Recently released evidence in the upcoming trial between Activision and ex-Infinity Ward heads Jason West and Vince Zampella points to a growing dissatisfaction between the two parties as far back as January 2009, more than a year before Activision fired the developers.
Recently unsealed emails obtained by GameSpot show correspondence between Activision CEO and chairman Bobby Kotick, co-chairman Brian Kelly, and president Mike Griffith in which Activision senior management discuss West and Zampella at length.
In a January 26, 2009, email exchange between Griffith and Activision executive vice president of worldwide studios Dave Stohl, the two executives discuss "kicking out" Zampella and West.
"They've yet to talk about how to respond," Griffith wrote to Stohl. "I've asked them to try to respond to the proposal unemotionally--which is probably impossible for them. […] We should also discuss what the plan B is going to look like. Steve and I going out there is one option, but there could still be a ton of risk getting the project done depending on how the team takes it. Treyarch taking it over now is also an option, but scary given the tight timeline. It would probably have to be a combination of the two. I know you mentioned that Brian K. is pretty over them at this point, but is everyone ready for the big, negative PR story this is going to turn into if we kick them out?"
In another email dated May 29, 2009, Griffith tells Kotick that Zampella and West hung up on him when he tried to discuss a game demonstration for an E3 presentation with them.
"If they really did I would change their locks and lock them out of their building," Kotick replied, to which Griffith wrote back, "As soon as I get that gold master…", referring to the November 2009 release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.
In other email exchanges, Griffith refers to Activision's relationship with West and Zampella as "difficult," and in one instance tells Kotick and Kelly that "we are paying too many people way too much" and "we need to find a way to put caps on our bonus payouts."
In an opposition filed to the Superior Court of the State of California on February 17, 2012, in response to Activision's motion for summary adjudication (MSA), West and Zampella's attorney, Robert M. Schwartz, pointed to the unsealed emails, as well as other evidence, to argue that Activision "discussed firing plaintiffs after they finished the game [Modern Warfare 2]."
The filed opposition also points to the recently unsealed testimony of Activision's former senior director of information technology, Thomas Fenady, who testified that Activision's in-house lawyer, George Rose, asked him to spy on West and Zampella by accessing their work emails, voice mails, and computer files.
According to public court documents in the trial, Activision moved to have Fenady's testimony excluded.
In addition, the filed opposition references testimony made by ex-Infinity Ward developer Todd Alderman which details a conversation between Alderman and Activision publishing chief technology officer Steve Pearce and head of production Steve Ackrich. Citing evidence, the opposition recounts Alderman asking Pearce and Ackrich why West and Zampella were "really" fired, to which Pearce reportedly responded, "The deal [West and Zampella] made was way too good," before adding, "There's no way Bobby was ever going to honor this contract."
According to evidence cited in the filed opposition, Pearce went on to say that West and Zampella had "signed their own death warrant" by signing the memorandum of understanding under dispute in the upcoming Activision trial with West and Zampella. According to the filed opposition, Activision has twice postponed Pearce's deposition as part of the trial.
Other points in the filed opposition state that Activision violated Zampella and West's memorandum of understanding by allowing Treyarch to secretly use Modern Warfare assets and the game's engine and apply them to the development of Call of Duty: Black Ops. The opposition also points to evidence that alleges Zampella and West discovered Treyarch was working on a Nintendo Wii version of Modern Warfare without their permission, after which Griffith assured them development would be canceled. However, the filed opposition states that Griffith covertly allowed Treyarch to keep working on the title.
As of press time, Activision representatives had not responded to GameSpot's requests for comment.
The trial between Activision and ex-Infinity Ward developers is set for May 29. For more, read GameSpot's Q&A with Zampella and West's attorney, Robert M. Schwartz, here.