Robert “fourzerotwo” Bowling shocked the Call of Duty community at the end of March when he announced that he was no longer a member of the Infinity Ward team or an employee of publisher Activision. Unlike the 2010 departure of Infinity Ward founders and Call of Duty creators Jason West and Vince Zampella, it appeared that community relations manager Bowling’s split from the company was amicable, but it was no less mysterious. One month later, it’s clear just what Browning took off for: He’s opened Robotoki, his own development studio.
GameInformer reported on Tuesday morning that Bowling moved to open his studio immediately following his resignation from Activision. “Robotoki is focused on being a developer development studio that just happens to make games. We are focused on our team first and everything else second, because I believe as an industry; we have a lot to learn on how to treat talent,” said Bowling. “While we continue to out stride film and music entertainment in other areas, we are falling severely behind in how to properly inspire and support our creative talent.”
That emphasis on creativity over profitability and the treatment of creators may shed more light on why Bowling decided to leave Infinity Ward after six years with the studio. Bowling worked on every Call of Duty title following Call of Duty 2, a period when the series became the fastest selling game franchise in history. It was also a time when Activision was regularly criticized for stifling creativity in the name of a ceaseless production cycle. Activision fired Zampella and West after they met with Electronic Arts to explore new creative opportunities.
Bowling is interested in fostering an environment where creators won’t feel the need to go elsewhere to feel valued and free to create. “I wanted to create an environment where the creative vision holders held complete control over their work and could guide and maintain it from concept to execution.”
Robotoki’s first game will be available on a broad swatch of platforms including iOS, Android, PCs, and the next generation of consoles. “As a developer, our focus is on creating a universe first, experiences second, and game mechanics last. With focus on universe, we aim to create experiences that transcend platforms and genres and allow our players to connect to our world, their characters, and gameplay via any medium (console, PC, or mobile.)”
Bowling’s utopian vision of game development is admirable, certainly more so than the mercenary business philosophy of Activision, but Bowling’s comments are concerning. Emphasizing story and universe building over play is just as destructive as building story just to serve a play idea. Universe, experience, and mechanics need to be conceived simultaneously for a game to be great, not consecutively. This new studio is built on fine principals. Here’s hope Bowling and his compatriots create something to match them.