It’s been a long, difficult road for the staff members at Infinity Ward. Last week, development veteran David Braben — creator of Lost Winds and Elite — branded the studio “dead,” following the departure of over a third of the members of the original team.
“Whatever happens now, Infinity Ward as it was, is dead. The ‘brand’ may live on, but a company is its senior staff. Without them it is a different company, and at the very least will need all its seniors replacing — either by promotion from those remaining, or from outside.
That is not to say that those others might not do a really good job of making it work, but it will have a different mindset, a different approach, a different balance of experience. Tools and tech will carry over, but a company is a lot more than that. Give me Respawn, any day.”
To me, Braben’s death knell rings true. A video game franchise like Call of Duty is nothing less than popular art: the developer is the artist, the publisher the canvas, and the game the painting. To replace the developer is to create a mere copy, a shadow in the place of what existed before. What would a Picasso be without Picasso? A cheap replica that you can buy at Ikea for 10 bucks.
Art connoisseurs can tell the difference in an instant, and similarly the gaming community will notice drastic differences in the direction the Modern Warfare franchise takes. The Infinity Ward name will live on, but the mentality of innovation that rocketed MW2 to the top of the FPS genre will remain safely at Respawn Entertainment (we hope), and the existing franchise will be just a hollow shell of what existed before.
Others, like Michael Pachter, have a different perspective:
“I think that the gaming press and hardcore gamers may discern a real or imagined difference, but am not sure that the typical consumer will see a difference.
The remaining core is still around 70 people strong all of whom have worked on the last two versions of Modern Warfare. They will use the same engine, many of the same art assets, and my guess is that they are pretty skilled developers.
Activision recognises the importance of the franchise, and will dedicate whatever resources are necessary to turn out a quality product. And, in case you didn’t notice, the people at IW make a ton of money, so Activision should have no trouble recruiting high quality replacements for the people who left.”
I love ragging on Pachter, because he’s the personification of the faceless corporations that care only about the shareholder’s interests, and have no interest in the people who’ll actually be playing the games. His argument doesn’t hold up in my mind, either — assets or no assets, the spirit of the developer is gone, and the collective work ethic at IW’s surely taken a hit given the recent events. Then again, the only thing Pachter and Activision worry about is the profit margin, so we’ll have little chance of changing his mind.
For now, we can only wait — wait until Black Ops comes out, that is. Or wait for Respawn to get their developers together and actually do something.