A lot of Call of Duty fans were been too busy playing the gun game to pay a whole lot of attention to the legal drama behind the departure of Infinity Ward head honchos Jason West and Vince Zampella in 2010. Without getting into all the gory lawyer-speak, this was the biggest shakeup in the studio’s history: nearly half the studio’s remaining personnel left in the months following the departure of West and Zampella. So what did this do to the company?
Let’s look at something else: Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk, founders of acclaimed RPG developer Bioware, announced their retirement from the video game industry in September. Their biography makes for an awe-inspiring read: graduate from med school, found a game company, make some of the best damn RPGs of all time. Reading about people like this is why I curl up in my underwear with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s at night sometimes and cry at my lack of life achievements.
My own self-esteem issues aside, Bioware is undisputedly one of the biggest names in RPGs today. With franchises like Dragon Age, Knights of the Old Republic, Baldur’s Gate (and oh yes, Mass Effect) under its belt, there isn’t much that Bioware has left to prove. Which is why, at the pinnacle of their company’s career (or coming down from it, depending on who you ask), it makes absolute sense for Muzyka and Zeschuk to leave. They’ve done basically all they wanted to do in the field, and frankly, Bioware is no longer their company anyways, having been absorbed by EA in 2007.
Finally, we get to Dude Huge himself, Cliff Bleszinski. Having been with Epic Games for some twenty years, Cliffy B oversaw some of the most bro-tastic games in the industry, including Unreal Tournament and Gears of War. Answer me this: how many other men would have the straight-up balls to put a chainsaw on a machine gun? None. None is the answer.
Besides helping to bring us some of the most facepalm-worthy lines in the history of gaming (Cole Train, anyone?), Cliff brought a unique perspective to development of Gears. Learning about how his divorce impacted the brutal, yet sometimes oddly beautiful (yeah, I said it) Gears universe really made me appreciate the subdued threads of sentimentality that often get overlooked amongst the curbstomping.
In the end, is there a significance to the departures of the high-profile faces of game companies? I would argue that there really isn’t. Sure, they might be the faces of their studios (in Infinity Ward’s case, it’s more the studio that was at least for a time the face of the Call of Duty franchise), but their real significance is what they accomplish before they bow out from the stage. PR figures come and go; Kevin Butler isn’t going to be much more than a speck on the gaming scene in a few years, though a successful one at that. But the significant figures of gaming are the ones that make a real impact on the face of the industry, both in terms of design and sales. That they aren’t attached to the company or franchise that they made their name in, doesn’t mean that the influence disappears from their company, nor does it diminish their contributions to the field at large, and they should take pride that their fingerprints live on in the permanent digital landscape of gaming.