Activision and Self-Mutilation

Electronic Arts received plenty of stick for its underhanded practices, poor working conditions and lack of innovation. Let’s rewind to 2007, when Activision had effectively wrestled away the “Third-Party Crown,” toppling its rival for the first time in more than a decade as the top independent video game publisher. 2007 was really the turning point as EA struggled with its sluggish Madden NFL series and the lukewarm reception of Medal of Honor: Airborne. In contrast, Activision let the good times roll with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Guitar Hero III. As the new king, many were left to speculate if Activision would continue its successes or follow EA’s road of demise.

Let’s fast forward to 2010. While EA is undergoing a revival of sorts, thanks to Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and a reboot of Medal of Honor, Activision is busy shooting itself in the foot. Case in point? Neversoft, the studio behind Guitar Hero 5, created a game that was received warmly by both critics and fans. Following this wave of success, the studio was certainly ready to tackle new projects, perhaps even return to their roots of action-adventure titles (a la Gun). What did they get instead? The axe. Activision felt they’d milked rhythm games for all the profit they could get and decided to cut back on future releases. Executives got fat paychecks and the development team got the shaft.

It only gets worse, of course. Infinity Ward, a company virtually every core gamer recognizes, is another victim on Activision’s rather long list. Remember that saying? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it? Infinity Ward created the Modern Warfare franchise. Hell, they created one of the top grossing games of all time. You don’t mess with that. You. Just. Don’t. As of yesterday, Twitter was abuzz with rumors of Jason West getting fired, security escorts busting in and most of Infinity Ward left in the dark. We know now that those rumors are, in fact, true.

What is Activision, or rather Bobby Kotick, thinking? Two studios that created critically acclaimed and commercially successful games were dealt massive blows by upper management. Neversoft was gutted, with half of its staff laid off. The future of the studio remains to be seen. As for Infinity Ward, it’s losing valuable leaders who guided much of the studio’s success, leaving the rest of the staff confused about the company’s direction. Activision has essentially done a fine job of mutilating two of its most successful franchises by mishandling its subsidiaries. Without proper leadership and job security, most companies face declining productivity from its workforce. If Neversoft and Infinity Ward can be victims of Activision’s wrath, one has to wonder how employees at other studios feel.

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