Call of Duty: The Whole Rotten Saga

If you’re a regular Respawn reader, and among those gifted few blessed with eyesight, you may be aware that we’re not great fans of towering monster-hit series Call of Duty, in the same sort of way the Jewish inhabitants of 1940’s Germany weren’t great fans of Hitler. We hear it was something to do with the moustache.

And contrary to what you may have heard, we do actually have arguably valid reasons for our standpoint. Yep, through literally thousands of man hours, several cross-nation phone calls and a few favours we’re not completely proud of, we’ve finally managed to collate some EVIDENCE. Like real journalists! Only we don’t get paid. You should pay us.

The thing is, the story of Call of Duty is a long-winded, politically engaged, mammoth tale of deceit and treachery, and one which we fear some of you may not know. So as usual ladies and gentlemen, Respawn in 5 is here to loudly stir the proverbial waste cauldron, before taking out the stirrer and draping it over your face, and probably poking you in the eye. Why is the Call of Duty name, a once shining example of first person shooting, now one to be considered with little more regard than a used hanky? The ins and outs, the full shebang is right below kids.

So let’s start with a bit of background shall we boys and girls? Activision are a games publisher larger than anything you can fathom. Perhaps larger even than How I Met Your Mother star Patrick Harris’ forehead. Perhaps. The last few years Activision have gone from Tony-Hawks-By-Numbers humblism to incomprehensible behemothicity, and it’s largely thanks to acquisitions of titles such as Guitar Hero and Call of Duty, as well as conjoined company Blizzard’s World of Warcraft (Activision-Blizzard amalgamated and came to being in 2008). Activision’s CEO is one Bobby Kotick. He’s famous. Famous for turning up to press releases and saying absurd, incredulous things before jumping in his Twatwagon and driving all the way home. Laughing. The latter part of that may be a lie. He calls it an IdiotMobile. And can’t laugh. From making us pay for cutscenes to being owed part of the Xbox Live subscription fee, Bobby Kotick is a riot at every stand-up comedy routine or keynote speech he does, and the lines between those often blur. Under Kotick, franchises like Guitar Hero have been continually beaten senseless, and just as the quivering, bloody, fragile series reaches to dial 999, it’s driven into the ground. Occasionally entire studios have been on the receiving end of our Bob waving his giant Activision parts around. Poor Bizarre Games.

Infinity Ward are a games developer. Founded in part by Vince Zampella and Jason West back in 2002, when the pair left their former studio 2015 Inc. (who were responsible for the original Medal of Honour: Allied Assault, arguably the best MoH. EVER.) In true Theo Paphitis style, Activision, after briefly haggling with Deborah Meaden, bought a 30% stake in Infinity Ward and helped them along financially in their earliest days. When IW chugged out their first release, Call of Duty on the PC, Activision bought up the rest of the company, clearly smelling several billion dollars in a decade’s time. Although apparently the air of becoming a load of blibbering tossrags is unscented.

Naturally IW continued on with the Call of Duty series, however wanting one every year, like a child, Activision eventually called in Treyarch to bang out a proceedingly sub-par Call of Duty on IW’s year off. Infinity Ward ended up doing Call of Duty 1, 2, 4: Modern Warfare and 6: Modern Warfare II.

So now, a page later, we’re fully up to speed on our main players. Now, the big hoo-hah? The tussle? The beef? Well…

According to sources, even since the very beginning of the Infinity Ward–Activision relationship, things were rocky. Infinity Ward would be late home, Activision would be angry they didn’t call ahead. Activision would watch TV whilst Infinity Ward cleaned the house increasingly furiously in an attempt to make Acti notice. It didn’t. Dispensing with that slightly disturbing metaphor though, Infinity Ward felt they had to ‘fight for everything’ they wanted to do with their own games. They had to bargain with Activision to be allowed to set the game when they wanted it to be set, they had to jump through hoops before they could develop for consoles as opposed to just PC. IW were also displeased at sharing their Intellectual Property with other studios, namely Treyarch, if not for the mere fact they were essentially giving away all their hardwork, the core game, but also that Treyarch were steadily making an arguably giant, sprawling cock up of it as well.

Eventually, after the kind of nagging you’d associate with a herd of elderly women waiting impatiently for a bus, Infinity Ward got what they wanted. They made a present-day shooter, and got a big release on the latest gen consoles. The resultant game was an omnipresent success, both in terms of sales and in terms of what a bloody cracking shooter they’d put together, to put it eloquently. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare wasn’t without its problems, but it was balanced, its maps were strong, the game ran well, it looked beautiful and it had a spectacular storyline to boot. This catapulted the series to global regard; Call of Duty quickly became the biggest name in shooting games.

