"Oh no, what's Bobby said now?" • Page 2

The Kotick conundrum.

You don't need to be an Activision Blizzard shareholder to know which games he was referring to. But it's the final comment that will hurt the most - and EA knows it.

Kotick's Achilles' heel is the subject he has been most vilified for, and feels most painfully misrepresented over: Infinity Ward.

As one senior source put it to me: "Bobby was always a loose canon in respect of keeping secrets, revealing stuff in analyst calls that just wasn't ready to be announced. He's used to saying things without consulting the rest of the organisation."

But the build-up to and fallout from his sacking of Infinity Ward's Jason West and Vince Zampella was another matter.

"Bobby was very cut up about Infinity Ward - it's a two-sided story," says the insider. "Activision in the end acted too quickly, but equally Infinity Ward had behaved so extremely and inappropriately, what did they expect?"

The source claims Infinity Ward's bosses had for some time been "nasty" towards the "Activision machine", refusing to work with certain staff while becoming increasingly "diva-like" in their demands.

The success of Call of Duty, it is alleged, "went to their heads so they started treating the publisher like s*** and doing things that were inappropriate". In other words: "If they didn't like you, you were moved off [their titles]".

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The friction is said to stem back to a disagreement over the direction of the Call of Duty brand after the second instalment. Activision wanted to turn it into an annual franchise and IW refused to play ball - with Treyarch enlisted to plug the gap.

It's believed the pair could have quit after the original Modern Warfare, only staying after they got "everything they wanted".

But by the time of Modern Warfare 2's release, this tension had grown into a full-blown - and ultimately unresolvable - power-struggle over the $3bn COD brand, which paved the way for the studio bosses' dramatic sacking.

Kotick sees this as a betrayal because he took a risk and backed the duo following the release of Medal of Honor: Allied Assault in 2002. Zampella and West wanted out of their relationship with EA and Activision offered them sanctuary, funding the project that became Call of Duty.

None of which is to absolve Activision of blame in the matter: rather to suggest the blame most likely lies on both sides.

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Critics of Zampella and West now see them exploiting the (well-earned, in fairness) power they have accrued as game makers to play Activision and EA off each other and secure a new deal with their old publisher on their own terms.

Which gives EA the easiest of retorts every time Kotick calls into question its relationship with developers - hence Brown's statement. In essence: "Good luck with Modern Warfare 3, mate (LOL!!!)". (The schadenfreude is of course tinged with EA's still-raw recollection of its own hard-to-shake 'Evil Empire' reputation.)

As chief executive of a huge enterprise, his responsibility to shareholders will by definition put him at odds with gamers. But to suggest Kotick is not therefore passionate about the games industry seems to me wrong-headed and unfair.

The real problem is, as Sony president Howard Stringer nailed it: "He likes to make a lot of noise".

As the longest-serving CEO of a leading publisher, Bobby Kotick is also one of the most successful individuals in gaming.

But the one lesson he has apparently still to learn is that you can make all the noise you want, but the best way to silence critics is to keep on making great, successful games.

And with the future of previous safe bets like Guitar Hero and Call of Duty by no means certain, there ought to be plenty to keep him occupied.

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