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Activision vs West and Zampella case delayed, participants speak out

Friday, 25 May 2012 00:20 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Infinity Ward founders and former leaders Jason West and Vince Zampella, along with attorney Robert M. Schwartz, have broken a long silence to speak openly about the events leading up to Activision’s dismissal of both creatives and the resulting mess of lawsuits and counter-suits.

Polygon reports the long-awaited trial has been slightly delayed, from May 29 to June 1, with presiding judge Elihu Berle predicting the case will be complete in less than 20 days, as it’s “not that complicated”.

Those who have been following the case may disagree, but in a pair of revealing interviews, West, Zampella and Schwartz certainly paint a compelling picture of a one-sided case – although notably, Activision is refusing to comment, so the publisher’s side of the story is unknown.

Speaking to GameInformer, West and Zampella’s attorney explained the case in simple terms, saying Activision is suing the pair of creatives for damages related to how much more money the publisher would have made if they had still been in place to make Modern Warfare 3. West and Zampella’s suit accuses Activision of termination without cause, which resulted in the pair’s loss of significant financial compensation.

“Basically Activision is saying that they are bad guys [who] needed to be fired, and Activision had a contract for their services and was deprived of the value of not getting ­better ­games,” Schwartz said.

One month before their termination, just a few months from the end of their Activision contracts, West and Zampella claim to have been negotiating a new agreement with Activision in which they gave up rights granted in their last contract, like the chance to do something that wasn’t Modern Warfare 3, but asked to hire up to ten staff from Infinity Ward for their new independent studio. They were then informed that they were under investigation; document suggest the operation, Project Icebreaker, was going on for over a year.

Notoriously, Activision accused West and Zampella of conspiring to run off with EA, although this portion of the suit has since been dropped; the pair maintain nothing came of their discussions with EA boss John Riccitiello.

“In October or November their lawyer and their agent got a phone call from EA saying, ‘Hey, are they interested? Would they be interested? What’s going on?’ Activision was under serious negotiations with them, so they sent a phone call back saying, ‘Look, we’re trying to work things out with Activision, so we’re not going to be able to respond to that, thank you very much.’ And that ­was ­it,” Schwartz said.

Nevertheless, the two were dismissed on grounds of “insubordination”. In another interview with Gamespot, Schwartz said that West and Zampella were devastated by their termination.

“These guys had been keeping Activision afloat. If you look at the financials, they were the biggest contributor to Activision’s bottom line of anything they had. They thought they were doing a great job,” he said.

“They were stunned, they were shocked, and they were demoralised. They had to start all over from scratch. They had to leave all their technology behind, and they had nothing. It’s been a very difficult process for them that they should have never had to go through.”

While on the personal level, Schwartz was adamant regarding Activision CEO Bobby Kotick’s role in West and Zampella’s termination.

“He is the central guy. He made the decision to fire them more than a year before they were fired. He never intended to honor the contract,” the attorney said.

Both interviews linked above are well worth a read for anybody interested in publisher-developer relations or Call of Duty’s development history.

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10 Comments

  1. Lacobus

    I’ve heard Activison’s side of the story and it’s not as black and white as everyone is making it out to be.

    The trouble dates back to Call of Duty 3. Activison started to notice this series was exploding and wanted to keep the momentum going with yearly franchises, so asked their employees, West and Zampella to deliver COD 3. After just releasing the highly successful COD 2 West and Zampella were adamant it couldn’t be done and wanted two years to make Modern Warfare. In fact, I’ve heard the success of COD had gone to West and Zampella’s heads and even though Infinity Ward was now owned by Activison they kept interfering in things like the marketing which was done by Activison Corporate. Activision though well within their rights to ask their employees to work within their schedule acceded to their demands, moving development of COD 3 over to Treyarch (who had only just completed the console COD 2: Big Red One). Treyarch then proceeded to make COD 3 in seven months released on all platforms to great success. This pissed West and Zampella off A LOT. They followed this set up for a few years, Treyarch and Infinity Ward taking bi-yearly turns on the franchise. Now after Modern Warfare 2 was released, Activison expected Infinity Ward to start work on Modern Warfare 3. West and Zampella who by now thought they were rock stars demanded some extended time off. Bearing in mind Activison had already bent over backwards for these two and expecting your employees to turn up for work tomorrow is hardly the machinations of an evil corporation had decided enough was enough. They didn’t need these diva’s anymore so fired them.

