Evidence suggests Activision wanted Infinity Ward heads out for years

Newly released emails date rift back to early 2009; testimony has Activision exec saying, "There's no way Bobby was ever going to honor this contract."

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 from Activision management show the publisher had a tenuous relationship with the Infinity Ward heads.

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.

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167 comments
pwncakes52
pwncakes52

I hope West and Zampella win, Modern Warfare 2 went to sh*t because they were too busy worrying about their jobs, and Modern Warfare 3 is obviously a train wreck (definitely not a coincidence that they weren't around to work on it) and I honestly have no issues with Treyarch. I personally want either Respawn getting Modern Warfare only or allowing Treyarch to work on their side of the Call of Duty franchise. Black Ops was very good in my opinion and Black Ops 2 at least looks to be an attempt at innovating (but they still can't bring a new engine to the party, clearly they don't listen to fans well enough), but these are my personal opinions and I haven't played Black Ops 2 to see for myself, I just hope the trailer isn't misleading.

csward
csward

Wow, just wow. I'm starting to hate the industry we all built up over the years. Sadly, it seems like most companies treat their devs this way. The way Apple treated Steve Jobs in the 90's. When will companies learn that a hands-off approach is better. Heck, give them more incentives and watch them push the industry to new heights. But no, greed gets in the way of gaming, again. Gosh, if the Activision Execs got 5 million shares a year instead of 15 million, I bet that would fund all sorts of things. Sigh..

 

Ever since EA and Activision became huge, the market for games has essentially become a duopoly and stagnated. There's no reason for them to innovate when the can sell millions of CoD games every year and use the proceeds to buy some indie dev. 

 

People wonder why the industry is down and it's obvious. EA and Activision have too much control over traditional channels and are quickly expanding into mobile, free-to-play, social gaming, ect.

 

Gaming is an art and not corporate shovelware to increase share prices and bonuses.

Gruug
Gruug

People here and elsewhere are so angry and appalled over the treatment by Activision towards the ex-Infinity Ward Execs. Yet, I have to wonder, how many of those same people STILL play WoW or Call of Duty?

jmc88888
jmc88888

Killing the golden goose is standard operating procedure for idiot execs on behalf of creditors and shareholders.  It is as old as Wall Street itself.  It manifests itself in every conceivable industry time and time again and yet no one learns from this easily identifiable tactical mistake. 

Yojimbo25
Yojimbo25

Bobby Kotick is a a$$hole and should be forcibly removed from his position. He's the reason Activision is the way it is. I hope Zampella and West win this case, and Activision loses the Call of Duty franchise, and also get shut down.

echo-sentience
echo-sentience

Can anyone point me to some sites where I can read up on these alleged underhanded  dealings between gaming companies?

charlievo
charlievo

I hate Activision, I worked for them in 1998 to 2000 and i quit.  I work at there at the facility in Santa Monica.  I swear they work the workers like slaves, this was before all the new laws came out.  All I can say is fk Activision and I'm glad i quit.

FanboyslayerPS
FanboyslayerPS

Well that is pretty damning evidence I would say.

EpycWyn
EpycWyn

When I think of the worst game making companies I think of EA followed closely by Activision. But I think my judgement was underdeveloped to say that before. Now I dislike Activision more than EA. The trouble with this statement though is that Activision will probably go out of business because of this and thus EA will be the worst game creating company once again.

cornbeef5
cornbeef5

It's because of bad business ethics so aptly demonstrated by Kotick and his cronies that the western world is in the dire position it is in today... Need i say more?

BryanParksSuper
BryanParksSuper

Activision won't win this time. The evidence toward them is staggering. West and Zampella will win. Which means Activision can't use Call of Duty in the title for any Modern Game. I hope Activision goes bankrupt.

Shredwolf
Shredwolf

What is the use of antagonising Activision and the co? At the end of the day, the next COD comes out, probably another millions sell while developers like CD Projekt barely survives.

CraigNinten
CraigNinten

At least with these many evidences, we don't need to argue which side is more evil, Boddy Kotick must die.

theslimdavylp
theslimdavylp

Bobby Kotick is a bad business partner, he needs to resign and find a new career

IAMTHEVIPQUEEN
IAMTHEVIPQUEEN

I bought COD Blops and MW3 games USED.....Activision didn't get my $$

Well...uh...bravo me!!!!

gr8arm
gr8arm

I completely agree with Kotick's comment that "we are paying too many people way too much."  Yep, the first one being yourself and all of the other worthless executives at Activision.  The Inifinity Ward guys made the game.  They are the talent.  They deserve the money.  You are just leeching scum.

Cruisemissile
Cruisemissile

I hope that Bobby Kotick, eat's s*** and dies aswell as all his drones, because all his corruption makes me puke 

23Jarek23
23Jarek23

Considering Koticks intentions and position as CEO you'd think he'd be smart enough to know not to leave a paper trail...glad he did though, hope this bites him in the ass.

leop4rd
leop4rd

i think we should put them all on a battle royale island and then nobody would be complaining. at worst you get rid of really slimy characters who are trying to fuck some other people over

 

vaibhavp
vaibhavp

Call of duty not only ate market, it bought its makers to shreds as well. Am sure west and zampella who created this goldmine must want huge chunk of money. Maybe its time to lay monster to rest.

SauhlGood
SauhlGood

"There's no way Bobby was ever going to honor this contract."

 

you get the feeling that the whole company is being run in such a fashion, people currently working for activision should pay special attention to this.

staranise
staranise

just swap bank account numbers already, we all know there will be a settlement somewhere there...

