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Activision vs West and Zampella case delayed, participants speak out

Friday, 25th 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 2 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 2 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 2 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 2 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 2 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 2 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 2 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 2 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 2 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 2 years ago

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