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.
There are a few signature characteristics of Call of Duty games—at least, the ones developed by series-creator Infinity Ward. First, the games feel real. The story unfolds as you play through a conflict as a few normal soldiers—regular guys on the ground who find themselves thrust into extraordinary events. They aren’t supermen. The campaigns are plausible, even if they’re fictionalized or set in the near future, reinforcing the feeling that the experience could take place in the real world. The third characteristic is that there’s usually a deep, engaging multiplayer experience thrown in the game for free. Unfortunately, in this outing, Infinity Ward whiffed on all three counts, much to our dismay.
Let’s start with the seven-hour single-player campaign. Instead of playing as normal grunts in this year’s entry, you end up playing as junior varsity supermen—an American soldier who’s always in the wrong place at the wrong time and the protégé of one of the characters you played in the first Modern Warfare. While none of the characters you play are named Jor-El, they’re a long way from the untrained Russian conscript who was handed a single clip and chained to the guy with the rifle at Stalingrad in the first Call of Duty. This creates a sense of unreality that’s reinforced by the game’s ludicrous plot twists and completely unbelievable characters. (Warning, spoilers appear in the next paragraph!)
Of all the crimes Activision could be accused of, extreme restraint isn’t one of them. If a property in its stable of games fattens its way into bonafide cash cow territory, you can bet that Activision will milk it bone-dry. But if you’ve ever tried chugging an entire gallon of milk, you know that people’s tolerance for the stuff is a bit lacking. Tony Hawk and Guitar Hero are already facing diminishing returns from consumer fatigue, and at this rate, it won’t be long before Call of Duty wears out its welcome – especially if yet another developer hops aboard Activision’s favorite money train.
The LA Times, however, is reporting just that. “Although Infinity Ward and Treyarch have produced sequels in alternating years since 2005, the publisher now has a third development studio working on future versions,” read the publication’s article on Modern Warfare 2’s launch.
As for this third mystery developer’s purpose, little is known. Speculation says that the series newcomer could be digging the development trenches on a Call of Duty MMO – something Activision boss Bobby Kotick has expressed interest in on multiple occasions. Or maybe Call of Duty: World at War’s ever-popular Nazi Zombies are finally getting their own game. We really have no idea.
Or – and this is crazy, but work with us here – maybe, after nearly a decade of working on the same series, Infinity Ward is ready to move on to greener pastures, and Activision’s called in a new team to pick up where the Call of Duty creator left off. Naaaaah.
Remember, remember the fifth of November! Topics discussed this week: On a slow news week, Will fueled Gordon's rage by briefing him on the Call of Duty PC controversies, then the guy discussed Left4Dead 2 a bit more, and closed the show with an extra-long Doctor section and another vitriolic episode of Rant of the Week!
Do you have a tech question? A comment? A tale of technological triumph? Just need to get something off your chest? A secret to share? Email us at email@example.com or call our 24-hour No BS Podcast hotline at 877.404.1337 x1337--operators are standing by.
Activision’s about to declare war on gamers’ wallets with Modern Warfare 2, and we imagine Bobby Kotick and co. couldn’t be happier. However, according to Call of Duty creator Infinity Ward, Activision wasn’t always so gung-ho about pulling the series out of World War II.
“With Call of Duty 2, we were dead set against it being World War 2," Infinity Ward boss Vince Zampella said, "but Activision really wanted it, the compromise sort of being that we'd get some dev kits for consoles in exchange for doing a World War 2 game.”
"And something I'll add to that, Activision also did not want Modern Warfare. They thought working on a modern game was risky and [thought], 'oh my god you can't do that, it's crazy!' They were doing market research to show us we were wrong the whole time," he explained.
As of last count, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare sold over 14 million copies.
Bobby, if we were in your shoes, we’d hire Infinity Ward not only as a consultant for Activision as a whole, but as our own personal life counselor. We’d also donate a few million dollars to Future’s Maximum PC publication, with the stipulation that 40% of it is to land in the pockets of a blogger named “Nathan Grayson.”
Nine of last month’s 20 best-selling PC games’ titles contain the word “war” in some way or another, including colonial chart-topper Empire: Total War. Special honors go to Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War II for having “war” in its title twice. Videogames encouraging violence? No way.
Here’s the entire, blood-soaked chart for your viewing pleasure:
Empire: Total War / Creative Assembly / $48
World Of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King / Blizzard / $38
The Sims 2 Double Deluxe / EA Maxis / $19
Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War II / Relic / $48
World Of Warcraft Battle Chest / Blizzard / $38
World Of Warcraft / Blizzard / $20
The Sims 2 Apartment Life Exp. Pack / EA Maxis / $19
Spore / EA Maxis / $49
World Of Warcraft: Burning Crusade Expansion Pack / Blizzard / $29
Mystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhearst / Big Fish Games / $20
Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 / EA LA / $28
StarCraft Battle Chest / Blizzard / $20
Fallout 3 / Bethesda / $49
Civilization IV / Firaxis / $21 (Average)
Empire: Total War - Special Forces Edition / Creative Assembly / $70
The Sims 2 Pets Exp. Pack / EA Maxis / $19
Warhammer Online: Age Of Reckoning / EA Mythic / $29
The Sims 2 University Exp. Pack / EA Maxis / $19
Call Of Duty: World At War / Treyarch / $50
Diablo Battle Chest / Blizzard / $36
With the way mainstream headlines have been going lately, we can’t imagine that “Country X Delcares War on Country Y, Videogames to Blame” is far off.
And you thought the majority of today’s first-person shooters were only easy on the eyes. As it turns out, playing a fast-moving, state-of-the-art action game might be less like a warm glass of milk for your poor peepers, and more like a monolithic can of Monster.
According to a study conducted by Daphne Bavelier of the University of Rochester in New York, a few rounds of games like Call of Duty or Unreal Tournament may be enough to improve your eyes’ contrast sensitivity. Translated into the hip vernacular you kids have grown so accustomed to: Capping fools, punks, or whatever these are could save you from dying in a fire.
“People who used a video-game training program saw significant improvements in their ability to notice subtle differences in shades of gray, a finding that may help people who have trouble with night driving,” noted the study.
While undoubtedly cool, the study’s results were far from expected. Apparently, contrast sensitivity doesn’t typically undergo significant change without an alteration to the optics of the eye -- glasses or surgery, for example.
The games played by each group, for those interested, were Call of Duty 2 and Unreal Tournament 2004 for the “action” group, and The Sims 2 for the non-action group. The first group saw a 43 percent improvement in contrast sensitivity, while the second saw none – possibly due to blindness or some other malady that our cruel universe has chosen to afflict upon those who are not truly hardcore.
Don’t sit too close to the screen, huh? Oh how the tides have turned.
If this sounds like something you’d be interested in checking out, you can find the transcript here. And, be sure and check out other debates in the future over at Xfire! They did a great job setting up the event.
The odds have always been stacked against Call of Duty: World at War. This sequel revisits an undeniably exhausted FPS setting—World War II—and wasn’t designed by series creator Infinity Ward, but Treyarch has delivered a sufficiently compelling shooter. World at War doesn’t bring any lasting innovations to the FPS genre, but it has enough unrelenting shootouts and dramatically scripted events to keep us immersed in the action.
It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it. We’ve spent a good deal of the last 12 months hunkered down at our PCs playing every game that’s come our way. The very best of them have pulled us into their imaginary, action-packed worlds and stolen hours of our valuable time—and we love ’em for it! Others, not so much. Here forth is our frank assessment of 2008’s most noteworthy games.