The lights are on
A meeting in the beginning of Respawn Entertainment
This is when they decide that Treyarch can handle it on
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
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
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
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.
Email the author Andy McNamara, or follow on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and Game Informer.