Respawn's West And Zampella Sound Off On Upcoming Activision Lawsuit - Features - www.GameInformer.com
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Respawn's West And Zampella Sound Off On Upcoming Activision Lawsuit

A meeting in the beginning of Respawn Entertainment

This is when they decide that Treyarch can handle it on ­their ­own?

Schwartz: I guess...and they are pissed off because these guys were unhappy with how they marketed World at War. They felt it was a violation of the contract - and it was. So there was this massive conspiracy going on ­at ­Activision.

West: They didn't want to live up to the rules they set up under the contract.

Schwartz: Here's what we think: If you go back to when they signed the contract, March 2008, it was a moment in time when these guys have leverage - for one of the few times in their relationship with Activision. What's their leverage? Their contract is up in less than seven months and Activision wants Modern Warfare 2. Modern Warfare just blew away their expectations and was a great game. They're in the middle of this merger with Vivendi. There's a provision in the merger agreement that says none of their executives or key employees have any plans to leave. That's a representation made by Activision to Vivendi. [Jason and Vince] are told that they have leverage - and they do, because they want this game and these guys ­can ­leave.

Our view is that there was no way they were not going to tie these guys in to get Modern Warfare 2. They were willing to promise them practically anything. What these guys wanted was two things: One, they wanted to control their destiny and be independent. They wanted control over the franchise that they'd been nurturing, and they wanted fair compensation. The real killer was ­the ­control.

There's this one sentence - that [Jason] fought for - that is the key to the whole contract. One sentence says, "Activision cannot commercially release a Modern Warfare game without their written authorization." Then it says, "In that regard, all exploitation or other licensing of the Modern Warfare brand and IP." Not only that, there's another sentence that says Activision cannot do a Call of Duty-branded game post-Vietnam without their permission. They can't do Vietnam, post-Vietnam, near-future, distant future without [Jason and Vince's] approval. What that means is, they finished Modern Warfare and Activision wants to use the multiplayer mode and perks and all this stuff and put it into Black Ops - they have to ask their permission. And, if Activision wants to do Call of Duty Asia as an MMO with Modern Warfare assets, they have got to get their permission.

That's what they bargained for, and I don't think Bobby ever intended to honor that until he had to honor it. They were in breach of it the day they signed the contract - they were deeply in breach of it already by giving the Modern Warfare 1 multiplayer assets and schedules. Their hands were already dirty.

West: I think they just wanted the game, and were like, "Tell these guys whatever you need to."

Did EA approach you?

Schwartz: They went up and had lunch with [EA CEO] John Riccitiello, EA actually chartered a private jet for them, and they went on it.

West: The only time we've ever been on a private jet.

Schwartz: [EA] wanted to make a big impression. So they went to [Riccitiello's] house, they had lunch. [West and Zampella] told him "we're under contract, so you can't hire us," but [Riccitiello] knew that going in. 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.

So you were dismissed for insubordination. Do they have anything specific listed?

West: They gave me and Vince the exact same list, I think, even though we're different people with ­different ­jobs.

Are you 100 percent confident about the lawsuit? Are there any concerns?

Schwartz: No, you can never be 100 percent confident, you can probably be no more than 80 percent. There are just too many things, there are so many different variables, you can try as hard as you can. [Activision] brought a new lawyer in last week, Beth Wilkinson. She's one of the best lawyers they can find, and she's exceptionally good. [Editor's Note: Wilkinson is best known for successfully arguing for the execution of Oklahoma City bomber ­Timothy ­McVeigh.]

If Activision came to you with a settlement, would you take it? Does it depend on the dollars, or is ­it ­personal?

West: Well, a settlement could be more than money. I do have an issue, letting them get away with it and doing it to the next guy.

If you didn't have money from Modern Warfare 1, could you guys have sustained it through this gap?

West: Basically, their plan was to not go to trial, to [string it out] and run us out of money. That was why it seems like they've done crazy things that you would never do if you were going to go to trial. All the guys, everybody's had to cut to the bone to just try to ­get ­paid.

Zampella: That's what's really, really crappy.

West: And that's everyone all the way down.

The others that left Infinity Ward were never fired. Did they all just walk away?

Zampella: Well, they walked away because they were told they weren't going to get paid...

West: "You're not paying me so I have to quit, because you're not paying me, and I have a problem with that." And they have to spend their life savings to try to ­get ­paid.

Schwartz: Activision says, "No, that's not true. We offered them a better deal than what they had under their existing contract, and they didn't take it." And it's like, well, I don't call this fine print, but doesn't your deal say that essentially if they stay for two years, and if they agree to work on Modern Warfare 3, and Modern Warfare 3 makes its milestones, and if it comes out on November 15, 2011, and if it's a successful game, then by the time that game comes out you will have paid [the employees] all of their money that you already owe them for Modern Warfare 2, you just spread it out over a longer period of time, and you'll give them some additional cash for Modern Warfare 3? [So Activison says] "Yeah, but still, that's a better deal, because when [West and Zampella] were fired, the contract was now torn up, and any bonus was discretionary."

Zampella: They came in and said, "We owe you this money, but we're not going to give it to you unless you work two more years and make us ­another ­game."

[Editor's Note: On May 15 - the day before this interview - Activision paid out $42 million to the 38 ex-Infinity Ward developers. This, however, is not a settlement, as the plaintiffs are still ­seeking ­damages.]

How has this case affected Respawn? Do you guys think you can pull it all back together? No offense, but you guys ­look ­tired.

West: It's very distracting. I look forward to when this is all over and we can talk about Respawn stuff.

Zampella: The combination of all of it. Doing something so successful, not getting paid, getting screwed...

If all this didn't go down, you would have had the opportunity to do Modern Warfare 3. Would you have ­done ­it?

Zampella: It would have depended - we were looking at doing a new IP. I don't even know if we can say all that...It would have depended on what it was - maybe we would have done a new IP, maybe we would have done Modern Warfare 3, or maybe we would have done a new IP and then Modern Warfare 3. Resting a brand isn't a bad thing.

No, it's a great thing.

Zampella: We saw it as protecting it. And it's like, we're always working, it's not like we're going to sit around and do nothing for a while. So it's like let's do something else that will be good for Activision, and then go back to ­that. 

This is an interview from the upcoming July issue of Game Informer.

Click here to download the public exhibit of the email exchange between Dave Stohl and Mike Griffith that took place on Jan 26, 2009, 14 months before Jason and Vince were removed from Infinity Ward.

Click here to download the 2008 MoU between Infinity Ward and Activision.

Click here to download the public exhibit regarding Project Icebreaker. 

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