Activision Lawsuit Reveals Infinity Ward Salaries & Bonuses

By | 5 years ago 

The Activision/Infinity Ward lawsuit is still far from over, but thanks to an email exchange between the publisher’s executives, the world now knows just how much money was being earned by the minds behind the Modern Warfare franchise. While studio heads Jason West and Vince Zampella were pulling in serious salaries and bonuses, they weren’t alone.

Details on what might be the highest-paid development team in the industry aside, the documents also show just how much money Activision saved themselves by giving the duo their walking papers.

The lawsuit has produced more than a few interesting bits of information so far – from EA’s hopes of putting the pair to work developing a Halo-killer to the details of Bungie’s deal with Activision – but now the world has discovered just how well-paid Infinity Ward‘s upper echelon of employees was making prior to the duo’s departure in 2010.

Entered into public record is an email exchange between Activision’s then-president Mike Griffith, Activision Board member Brian Kelly and CEO Bobby Kotick. The topic of conversation was the salary and bonuses for 2009 of IW’s top 20 employees, along with the projected amounts for the next year. If anything, the attached spreadsheets show that the massive dollar amounts being claimed by each party in the lawsuit aren’t as outlandish as they might seem.

West and Zampella were both awarded a salary of $420,000 with bonuses of $3.1 million each. The rest of the team certainly didn’t follow the stereotypical image of the downtrodden game developer, with most earning $75,000 to $150,000 and bringing in bonuses of $275,000 to $600,000. Considering the fact that Modern Warfare 2 released in November of 2009 – obliterating entertainment releases of every type in the process – these amount might seem exorbitant, but are hard to disagree with.

Modern Warfare 2 Snowmobiles

While these salaries and bonuses seem fitting for the minds behind the highest-selling game series in history, the projected amounts for 2010 are another matter entirely. West and Zampella were set to receive modest raises, but each looking forward to $13 million in bonuses. As for the rest of the team – many of which have since migrated to Respawn Entertainment with their deposed bosses – similar raises were planned, with the minimum bonus amount no lower than $1.1 million.

This is the dollar amount that West and Zampella were denied and initially sought in their lawsuit against Activision, with the rest of the affected parties having recently received over $42 million in withheld salary, bonuses and interest. That isn’t the only recent sign that Activision may be doubting their chances to win big in court, having settled their suit against EA just days ago. With this new email exchange, a case could be made (in court or not) that West and Zampella’s dismissal was motivated by more than suspected misbehavior.

With so much money being paid to the top members of the team, Griffith notes in the email to Kotick and Kelly that “we are paying way too many people way too much – we need to find a way to put caps on our bonus payouts.” It’s hard to disagree with Griffith’s assessment, but while this exchange is more likely a common discussion between executives than a smoking gun, the amount of money Activision stood to save by no longer employing West and Zampella can’t be overlooked.

It’s hard to know exactly what other bombshells will be made public as the case proceeds, but we’ll keep you updated.

What is your reaction to these numbers? Think that it’s only fair for the developers who took the Call of Duty brand to its highest heights to pull in the most money possible, or is this a sign that salaries and bonuses at Infinity Ward had gotten a bit out of control?

Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce.

Source: Exhibit 655 (via GamesIndustry)