Infinity Ward Founders Explain Their Side Of Lawsuit

Published 2 years ago by

West Zampella Activision Lawsuit Claims

Anybody who follows the modern video game industry knows that it is not populated only by the goodhearted and charitable. With development teams constantly let go upon completion of award-winning projects, there is only a select few who are successful and seasoned enough to earn permanent employment. So when Infinity Ward co-founders and creators of Call of Duty, Jason West and Vince Zampella, forever changed the entertainment world with the release of Modern Warfare, it seemed that the rest would be history.

What actually transpired was an abrupt dismissal by parent company Activision claiming the pair had breached their contracts, denial by West and Zampella, and a $1 billion lawsuit that is only now seeing the inside of a courtroom. After a prolonged silence, West and Zampella are finally giving their side of the story, and outlining the conspiracies and espionage that Activision was involved in prior to their firings. If their statements are true, then even those who view Activision as exceedingly profit-oriented will be surprised.

West and Zampella – now happily starting fresh at Respawn Entertainment – opened up in an interview with Game Informer, finally voicing their own confusion and disbelief at how Activision’s highest-level executives conspired to effectively kick the pair out of their own studio. There are always two sides to every argument, but with the new information provided by the two and their attorney, many recent actions surrounding the lawsuit make much more sense.

For starters, Activision’s grounds for the lawsuit in the first place: filing charges against the two creators of your most profitable series to date seems odd, but accusations of sabotage and back-room dealings with competitor EA seemed to justify the publisher’s case. As for the $1 billion in damages that Activision is seeking from the pair? The pair explains how they believe that figure was arrived at:

Vince Zampella: They say that Modern Warfare 3 would have been a much better game and would have made 700 million more dollars for them and they want us to pay that.

West: We deprived them of our services by being fired and therefore we owe them money.

According to West and Zampella’s attorney, Robert Schwartz, Activision is claiming that by conspiring with Electronic Arts the two “engineered their own firing” and are therefore on the hook for the money that Activision lost by having to fire them. Apparently when Modern Warfare 3 obliterated every sales record known to man, it was doing so despite being hindered by their absence. Now Activision is not only seeking the extra profits that would have been made by a West/Zampella-helmed game, but the profits that Sledgehammer Games would have produced had they not been needed to complete development on MW3 as well.

It’s hard to understand how things could have ever gone this far with so much money being generated off of IW’s work, and Activision’s marketing of said products. According to West and Zampella, things took a sudden turn in February 2010, just one month before their eventual departure. The studio heads were negotiating new contracts with Activision, and were willing to put aside their desire to make a new project not within the series, and develop Modern Warfare 3 instead. Their only stipulation was that after that work had been completed, they would be able to leave and develop independently, and wanted to be allowed to hire “up to 10 people” from Infinity Ward.

West Zampella Talk Firing

It was here that things went south. According to Schwartz, Activision was not in favor of letting the pair leave with their rights to the franchise intact, or taking talent with them. But what happened next came as a surprise to everyone:

“This is the third day of meetings between Activision’s lawyers and their lawyers. Their lawyers go over, and Activision comes out of their lawyers’ office and they are talking and talking. Their lieutenant counsel says, “I just don’t think we can come to an agreement on this. Give this to Jason and Vince.” He shoves across the table a piece of paper.

“What does the piece of paper say? “You are hereby being notified that you are being investigated for improper conduct and breach of fiduciary duty. You may not talk to anybody about this and must cooperate in full or that in itself will be potential grounds for termination. We haven’t made any decision about what we’re going to do in this investigation – whether there is any discipline to be had or termination – but you better take us very seriously. Thank you ­very ­much.””

As West points out, the fact that negotiations were presumed to be moving smoothly by the developer’s attorneys shows how much Activision was operating behind closed doors:

“The thing that blows my mind is that they showed up to the meeting with that thing printed out in their briefcase already. It wasn’t an email. It was hours of conversation, then reach in and pull out the paper. This was all very surprising, by the way. You’re waiting for the call to be like, “Did they take the offer?” Well, actually, they gave me this piece of paper. That was a ­surprise.”