    This only a story I heard (from an Acti employee) so could be wrongwrongwrong. Interesting if true though. Either way I cant wait to see how this case is going to turn out.

    #1 3 years ago
  2. Phoenixblight

    @1

    Those emails paint a whole different picture and without Zampella and West Activision wouldn’t be where they are now. And withholding payments when they are due, huge fat no-no.

    #2 3 years ago
  3. G1GAHURTZ

    This only a story I heard (from an Acti employee) so could be wrongwrongwrong.

    Was his name Bobby Kotick!?

    So basically what you’re accusing West and Zampella of is trying to push Acti as hard as possible in order to make the game as good as they thought it could be, instead of sitting back and being ‘yes men’.

    Further to that, you use CoD3 as some sort of evidence that a the two weren’t doing their jobs properly!

    Are you sane!!?

    CoD3 is one of the worst games I’ve ever played in my life! I’ve been gaming for the best part of three decades, and the ONLY time I can ever remember seeing something as bad as an enemy NPC literally SPAWNING RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME was during the disastrous excuse for a campaign that is in that game.

    Don’t even get me started on the multiplayer, either.

    Ask any gamer (you sound more like a PR guy) what they’d rather have; a good game that takes two years or more to release, or a ‘passable’ one that takes less than one year, and see what they say.

    Sounds to me from what you’re saying is that West and Zampella were fired for being actual game developers who cared about their product.

    You can tell Bobby I said that, too.

    #3 3 years ago
  4. Lacobus

    @3

    Hey, I’M not accusing anyone of anything, this is a story I heard not my opinion on the whole affair. I was just trying to offer the other side a story as the media and various commenters seem to be pretty one-sided. Do you think it’s was right for W+Z to push (and push) their employers? I know if I disagreed with everything my boss wanted me to do he’d get angry pretty quickly.

    I think your personal opinion of COD 3 is irrelevant. The game was a touch more successful than COD 2, and it wasn’t on PC either which makes that statistic more amazing, the facts don’t lie, the ‘average’ gamer went out and bought it in their droves. And I will get you started on the multiplayer, I was under the impression it was considered the best part of the game (I am a gamer as it happens, I remember the bridge level being particularly awesome).

    And finally, I don’t think W+Z were fired for being ‘actual’ game developers, I think the moral of the story (if there is one) is that they shouldn’t have sold out to Activison in the first place.

    #4 3 years ago
  5. G1GAHURTZ

    I worked in the games industry for about 9 years, and it didn’t take me long to realise that there are always a number of continuous battles going on in order for people to consider themselves to have done their job properly.

    I’m an artist by trade, and the more responsibility I got throughout my career, the more time I spent arguing and fighting with coders over why it was more important for the game to look good than be ultra efficient.

    There are always battles going on. Between artists and coders, production and marketing, etc. and if there’s an external producer, as we have in this case, you’d better believe that he’s going to ride into town every other month or so with a ‘why aren’t you finished yet!?’ attitude.

    The publisher wants it yesterday, but the (professional) developers want to do it to the best of their ability, and in their own time.

    Face the facts… If West and Zampella were the kind of guys who just did what Acti said all the time, the CoD series would probably be languishing alongside Guitar Hero right now.

    And you can’t compare sales of a launch title with one that came out to a bigger install base and, let’s face it, stood on the shoulders of it’s prequel in order to get sales.

    The CoD3 MP was unbalanced, and that’s why noone plays it any more. I can show you hardcore pro CoD players who still go back to CoD2 from time to time for some sniping gameplay.

    No one plays CoD3 any more unless they’re masochistic.

    #5 3 years ago
  6. YoungZer0

    @3: Are we talking about MW3? Because i thought the campaign made much more sense than the campaign in MW2.

    #6 3 years ago
  7. DSB

    With all due respect, I think Zampella and West were in a much higher league than the artist/coder level, and I don’t think they could’ve had that kind of success without realizing that they were some of the hottest shit in the industry.

