Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Strange Days, Indeed

If you've missed this story, hang on for Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.

Last night, G4 posted this story:
Something's happening at Infinity Ward right now.

A source close to the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 developer just informed me that a "bunch of bouncer-types" just showed up outside of the Infinity Ward offices unannounced. When approached by employees, the non-uniformed "bouncers" were unwilling to disclose why they were there.

I know--that sounds totally ridiculous. It sounded like an outright hoax or some kind of viral bullshit.

Later last night:
UPDATE 11:20 PM: It turns out Activision may have showed their hand in this matter earlier today.

In an SEC filing made this morning, Activision cited a human resources investigation into "breaches of contract and insubordination by two senior employees at Infinity Ward."

Based on the information we currently have, at least one of those employees may have included Infinity Ward CTO Jason West. It's possible Vince Zampella is the other unmentioned employee.

"This matter is expected to involve the departure of key personnel and litigation," read the filing. "At present, the Company does not expect this matter to have a material impact on the Company."

What? In November, Activision was bragging that Modern Warfare 2 (developed by Infinity Ward) grossed $550 million in sales IN FIVE DAYS. Just over three months later, Activision is smoking some of the senior employees?

G4 put up another story today that says Bobby Kotick is meeting with the development leads today.

Obviously, this starts off as "WTF?" I think the SEC filing provides some clues, though, particularly with the phrase "breaches of contract and insubordination." I think "insubordination" can probably be ignored--anyone can be accused of that for almost anything. Breach of contract, though, is a very specific claim.

This is speculation (good grief, I seem to be "speculating" a lot lately), but I think the most reasonable explanation is that Activision will claim that the terminated executives were dissatisfied with their compensation and were entertaining offers from other companies, which was specifically forbidden by their contract. Or some variation of that, because nothing else really makes sense. Activision wouldn't want to push these guys away, because they're part of the human engine making them a freaking fortune. And if they were just trying to renegotiate their contracts, that wouldn't be a breach of anything.

Now it becomes very strategic. Expect websites to tout "scoops" that are nothing but information purposely leaked by either Activision or the terminated executives. Within a couple of days, I expect a story that claims the execs had gotten lazy and were never in the office, or that they were abusing their power in unseemly ways.

From the executives, expect stories about how Activision had promised them certain financial incentives that they backed away from, or that in spite of Modern Warfare 2 selling one billion copies, none of the money was finding its way down to the employees in the form of bonuses or promised compensation.

I'm not saying that none of these claims will turn out to be true. Some of them certainly will be, but it's going to be very hard, for a while, to figure out who's telling the truth.

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