The Call of Duty franchise has become a certified pop-culture juggernaut, with a new game on shelves each fall and over $10 billion in sales as of 2014. But that doesn't mean everything has always been smooth sailing behind the scenes of one of the most successful video game franchises of all time.
In 2010, Call of Duty developers Infinity Ward had pulled the franchise out of World War II with the massively successful Modern Warfare titles. Gamers were shocked when news broke that March that Activision had fired Infinity Ward co-founders Jason West and Vince Zampella, an event that set off a string of lawsuits and the resignation of many of the remaining Infinity Ward employees. Five years later, however, one of the key talents who departed during that tumultuous period is returning to the company he left behind.
Polygon reports that former Call of Duty lead designer Todd Alderman is returning to Infinity Ward as a multiplayer project director. Alderman was with Infinity Ward from the start, following West and Zampella to help found the company in 2002, after working together on Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. Along with many Infinity Ward employees, he left the company shortly after West and Zampella's firing in 2010.
In a prepared statement, Alderman told Polygon:
The chance to come back to Infinity Ward and Call of Duty is something I didn't think would ever happen. It's been five years since I've been here and a lot has changed. There are a lot of new faces and motivated people who want to make something great. It's a really cool game concept that I want to be a part of. I can't wait to see what we do with a three-year dev cycle.
That last comment refers to Activision's decision to transition the Call of Duty games from a two-year to a three-year development cycle. Those duties are divided among three developers: Sledgehammer Games, who were behind last year's Advanced Warfare; Infinity Ward, who last handled 2013's Call of Duty: Ghosts and who will presumably be on deck for the 2016 title; and Treyarch, who developed both Black Ops games.
After leaving Infinity Ward in 2010, Alderman was part of the "Infinity Ward Employee Group" that sued Activision over unpaid bonuses for work on Modern Warfare 2. They were eventually paid $42 million, but clearly Activision isn't holding a grudge. Infinity Ward studio head David Stohl tells Polygon, "This is about hiring the best talent for the right position. Todd's accomplishments speak for themselves. We're happy to have him lead multiplayer development here at Infinity Ward as well as provide a level of leadership across the entire studio team."
Releasing a new installment of a AAA game franchise every year like clockwork is no easy task, nor is keeping the series fresh and innovative enough to merit each new chapter. Alderman was there at the start, and returns with the perspective granted by a few years outside of the Call of Duty trenches. There's no question he'll be valuable in helping carve out the franchise's path into the future.
Activision hasn't released many details about this year's Call of Duty installment, but they confirmed in February that it's being developed by Treyarch. Given that Treyarch's back catalog includes World at War, Black Ops, and Black Ops II, speculation persists that Call of Duty 2015 will be a follow-up to one of those titles. Expect more information in coming weeks as E3 inches closer.