West and Zampella were soon fired due to the apparent findings of the investigation, accusing the duo of conspiring with EA, eventually naming the competing publisher as a defendant as well. Activision has since reached a settlement with EA before the court proceedings began, the terms of which have not been made public. What was revealed alongside that announcement was the existence of an investigation referred to as ‘Project Icebreaker,’ tasked with finding dirt on West and Zampella that could justify their firing.

Schwartz referred to the operation in great detail, alluding to testimony from an Activision “I.T. whiz” who was asked to break into the Infinity Ward email server, encouraged by claims from the publisher’s chief attorney that the task came “from Bobby Kotick. If you do this, Bobby will protect you if anything happens.” Along with this testimony is a set of internal PowerPoint slides showing how much money West and Zampella would be making in bonuses, and how much could be saved if they no longer worked at the company in 2012. This was all evidence attempted to be kept out of court, Schwartz argues, since it shows Activision’s motivations for firing the two long preceded the actual dismissal.

All three believe that when the contracts were signed before production on Modern Warfare 2 began, Activision was prepared to do anything they had to to get the game made, regardless of their commitment to honoring the agreement. While the Call of Duty series has gone on to great success, Schwartz believes that if his clients are found to not be guilty of conspiracy or breach of contract, the impacts could be wide-ranging. Thanks to a single sentence in the contract, West and Zampella have contractual rights to any Call of Duty game set post-Vietnam War. We’ve previously reported on how the setting of Black Ops 2 could be legally troubling, so don’t think that we’ve heard the last on that front.

If Activision fails to make the case they thought they once had – seeming more and more plausible given their payouts to former IW employees – then the success of Modern Warfare 3 and Black Ops 2 could both be brought into the discussion of damages owed. If that’s the case, then this court case could set just as many records as the most recent editions of Call of Duty. Either way, West and Zampella – along with most of their former colleagues – have a new home at EA, so things could certainly be worse.

We’ll keep you up to date on any new Infinity Ward or Activision reports that arise from the ongoing case, since the outcome is still anyone’s guess. Be sure to read the full interview as well.

Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce.

Source: GameInformer

TAGS: Activision, Call of Duty, Infinity Ward, Modern Warfare, Modern Warfare 2, Respawn Entertainment

  • internet justice

    Activision continues to disgust me.

  • internet justice

    half of these claims are insane.

  • JACK

    I have every bit of respect for these two guys, but my question is why go back to EA if they left them years ago due to problems with the publisher?

  • asdf

    I only made $1.5 TRILLION this year… But because we got rid of you guys, That could have been $1.8 Trillion. I’ll sue you for the rest of my money I could have made because thats what we do.

  • Tim

    Activision: Definition of greedy bastards.

    • charlietehcoder

      at least they aren’t EA, no one is as greedy as them

      • Tim

        I disagree, Activision is worse. Just look how much they are milking COD and WoW. Much more than EA is to any of their customers. Rumor has it that Blizzard is already working on the next WoW expansion AFTER Mists. FFS, Get some original new ideas Activision.

        • charlietehcoder

          1. EA is a money whore with their sports titles, and they force their developers to make new games EVERY YEAR
          2. Blizzard is working on WoW expansions because WoW players want them!
          3. they aren’t milking COD, it’s been in the same cycle since the 2nd one and it never changed, they have different developers take turns on them and they are friggin geniuses for the way they do it, they know they will get tons of money no matter how bad the game is
          4. Activision has only ever over-saturated the market ONE time, and that was with Guitar Hero, EA has been over-saturating it for years with sports games which continue to do worse each year
          5. EA is ridiculous with their online passes, basically saying if you don’t buy it new, you have to pay us anyway!
          6. EA uses their servers for games instead of the developers, EA’s servers are terrible mostly because they don’t have enough for all the games so they have to shut them off after a few years.

