Do You Care Where Your Games Come From?

I’m sure you’ve been following the unfolding events at Infinity Ward with the same horrified fascination as the rest of us. Last month it was revealed that studio heads Vince Zampella and Jason West were forced to leave IW following an investigation by parent company Activision that found “breaches of contract and insubordination by two senior employees”. The pair promptly sued Activision, claiming that they were unfairly dismissed just weeks before they were due to receive considerable royalty payments.

In the aftermath staff have been leaving IW in droves – around 10% of the workforce are believed to have resigned – and West and Zampella have formed a new studio, Respawn Entertainment. Rumors keep emerging that staff at IW have not received royalty fees for their work, although Activision continue to claim that they treat their staff ‘extremely well’. In an interview with the LA Times, chief financial officer, Thomas Tippl said:

“We treat our developers extremely well. We have an independent studio model that provides them a lot of creative freedom while we take care of the back office stuff so they can focus on making games.

“If their games are successful, they are compensated better here than anywhere else. We’ve been paying our talent millions of dollars for their work. Our setup provides a win-win opportunity. We ensure your work will reach a wide audience. Therefore, we have attracted, and we will continue to attract, the top talent in this industry.”

It’s hard to know what to make of all of these claims and counter-claims. It’s difficult to tally Activision’s claims of a well-treated workforce with the mass exodus that’s occurring at Infinity Ward, but equally it’s difficult to know whether the walkouts are due to personal grievances or genuine mistreatment by the company. For now, all we can do is speculate on the sidelines as the tawdry details are revealed, press release after press release.

But the media circus currently surrounding Activision does raise an important question – if games companies are genuinely mistreating their employees, should we exercise our consumer rights to boycott their products? Should we down control pads onModern Warfare 2 in protest? I must add at this point that no mistreatment has been proven in the case of Activision, but perhaps the situation does highlight a general trend in the games industry of developers being pressured into working extremely long hours, often with little overtime payment.

Interestingly, another story emerged today of the possible mistreatment of workers in a Chinese factory that produces mice, keyboards and Xbox controllers for Microsoft. It’s obviously a very different case to what’s happening at IW, but it does raise the general question – Do you care where your games and hardware come from? And would you boycott a game or console if it was produced under harsh conditions?

Answers on a postcard please…