    They did hire a Hollywood talent agency to front them, and that has to be seen as pretty aggressive. What was that agency going to do, besides pressure Activision and potentially look for other options?

    That being said, from the e-mails it certainly does look like Activision were at best making contingencies in case they did become too much trouble. And at worst scheming and lying in wait.

    Even if Lacobus story is true, that still does very little to acquit Activision.

    #7 3 years ago
  8. Lacobus

    You HAVE to compare sales though. The only other measure of quality is Metacritic and companies don’t run on review scores. It is a fair comparison too, COD 2 and 3 were both console launch titles for the 360 and PS3 respectively. Ok more people had 360′s a year later but the install base of PC’s is a little bit bigger than that.

    I just think everyone loves to hate ‘The Man’, and in this case it’s Kotick and Activision. I don’t see any game company as evil (mmm…maybe Zynga), and this idea that W+Z are ‘fighting for the people’ is crap. No-one knows what went down really, just what W+Z have been classily spouting out in the media.

    #8 3 years ago
  9. G1GAHURTZ

    Trust me, I’m probably the biggest CoD player that you’ve ever come into contact with. I have every single version of CoD, from CoD2 up to MW3, with multiple copies of the same games on multiple platforms.

    The first ever CoD I bought and played was CoD3. I played it for about 2hrs, then didn’t touch it again until about 2 years later, after I’d played (and thoroughly enjoyed) both CoD4 and CoD2.

    If anyone wanted to enjoy a CoD game when I played CoD3, it was me.

    But I didn’t. Because it was rubbish. It was a bug ridden mess, and even Treyarch openly admit that.

    I played CoD2 after CoD3, but I could see that it was a better game.

    A finished, polished game.

    Not a 7 month, asset copy and paste, bodge job.

    Anyway, as for this case, then I’m not naive enough to think that West and Zampella are completely faultless.

    I just took issue with the way that your comment (whether it was your opinion or not) suggested that the two were scheming, jealous prima donnas, who were out to rip Activision off for no apparent reason. The fact that you used CoD3 as an example really didn’t help you case, either.

    At the end of the day, I think that West and Zampella will win this case with very little fuss. And that will be proof enough for everyone,

    #9 3 years ago
  10. Lacobus

    Haha fair enough. Like I say no-one knows what actually went on, least of all me. Some third hand story I heard off an ex-employee is hardly proof. I do feel I’m backed up slightly by bigheaded comments like ‘These guys were keeping Activision afloat’ (were they? umm.. Guitar Hero) but again thats hardly proof. And it should be noted that this story does come from the Activision operations end, not a developer. I suppose we’ll all find out soon.

    #10 3 years ago

Comments are now closed on this article.

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    Rock Band 4 will more closely emulate the feeling of being a real musician with some neat personalisation touches. For Rock Band 4, Harmonix elected to double down on player ownership of their experience rather than technical precision. To this end, it has implemented a number of cool new features. I am wildly envious of […]

  • Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, Lost Planet 3 developer shuttered

    Spark Unlimited has gone down with all hands. The Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z and Lost Planet 3 developer has been shuttered and all staff laid off. Chief technical officer John Butrovich confirmed the news in a statement issued to IGN. “Spark Unlimited is closing as a video game developer. The ongoing opportunities for smaller mobile […]

  • PS Now subscription available on PlayStation 3 this month, Vita coming soon

    PlayStation Now’s all you can eat service has finally been dated for PS3. Subscriptions to PS Now, Sony’s cloud-based gaming service, will be available on PS3 from May 12 in the US. The all you can eat package will also be made available on select Bravia TVs and Sony Blu-ray players on the same date. […]

  • GTA 5 is even better with a gravity gun

    GTA 5 modders have made a dream come true, adding a gravity gun to your arsenal of mayhem-causing weaponry. GTA 5 isn’t ready for this. It looks like a heck of a lot of fun, but the poor old Los Santos po po can’t deal with the resulting carnage at all. If Rockstar were ever […]

  • “Mod makers should be able to make money from their creations,” says DOOM creator

