"I had just finished playing 'Black Ops' at
Treyarch, and when I walked out of the room, there he was standing
there to ask me what I thought," said
Keighley told a visibly relieved Lamia he thought it was the best game Treyarch, owned by
The question is whether the best for Treyarch will be good enough for "Call of Duty" fans.
On Tuesday, when "Black Ops" hits store shelves, investors and fans of the franchise will be laser-focused on Treyarch and whether it can deliver the same lofty reviews, and blockbuster sales, as previous "Call of Duty" games developed by Infinity Ward, the studio that created the series but was decimated when Activision fired its two studio heads in March.
If "Black Ops" is able to match or exceed the estimated 20 million copies sold by "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2," which was developed by Infinity Ward and released last November, it could prove to gamers and investors that the franchise has a future. If it falls short, it could demonstrate that gamers are souring on "Call of Duty" and one of Activision's pillars is in danger of crumbling.
"It takes a few iterations to build a blockbuster franchise," said
No one is more aware of this than Lamia. His studio has developed two other "Call of Duty" games — "Call of Duty 3" in 2006 and "World at War" in 2008. Both have sold millions of copies and were considered financial successes in their own rights.
But Treyarch historically toiled under the shadow of Infinity Ward, the Activision-owned
"Much of the characterization of Treyarch as being the B team is accurate," Wilson said. "Then again, it's important to note that just about everybody is the B team if you compare them to Infinity Ward."
That distinction ended when
With Zampella and West gone, Lamia inherited sole possession of one of Activision's biggest and most lucrative properties. It's a role Lamia, who doesn't boast the artistic background of many game developers, arguably has groomed for during his 15-year career at the company.
After graduating from Loyola Law School, Lamia took an entry-level job at Activision in 1995, burning CD-ROM discs in the company's lab. He worked his way up to become assistant producer, producer and then, eventually, vice president of North American studios. He switched to Treyarch in 2006 and became its studio chief a year later.
Affable and animated, Lamia earned a reputation as a go-to executive when Activision needed to get things done, whether it was signing a publishing deal with a developer or making sure a game ships on time and on budget.
"Mark is an Activision lifer, someone who could always get the job done," said Keighley, a longtime game journalist. "If all goes well with 'Black Ops,' I expect he will be the man in charge of this 'Call of Duty' brand going forward."
Lamia feels the pressures facing his
"More than ever, our work has to speak for itself," Lamia said. "The game we made is different and unique. If we can focus on doing our best work, we can produce work that is at the top of our industry."
Lamia's studio is the antithesis of Infinity Ward, which had a testy relationship with Activision Chief Executive
Since Activision acquired Treyarch in 2001, the corporate parent has steered the game studio to its own priorities, including developing sequels of games from licenses such as Spider-Man. Since 2008, however, it has focused solely on "Call of Duty."
Set during the Cold War era, "Black Ops" thrusts
players in the role of CIA agents working on top-secret operations
including the Bay of Pigs invasion in
"After we made World at War, we wanted to focus on something entirely new and creative," Lamia said. "The Cold War was totally fertile ground, and we've added elements that have never been seen in a 'Call of Duty' game before."
For many gamers, the ability to compete online against friends and strangers is what makes "Call of Duty" worth buying. "Black Ops" tries to expand on that heritage with an array of new online features, including the ability to record multi-player matches, edit the video to create combat movies and share the clips with other players.
"A lot of the questions for Treyarch come down to
the multi-player, because that's where Infinity Ward was off the
With a budget estimated at more than
That said, the company isn't counting on sales to
hold up as well. Its financial projections assume that "Black Ops" will
sell less during the quarter ending
Activision is already investing heavily in "Call of
Duty" beyond this year. Along with Treyarch and a reorganized Infinity
Ward, the publisher has established a new studio in
Executives have told investors that a major expansion for "Call of Duty" is coming soon in
"The deck has really been cleared on 'Call of Duty,' and now the moment is Treyarch's," Sessler said. "The question is if they can seize it."
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