Something is rotten in the state of Infinity Ward today, as reports hit the grapevine that security forces had paid the Call of Duty developer an unannounced visit - and at least one of the studio heads no longer had a job.
First off, caveat: This is breaking news, and the details are hazy, so take everything here with a few grains of salt.
According to G4, something is afoot at Infinity Ward, reported an anonymous source "close to" the developer. The source claimed that a "bunch of bouncer-types" had suddenly shown up at the building, and that they refused to answer queries about why they were there. "Everyone is on edge, said the source.
The source said that the unannounced visit may have had something to do with a meeting between Activision and Infinity Ward bosses Vince Zampella and Jason West earlier in the day - relations between the publisher and developer had been "tense" as of late, according to the source.
While G4's source described the mood of the employees as "freaked out" and "confused," saying that the developers "just wanna make our games," a Kotaku reader noted that some people might not be making games at all anymore. A Facebook update allegedly from Jason West reads, "Jason West is drinking. Also, no longer employed."
Between that and West's LinkedIn profile that says he is no longer with the Call of Duty developer as of March '10, one might draw the conclusion that West has been given the boot by Activision - though no word remains on the status of his fellow studio head Vince Zampella.
It's a very strange situation; while Activision is certainly known for not being afraid to put the kibosh on underperforming studios, Infinity Ward is about as far from underperforming as you get (what with their biggest game launch of ever and everything). What could possibly be going on out in Encino, California?
Stay tuned for updates as we learn more.
Boy, this has been a really weird week for gaming, huh? And it's still just Monday.
Update: G4 has uncovered an SEC filing made last morning, in which Activision mentions that it "is concluding an internal human resources inquiry into breaches of contract and insubordination by two senior employees at Infinity Ward. This matter is expected to involve the departure of key personnel and litigation. At present, the Company does not expect this matter to have a material impact on the Company."
This could very well have something to do with the matter, particularly if Jason West and Vince Zampella are the two "senior employees" mentioned.
Meanwhile, Brutal Legend creator Tim Schafer (who, as you may recall, had his own showdown of sorts with Activision) chimed in via Twitter: "Getting mad at Activision for this kind of thing is like getting mad at an ape for throwing feces. It's just how the beast communicates."
Update 2: There's a very interesting take on the matter over at BingeGamer. According to this report, Infinity Ward has not been paid royalties for Modern Warfare 2 despite the game turning in roughly a million bazillion dollars - which would go a long way towards explaining the "tense" atmosphere.
The report continues to claim that the "breach in contract" seen above is the result of IW leadership seeking to establish a publishing agreement with an entity other than Activision - which would, in fact, be a breach of contract. While this may be true, it's currently unknown just which publisher in question we're talking about - all we know is that it is reportedly not Activision rival EA.
Infinity Ward, though owned by Activision, is only on contract regarding its "principals" through October - it's technically an autonomous entity in the same way that, say, Blizzard is. Theoretically, IW is free to hire back West and Zampella (if he was axed as well) once this dies down.
Crazy stuff. (Thanks to SilentHunter7 for the heads up!)
Update 3: It would appear that Vince Zampella is no longer with the company, either.
Update 4: Bobby Kotick is meeting with Infinity Ward right now, with a company-wide address to come.
Update 5: Call of Duty is now in the hands of the Dead Space developers' Sledgehammer, Activision has confirmed the departure of Jason West and Vince Zampella from Infinity Ward.
Update 6: Interesting post over at Joystiq about the "royalties" piece of the puzzle. According to outspoken analysts Jesse Divnich and Michael Pachter, this is essentially just a fancy way of saying "Infinity Ward hadn't yet been paid its bonuses," which makes sense since bonuses are traditionally handed out at the end of the fiscal year - i.e., at the end of last month.
So that might not be quite as big a deal as it's been made out to be. On the other hand, if West and Zampella were fired without receiving their bonuses for the biggest game launch of all time, they would be in the right to be pretty ticked off right now.
Update 7: It looks like Infinity Ward may still be on the series after all, and the Sledgehammer title is a spin-off. Geez, what a roller-coaster ride, huh?