    DOOM co-creator John Romero has weighed in on the paid mods debate. Paid mods are a hot issue right now. For years, Valve has been enabling content creators to make money from their work on Counter-strike: Global offensive, Dota 2 and Team Fortress 2, but when it partnered with Bethesda to offer the same for […]

  • Watch WRC driver Kevin Abbring smash through a DIRT Rally challenge

    WRC driver Kevin Abbring has been participating in Dirt Rally’s daily events – and kicking ass. Dirt Rally seems to have ticked one of the most difficult to attain boxes of racing development – creating something professional drivers like to play, and which rewards their years of experience. Codemasters published the video below showing Hyundai […]

  • Mortal Kombat X patch to bring PC version up to console standard

    Mortal Kombat X PC will be fixed tomorrow, NetherRealm has promised. The PC version of Mortal Kombat X has come under fire for poor performance, including stuttering frame rate and bugs as plenty. About 45 minutes into a recent Twitch stream, NetherRealm boss Ed Boon said an update will drop tomorrow to address many of […]

  • Destiny House of Wolves: all new Crucible maps detailed

    Destiny’s House of Wolves DLC will add four new maps to the Crucible, the game’s competitive multiplayer mode. Let’s take a look at all of them. Alex brings you new footage showing all of the four maps that will drop with House of Wolves. He goes over the layout, landmarks, gameplay styles, and other important […]

  • Custom Xbox One Star Wars controllers look very tempting

    Microsoft is celebrating May 4 by showing off concept designs for Star Wars-themed Xbox One controllers. May 4 is of course Star Wars Day and the controller concepts you’re about to see are just that, concepts. Or at least that’s what they said they are. There are four designs and they don’t look very practical. […]

  • Project Cars launch trailer is an anthology of race cars, set to the beats of Deadmau5

    Project Cars comes out this week and there’s just enough time for one last trailer. Project Cars, Slightly Mad Studios’ ambitious racer that has been in development for ages, is finally coming out this week. The racer received plenty of changes throughout its development based on community feedback and the final product will be in […]

  • Star Wars Battlefront dev reveals planet Sullust

    Sullust, a planet that has not been previously shown, will be featured in one of Star Wars Battlefront’s maps. Star Wars Battlefront developer DICE revealed today that planet Sullust will be one of the game’s locations. The planet was mentioned in the films and other Star Wars works, but was only shown today. DICE posted […]

  • Destiny House of Wolves: Tower vendor changes

    House of Wolves will change the inventory of some of Destiny’s vendors and add new roles to others. Here’s everything that has been announced so far. You know that House of Wolves will bring a new social space to the game in the form of The Reef. But did you also know that the good […]

  • Nintendo apologises for Amiibo shortages, will reissue some out-of-stock figures

    Nintendo released a statement today to apologise for fan’s frustrations in finding some Amiibo figures and promised to handle distribution better going forward. Nintendo has been criticised recently for its lack of communication when it comes to new Amiibo figures. Something which has lead fans to not know if certain figures are limited to some […]

  • Halo: MCC “a black eye for us,” Halo 5 won’t suffer the same fate, says franchise director

    The development of Halo: The Master Chief Collection was of an “outrageous complexity,” which was one of the reasons it suffered a horrible launch. None of that will happen with Halo 5: Guardians, according to Frank O’Connor. Frank O’Connor, Halo franchise development director opened up to Xbox Achievements about the difficult task of developing The […]

  • Destiny House of Wolves: weapon Reforging explained

    When House of Wolves drops in a couple of weeks, you’ll be able to change the stats of some in-game weapons. This process is called ‘Reforging’. Alex goes over all the details Bungie revealed about the new Reforging system. This covers the materials you need, the weapons that can be reforged and much more. Make […]

  • GTA 5 PC: control the in-game phone with your iPhone using this mod

    GTA 5′s latest mod lets you control the in-game phone with your real-life iPhone. Reddit user Planetleak wanted to see if he would succeed in getting his iPhone to control the phone in GTA 5. He did it and has a video to prove it. It’s not a mod per-se, but it emulates mouse and […]

  • SoulCalibur dev wants to know fans’ favourite characters for “something huge”

