'bonus' it should make some more sense."
So there you go: a couple more threads for an already extremely tangled web. Oh well. Closure’s overrated anyway, right?