Simmering problems between Activision and Modern Warfare 2 development studio Infinity Ward — involving the creative direction of the Call of Duty series — may have come to a head with yesterday's dismissal of IW's two studio heads.
The reasons for the dismissal of Jason West and Vince Zampella, the top two men at Infinity Ward remain murky a day after the news broke that there was a shake-up at the Activision-owned studio. The publisher, in a financial filing, only vaguely referred to "insubordination" and "breach of contract".
But in the past 24 hours the long-rumored problems between Activison and IW have come a little more clearly to light. A source familiar with the studio told Kotaku that Infinity Ward has long bristled at the notion of any studio other than IW making a Call of Duty game. The studio heads' renewed 2009 contract with Activision affirmed that only Infinity Ward would be allowed to make Call of Duty games set in the modern era, according to the source.
Infinity Ward's two most recent games were 2007's Call of Duty IV: Modern Warfare and 2009's Modern Warfare 2. In between, Activision-owned Treyarch developed Call of Duty: World At War and is expected to making 2010's Call of Duty, keeping with Activision's annual Call of Duty cycle. Infinity Ward, according to conversations Kotaku has had with employees at the studio in the past, is a one-game studio and one committed to two-year cycles. For IW, making a Call of Duty annually would not have been consistent with the studio's current structure. (Tensions between the studios flared up in public online close to the release of World at War.)
Kotaku has continued to hear from sources that Infinity Ward wanted to make either a new intellectual property or a game set in the future — the two projects might be one and the same — but that Activision resisted that.
Tensions between Infinity Ward and Activision had intensified in recent months to the point that IW would only deal with two employees from the publisher, according to Kotaku sources.
It's unclear if disagreements about creative direction are what finally led to West and Zampella's dismissal. But those disagreements appear to have contributed to the frailty of the relationship between publisher and studio that led to yesterday's breaking point.
Keep checking our round-up on news on Activision vs. Infinity Ward as news breaks.