    SoulCalibur developers are probably working on a new game, because they’re asking fans to vote on their favourite characters. Project Soul, the longtime developer of the SoulCalibur series is soliciting feedback on fans’ favourite characters. The developer said as much in a post on its Facebook page. “Calling all SoulCalibur Fans! Project Soul would like […]

  • Jason Voorhees doesn’t look out of place in new Mortal Kombat X trailer

    Jason Voorhees comes to Mortal Kombat X starting tomorrow and it’s time to celebrate his arrival. Jason Voorhees, the first DLC character for Mortal Kombat X has been given the trailer treatment. Jason is part of the game’s Kombat Pack, owners of which can start using him tomorrow, May 5. Being an iconic horror character, […]

  • Dragon Age: Inquisition – Dragonslayer DLC announced, free to all this week

    Dragon Age: Inquisition is getting a multiplayer expansion this week. BioWare has announced that all owners of Dragon Age: Inquisition will receive a new multiplayer expansion, for free. The expansion is called Dragonslayer and it’s centred around fighting dragons, hence the name. Three new playable characters will join the roster as you explore an all-new […]

  • Sonder is still happening, and this is the best news of the week

    Sonder is a really interesting-looking new indie adventure, which I am quite excited to remember exists. We first heard about Sonder in late 2013, when its debut trailer introduced us to a Kamai Media’s ambitious vision. In the intervening months Kamai has been hard at work on its space station management sim slash non-linear narrative […]

  • Twitter axes playable Internet Archive embeds

    The dream has died: Twitter has disabled Internet Archive game embeds. Remember how for a few days you could tweet a link to an a game on the Internet Archive and it was playable direct from that tweet? Well, Twitter has cancelled that. All those tweets now just show links. GamesIndustry suspects it has something […]

  • Lords of the Fallen, Divinity: Original Sin developers will reveal new games at E3 2015

    Lords of the Fallen developer Deck13 and Divinity: Original Sin developer Larian Studios have new projects in the works which will be revealed at E3 2015. Publisher Focus Home Interactive is behind both new games. In a French press release [PDF] spotted by RPG Codex, Focus said it will show off the two unrevealed titles […]

  • Rare game announce expected at E3 2015

    Rare’s new game will be shown off at E3 2015, apparently. Rare hasn’t announced a reveal, and neither has Microsoft, but it looks like the news has slipped out anyway. IGN cites a tweet from Rare creative director Simon Woodroffe in which he says that a new project from Rare designer Gregg Mayles will be […]

  • Batgirl expansion included in $40 Batman: Arkham Knight season pass

    Here’s what you get in the $40 Batman: Arkham Knight season pass. Batman: Arkham Knight’s season pass was announced last week, but apart from the news that it would cost a whopping $40/£33, we didn’t get many details of what it would include. Thankfully, Warner Bros. has since acknowledged the clamour this caused, as players […]

  • Star Wars Day Xbox sale discounts Force Unleashed, Lego games

    Star Wars Day is upon us, and here’s an Xbox sale to mark it. Microsoft is offering discounts on Xbox 360 games to celebrate May 4. From my desk here in Australia the sale is a bit light on content – two Lego games, plus The Force Unleashed and its DLC packs. Your mileage may […]

  • Here’s hoping this tease means we see Mass Effect at E3 2015

    Mass Effect boss Mike Gamble has shared a teaser image, which we’re more than happy to draw speculative conclusions from. The new Mass Effect game in the works at BioWare Edmonton is a mysterious beast. Judging by how long it’s been in development, it feels like we’re about due for a proper reveal, to clear […]

  • Watch almost a whole hour of Wolfenstein: The Old Blood

    Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is almost here. Are you ready for old-school shooter action? Wolfenstein: The Old Blood publisher Bethesda livestreamed almost an hour of the Machine Games shooter recently, and has now uploaded the archive to YouTube. Check it out below: Wolfenstein: The Old Blood launches digitally on PC, PS4 and Xbox One on […]

  • Splatoon lacks voice chat to promote a positive online experience

    Nintendo’s multiplayer game Splatoon will not contain a voice chat option in order to “focus on the positive aspects” of online gaming. Speaking in the latest issue of Edge magazine (thanks, GamesRadar), Splatoon co-director Yusuke Amano said personal experience with negativity in online voice chat was one of the main reasons for excluding the feature. […]

