Recent events at Infinity Ward, the team behind Modern Warfare 2, have forever changed the future of the Modern Warfare franchise. On March 1st, the heads of Infinity Ward, Jason West and Vince Zampella, were fired by Activision for reasons that are not completely clear. The widely held belief is that the dispute involved the direction of future Modern Warfare titles, possibly that West and Zampella wanted to take it in a new direction their owner wasn't comfortable with. A lawsuit filed by West and Zampella for compensation and control of the Modern Warfare IP quickly followed. This whole debacle raises the question, where does Modern Warfare go from here?
The fate of Modern Warfare is, naturally, tied to the result of the litigation between Activision and their former employees. If Activision retains ownership of the IP it's very likely the current team at Infinity Ward, which is still owned by Activision, would continue onto developing Modern Warfare 3. What's interesting about this scenario is the potential delay legal issues could cause; Activision could theoretically be forced to delay the release of Modern Warfare 3 if the legal battle persists. History points to a fall 2011 release if everything goes Activision's way in court.
The more interesting result would be if Activision loses control of the Modern Warfare brand. If it were to be awarded to West and Zampella, what would they do with it? The obvious answer suggests a partnership with Electronic Arts. Reports from Activision suggest the company feared EA was already speaking with Infinity Ward's leadership about future endeavors. The fact that West and Zampella originally came from EA before they started making Call of Duty lends weight to this idea. However, EA already has a substantial first-person shooter catalogue; they just released Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and seemingly have a Modern Warfare clone on their hands with the latest Medal of Honor. Would they even be interested in adding Modern Warfare? Considering Modern Warfare 2 was one of the most successful games ever, they probably would.
EA is by no means the only publisher with enough resources to make a bid for Modern Warfare. It would certainly have to come from a large publisher such as Take-Two, Ubisoft, THQ, or perhaps even Warner Bros. Warner seems like a dark horse contender; they're game publishing unit has been growing rapidly over the last few years, they recently purchased Rocksteady, makers of Batman: Arkham Asylum, and they have the benefit of operating in other forms of media, which gives them the ability to raise more capital. All of these factors give Warner the opportunity to make a strong pitch to West and Zampella.
There's also the possibility a platform holder, namely Sony or Microsoft, would make a run at Modern Warfare. Having the next Modern Warfare title exclusively on either console would give Sony or Microsoft the opportunity to sell a substantial amount of extra systems. Of the two, Microsoft seems more likely to make a serious bid. West and Zampella will have learnt the value of owning their IP by now so becoming a first party studio at either platform holder is unlikely. Microsoft is generally much more willing to throw large sums of money at some kind of exclusivity without actual ownership - the $50 million deal for GTA episodic content being a great example. This plays against Sony's strategy of possessing a large network of internal studios. However, Sony may be attractive to the former Infinity Ward heads because they have given developers room to be creative and taken many risks on new ideas such as LittleBigPlanet, Shadow of the Colossus, and Heavy Rain.
The future of Modern Warfare is very uncertain at this point. What's certain is regardless of which party, be it Activision or West and Zampella, wins control of the Modern Warfare brand the next game will be shaped by the drama that unfolded this month. We may never know how Modern Warfare 3 would've turned out under West and Zampella's stewardship if they remained at Activision. Whatever the outcome is the road there will be anything but smooth.