West, Zampella abruptly exit Activision

“Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2″ may have been last year’s biggest-selling videogame, but Activision has had little time to celebrate: A battle’s been taking place at the publisher over who will produce future installments in the franchise.

Activision, the industry’s largest vidgame publisher, said Tuesday it has tapped Philip Earl to head up a new unit to shepherd the “Call of Duty” franchise, after its creators Jason West and Vince Zampella abruptly ankled the company. Activision is accusing West and Zampella of breach of contract and insubordination, according to an SEC filing this week.

Earl, who runs Activision’s Asia Pacific division, will be tasked with expanding the series in new directions, including online and geographic markets. The company is in talks with partners to expand “Call of Duty” in Asia.

This year will be another important one for the “Call of Duty” franchise, said Mike Griffith, prexy-CEO of Activision Publishing. “In addition to continued catalog sales, new downloadable content from Infinity Ward and a new ‘Call of Duty’ release, we are excited about the opportunity to bring the franchise to new geographies, genres and players.”

Sledgehammer Games’ Glen A. Schofield and Michael Condrey (behind Electronic Arts’ “Dead Space” franchise) will handle development of future “Call of Duty” installments, taking over from Infinity Ward, the company West and Zampella founded and Activision acquired in 2003.

Activision chief technology officer Steve Pearce and head of production Steve Ackrich will temporarily run Infinity Ward.

In order to make sure new versions of the game were ready to bow each year, Activision had been splitting development of “Call of Duty” between two companies — Infinity Ward, which oversaw last year’s “Modern Warfare 2,” and Treyarch, which will release a new sequel this fall.

Schofield and Condrey recently landed at Activision after ankling Electronic Arts (Daily Variety, Nov. 17). The two had shepherded the sci-fi horror franchise “Dead Space” there. They will start by overseeing the seventh installment in the “Call of Duty” series, set to hit store shelves next year.

“Modern Warfare 2″ has earned more than $1 billion worldwide since its November release. It set entertainment industry records last year when it sold 4.7 million copies in its first day in the U.S. and U.K. and was the first game to earn $550 million in five days.

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