  • D4 on PC: differences from Xbox One version, system specs announced

    D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die – Season 1 is coming to PC, and Access Games has provided a list of features different from the Xbox One version. We’ve pulled most of the changes off the game’s website and posted them below, along with the PC specs. D4 on PC Kinect gesture input controls replaced with […]

  • The Megalodon returns to Battlefield 4 with the latest CTE patch

    The Megalodon Easter Egg in Battlefield 4 may have been removed earlier this year from Naval Strike, but it has since resurfaced on the CTE with the latest patch. I’d make a Jaws reference, but it’s been done to death. The shark is shown in the video on the Paracel Storm map which was where […]

  • Survival horror game Kodoku has a new work-in-progress trailer

    Kodoku, the survival horror title from Carnivore Studio, has a new work-in-progress video available, showing you how the game is coming along. Announced for PlayStation 4 and Vita back in 2013, the game is slated for release sometime this year, and tasks the player with avoiding mythical Japanese ghosts using only magic and stealth. Thanks, […]

  • Current HoloLens prototype has noticeably “tighter” FoV compared to January build

    Microsoft’s augmented reality headset HoloLens is still very much in the prototype stage, according to various reports out of the Build Conference. Microsoft hasn’t discussed technical specs with the press yet as nothing is set in stone, but during a hands-on at Build, Ars Technica noticed the prototypes had a “x86 processor, 2GB RAM, 802.11ac […]

  • Silent Hills petition asking Konami to continue development has over 50,000 signatures

    A petition to save the Silent Hills game has been formed by fans in the hopes Konami will change its mind and bring the collaboration with Guillermo del Toro back from the dead. Konami confirmed on Monday the Silent Hill remake from film director Del Toro and Metal Gear’s Hideo Kojima had been cancelled, but […]

  • Attack on Titan has a US release date, title changed in EU over copyright claim

    Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains will be released under a different title in Europe, according to the publisher, and while a release date has been set for North America, the same cannot be said for fans across the pond. According to Atlus, a copyright claim in Europe has forced the company to publish the […]

  • Yooka-Laylee meets final Kickstarter Stretch Goal in less than 24 hours

    The Kickstarter for Playtonic’s Yooka-Laylee sailed beyond its final £1 million ($1.5 million) Stretch Goal overnight, which will allow for a simultaneous release on all announced platforms. Once funded, Yooka-Laylee was slated for release on Linux, Mac, PC, PlayStation 4, Wii U, and Xbox One; however, a simultaneous release on all platforms wasn’t guaranteed unless […]

  • Not a Hero will miss its May 7 release date, but not by much

    Not a Hero will miss its May 7 release date, according to an announcement from Roll7. Not to worry though, it’s only by a week. According to the developer, the delay is due to “having undergone super-secret upgrades to crank shit up to 60fps.” The extra week will provide the additional time needed for tweaking […]

  • Assassin’s Creed, The Crew, Far Cry 4, other Ubisoft titles on sale through the Humble Store

    Ubisoft has put a number of its games on sale through the Humble Store. Franchises Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry are on discount as are single release titles. The list of games on sale are below. For pricing in your region, head over to the Humble Store. Anno 2070 Complete Edition Assassin’s Creed 3 Assassin’s […]

  • Payday 2: Repeater rifle, Peacemaker pistol introduced with The Butcher’s Western Pack

    Overkill Software released the 21st DLC pack for Payday 2 yesterday, titled The Butcher’s Western Pack. The pack will run you $4.99/€4.99 and other digital distribution channels. “For our 21st DLC we go back in time to visit the Wild West and the arsenal it was known for,” said the developers. “With it we’re introducing […]

  • The Yooka-Laylee Kickstarter just launched and has already met its funding goal

    Playtonic Games launched the Kickstarter campaign for Yooka-Laylee at 5pm UK, and in just over 30 minutes it already hit its $270,000 funding goal. You can watch the funding counter continue to roll over through the link. Yooka-Laylee is a 3D platformer where the characters use special moves such as Yooka’s tongue grapple and Laylee’s […]