          EA always has been the worst 3rd party publisher, Activision will never be bad, I mean they started the whole 3rd party publishing thing, they know it better than anyone

          • internet justice

            Yes they totally aren’t milking COD or saturating the FPS market with repetitive and piss poor game play! (<- warning sarcasm!) So making 7 (soon to be 8) games despite complaints about poor game play since the 6th one is still in your eyes not milking a VERY lucrative cash cow. So much so they sue previous employees who they fired for being fired. Plus EA after receiving the worst company in america award has started trying to change their image. Like the FREE!!!!!! mass effect DLC. Not only are all do all CoD DLC packs cost money, but are quite expensive ($15 a piece!). After buying the typical 4 they release per game, you have payed for the game twice; and thats if you dont pay for "Call Of Duty Elite" which is very spendy, almost non functional, and is required if you dont want to wait for a month before you get the DLC. So please dont talk about something you know nothing about you hypocritical fanboy.

          • Tim

            Thanks internet justice, you basically summed up everything i was going to say, haha. I am fine with new sports games coming out every year, i feel like that type of game almost has to, just to deal with all of the changes in the sports industry year to year.

  • internet justice

    the smiley face was supposed to be a seven… not sure why that happened…

    • internet justice

      I mean 8!

  • jwalka

    sledgehammer didn’t even do anything with the production of the game, no one did b/c it is quite difficult to make a new game in less then 8months (the rough dev time for the third entry to a trash series). simply saying ‘we built a new sound engine’ then contradicting yourself by having the same gun sound repeated over 4-5 guns is not new it’s ‘lazy and stupid’.

    the fact that a clown from activision had to promote black ops 2instead of the dev team really shows how desperate these a**holes are are making cash and that that is all they care about.

    EA actually bothers by publishing a variety of games, i mean sure sport games come out really frequently but that is a different genre altogether much like racing games. simply releasing the same bs year after year is not ‘creative’ or ‘innovative’ its downright lazy, greedy and is what quite literally kills creativity and innovation amongst other developers (b/c they all want to copy what is best, hence why a lot of new shooters are fast paced and s*** like CoD).

    people need to get their heads out of their a**es and realise they’re basically playing CoD 4 but updated with a couple of new gun skins and kill streaks, and that they’re helping kill creativity, innovation and vision for better gaming.

  • Hank

    with sports games EA changes and adds to the gameplay to improve the game and make each game better than the previous year’s. it’s not like they crank out a whole new game just because there are new uniforms, rosters, stadiums/arenas, teams, etc. at this point they don’t do just a simple graphic upgrade either because the technology finally allows it. while i tend not to buy new sports games each year, i do see it as a worthwhile venture that pushed the games further rather than a cashgrab.

    • jwalka

      exactly heck shooters even borrow from sport games – bf3 used the animation engine used for one of the recent fifa games for the soldier animations in bf3 to create smooth and realise movement animations. whilst i also dont play sport (or racing) games i admire the devs that work on said genres for putting alot of time and effort into the final product.

  • Gooch

    don’t for get all the COD shwag that they put out with every game and poor kids pump out hundreds of dollars to buy

  • TaboriHK

    I can’t wait for the backlash. I can’t wait to see one of these big corporations taken out by consumers cutting them out of the market. Don’t think we’re there yet but god I certainly hope it’s coming.

  • inignito

    Lol activision… So pathetic. There nothing but a joke.

  • Matt

    There’s only one thing to say, and it’s already been said: Activision has no morals or values. All they care about is money. They would rather have all their children die then lose a million dollars, if anybody that works at Activision even has children. You can sum Activision up in 2 words: greedy bastards.

    • TaboriHK

      The sad thing is that’s all corporations though. Some are just more publicly upfront about it.

      • Matt

        That’s true. But most companies don’t show it in plain sight like Activision does. Most companies don’t investigate a couple of top employees, fire those employees, then sue those employees for a ludicrous amount of money for being fired. Plus, some companies use innovation when coming out with new products (unlike Activision, namely with their CoD franchise).

        • TaboriHK

          Activision is clearly run by people who have to constantly justify their positions. There’s no other reason why they’d literally cannibalize talent that brought their company such an absurd amount of me. What group in their right mind would do that? Their lawsuit is essentially admitting as much. It’s crazy to me.

          • Matt

            You’re absolutely right.