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.
“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.