In the aftermath of this release, Infinity Ward signed new contracts with Activision, contracts laced with asbestos. Sort of.  This new contract would allow IW the complete control of “any Call of Duty game set in the post-Vietnam era, the near future or the distant future” and any title under the Modern Warfare brand”, certifying that creative direction would remain entirely in the hands of the original developers. Or not, as proceeding circumstances were to prove.

Shortly after another wacky press event, in which Kotick denounced that scepticism, pessimism and fear should all be a part of the culture of their business, and as the internet, upon hearing this, resigned Kotick to being some sort of maniacal Satanic effigy, the whole intensifying situation hit boiling point and exploded. And it went everywhere.

On 1st March 2010, the gaming media swallowed its own face in response to the news that Vince Zampella and Jason West had been given the sack. And probably the finger. Reportedly Activision had suspended the pair due to ‘breaches of contract and insubordination’. Promptly, Acti put one of their own in charge of IW, and replaced them with another developer to handle their end of the Call of Duty series.

Following this almost immediately, West and Zampella headed for the courts. And after a heart-pounding game of squash, they sued Activision for essentially, constructive dismissal. But with more words than that.

Hitting back, Activision counter-sued, claiming Zampella and West were liaising with a rival publisher (EA) in an attempt to ‘steal’ Infinity Ward. After so many suits and counter-suits nobody could tell their double-breasted jacket from their trouser press, and with West and Zampella definitely ejected from the studio, other key Infinity Ward people started jumping ship. Lead designers and other members of the team that had been working together since 2015 Inc. were the first to go, with a following 12 leaving the developer thereafter.

A little while later, with everything still up in the air, West and Zampella revealed they’d stolen our name and gone to make a brand new studio, presumably taking all of their loyal ship-jumpers with them. Not only that but they’d secured a partnership with EA, one that keeps the publisher at arm’s length as far as creative control goes. Respawn Entertainment are currently working on their first game. We’re massively excited to see what they do. But also, we kind of want our name back.

Since all this came spluttering out of the gaming news feeds a year ago, there have been several updates that all involve some sort of suit, or counter suit. A few months ago in an interview, West and Zampella commented that the stubbornness of Activision was creating problems for their new studio, and that they wanted the suit dealt with and out of the way. Acti merely responded with further allegations, extending their suit to include the rival publisher EA, accusing them of attempting to disrupt and destroy Infinity Ward. West and Zampella filed yet another back, stating claims that Activision had begun preparation for the pair’s dismissal as soon as Modern Warfare II had been completed.

Over a year down the line and, to our knowledge, barely anything has been resolved. They’re still just bickering amongst themselves like kids.

Whilst at first we were mesmerized by Modern Warfare II, it soon became clear that something wasn’t quite right. It didn’t feel like it came from the team behind the comparatively solid CoD 4. Such a huge emphasis was placed upon Perks and Killstreaks, the game seemed to lose sight of its core mechanics, the simplicity that made its predecessor, and games like Counter-Strike so involving. Months later, and the reasons for this became very clear indeed. Activision took away the creative control Infinity Ward needed to produce a follow up to a game of such a high standard. And it is essentially, as simple as that.

Activision tore the Guitar Hero series to pieces by pushing out game after game in a short space of time. Squeezing every penny from them in the most corporate, capitalist way possible. The future of Call of Duty looks shockingly similar. Already in the works is this year’s offering, Modern Warfare III most likely, as well as an alleged ‘third person, action adventure’ Call of Duty, and there’s even been talk of a subscription based MMO style version of the game. Of course, none of this has affected Activision too much, what with Black Ops outselling MWII, and people in their millions still happy to shell out a tenner for a handful of sub-par maps. With the original developers gone though, and the game being little more than a money spinner to a giant corporation, it’s safe to say, Call of Duty is dead. To us. And it should be to you to. DO AS WE SAY. LIKE WHAT WE TELL YOU TO. BRING US A PIE. Etc.

So there. That’s why we don’t like Call of Duty. It’s been ruined. Tell your friends. We’ll keep this updated with any progress that doesn’t simulate two toddlers fighting over a small piece of shaped plastic. Next shooter on our radar? Battlefield 3. But that’s another story.

Boom boom pow. Away.

Author Description

Rob Vicars

Rob is a writer, wearing many hats that do not belong to him. When not scribbling ardently for his games blog Respawn in... 5, he pretends to be a musician, a videographer, a game developer and an alright guy.

There are 1 comments. Add yours

  1. 10th April 2011 | stim78 says:
    And I thought EA were bad?!