It seems like every other year or so, some no-name studio or company throws down the gauntlet against one of the major video game publishers with some kind of wishy-washy claim that they’ve been swindled. Whether it’s patent infringement, creative plagiarism of a game’s lore, or one of the many other far-fetched excuses to try and get a little cash in their pockets. Granted, some of the lawsuits are legitimate—remember
when the PS3 controllers had no rumble feature? Yup, the people behind the Dualshock controllers sued Sony and they settled out of court. But none of these cases tread water when compared to the stakes of this monster of a lawsuit between Activision and Call of Duty designers Jason West and Vince Zampella.
Since the whole ordeal started exactly one year ago, let me hit you with the highlights: Activision/Blizzard fired West and Zampella last March, claiming “insubordination.” In retaliation, West and Zampella sued Activision for not paying the substantial bonuses they were promised for finishing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 so quickly. At the same time, they also created a new studio called Respawn Entertainment with Activision’s biggest rival publisher, EA. Then, as dozens of game designers at Infinity Ward began to quit and find new jobs at Respawn, Activision decided to counter-sue West and Zampella with the accusation that they had been conspiring with EA to do this for years. After all the finger-pointing was done, the potential bill had peaked at around $400 million dollars. And by golly, someone’s going to pay.
But does it really matter who wins?
Now, don’t me wrong, I played and enjoyed Modern Warfare 2 like everyone else, and I certainly think West and Zampella deserve the credit and money they’re owed. But even if they win and they go on to make another stellar FPS game with EA, one thing is certain—it’s not going to be Call of Duty.
It’s unfortunate to say this, but I think this event will be remembered as the beginning of the end of the CoH franchise. As Activision/Blizzard has done with Guitar Hero and the Tony Hawk games, so too will Call of Duty tarnish and sour. Having shown its massively lucrative potential, Activision CEO Bobby Kotick has turned his complete attention toward exploiting the name by having a new game out every single year. It may also serve to keep people distracted while this lawsuit gets underway. It was recently reported that Guitar Hero 3 was the most lucrative video game in history, yet it was also the last game that performed well before the franchise quickly tanked. Call of Duty: Black Ops is in a close second place, and I think there might be a pattern somewhere in there.
Ultimately, the sad truth we must all come to terms with is that there will be a Modern Warfare 3, and it will be a far cry from the pedigree and expertise of the original title. By the end of 2012, I wouldn’t be surprised to go to a nearby GameStop and see 4 different games with the phrase "Call of Duty" somewhere on it. And what’s worse, I probably won’t want to play any of them.
See you in the next level,