 

"And now the news, don`t touch that dial! CAPCOM`s Resident Evil 6 comes with a FREE DLC---------------of your choice."

 

Filled at eleven.

diablonn
diablonn

This story just gets weirder and weirder... so much money in gaming these days they're now turning cutthroat. Bad signs all around now with these new always online gaming crap, possible new consoles blocking used games and mass lay offs a la 38 studios. We are in for dark times people, raise a glass to the good times though.

spoonybard-hahs
spoonybard-hahs

I recently discovered that a nearby community college offers a four year game development program. My interest was piqued.

 

But then I read crap like this, or studios laying/firing off hundreds, and the general indentured servitude mentality of the industry....

 

Yeah, think I'll stick with earning my film degree.

warhawk-geeby
warhawk-geeby

Everything to do with Call of Duty seems repetitive nowadays.. even this story appears to have been going on for years!!

fend_oblivion
fend_oblivion

This whole thing is one big ugly mess. Only the lawyers of both sides are going to walk away happy.

Mr__Maniacal
Mr__Maniacal

Yeah CEO's don't like when the talent makes money and has complete control over a project. It makes their job look rather useless

PlatinumPaladin
PlatinumPaladin

Holy crap! That's some pretty damning stuff. For all we know West and Zampella might be a nightmare to work with (although the ex-IW members joining Respawn suggests they're not that bad) but that doesn't excuse some of the talk in these conversations.

marcopolo426
marcopolo426

Activision might take a small dent from the 1% of gamers that actually pay attention to this stuff. But the other 99% of frat boys and 12 year olds that play COD will keep throwing money at this company that's ruining the industry. All hail our perfect system.

Ogridum
Ogridum

Wait until you guys hear about the story of D3 development.

pwncakes52
pwncakes52

 @csward It's sad because it's happening to everyone that once made something good. Take Naughty Dog for example. I've been a big fan since Crash Bandicoot (Greatest childhood ever btw) and Jak and Daxter was a lovely series. Uncharted was perfect with Uncharted 2. But they got too much success from it and their parent company (Sony) was hounding them to release Uncharted 3 quickly for a profit, not let them mold it into something better, and what happened? It never successfully served the role of a sequel. It may not have been terrible, but you can see this is the downhill for them.

Hopefully that last sentence is wrong, but it's becoming more and more obvious.

RedLegZeff
RedLegZeff

 @BryanParksSuper Well it still depends on if activision can back up their claims on west and zampella conspiring with ea. Though the evidence against activision is so strong it's doubtful they'll get out clean anyway. At least I hope the other infinity ward employees get their bonuses. Oh and I think the other article posted the same day stated co ownership of the modern warfare brand was at stake. Meaning West and zampella could also make modern warfare games. Meaning Activision could still release games as well. I'm not certain on that though. It would definately dilute the series name.

Albelnox0
Albelnox0

 @Legrieme Activision is worse then EA you claim that EA does day one dlc when day one dlc has existed since the beginning.  You know those pre orders you get from games. That's day one dlc.  I find it funny you treat EA like their the first one to bring it up.  The only reason why people hate origin is because its not steam.  and of course crybabies whining about ME3 ending, cod fanboys hating on EA for messing with Activision.  I find it funny how people are going against the main gaming companies just to gain momentum in popularity.  EA is a good company. Even capcom beats them, but yet on your book they get a pass.

GpVon
GpVon

 @SauhlGood sound advice for the Activision folks. But this sorta stuff is common place throughout the corporate world. Not saying it's right, just that it's common. Personally I hope the IW get thier money.

Tizn0w
Tizn0w

 @spoonybard-hahs Then again, it's not like you absolutely 'have to' work for one of the mega-conglomerate publishers and/or development studios. The indie development route seems to become more practical and viable with each passing year. And then there's landing a dream job with Valve!Just sayin', if a game development education seems interesting to you, the post-education prospects are not entirely damning.

sargentpsgamer
sargentpsgamer

 @PlatinumPaladin actually reading this, it seems they had a head on their shoulders and one of Koticks peons didn't like that they were smarter than him, so he threw a fit. Notice the interaction between the two and Kotick always had a middle man? And every time he relayed the information to Kotick, it was negative.....Its THEIR game, Activision didn't even want to take COD out of WW2 (World at War?) They thought it was going to fail, thats why they signed such a sweet deal with the two guys So they can turn around and be like "Sorry, the game didn't sell, so we don't want to make anymore" Turns out it rocked the industry and suddenly Activision was screwed.... either release another one and bank off it, or pretend the game never existed so they didn't have to pay the two guys.... turns out Activision tried to take best of both worlds, and it bit them in the ass.

inaka_rob
inaka_rob

 @PlatinumPaladin I think they just wanted freedom on creative control on THEIR product. It had been pretty clear for a LONG time that is what West and Zampella wanted going ALL the way back to COD 2. They wanted to do a Modern Warefare type game for a long time and Actiivsion said NO. You work for US and we want another WW2 themed game.

PlatinumPaladin
PlatinumPaladin

@marcopolo426 Yeah, you're probably right annoyingly. But games have been getting more and more coverage in the mainstream media and I reckon this situation is big enough that it may get a mention on the evening news.

l2humpie
l2humpie

 @Ogridum 

For as long as it was in development, I am sure there is plenty.

Yojimbo25
Yojimbo25

 @RedLegZeff Yes but it is not against the law to look to a possibility of another project with another company. If Zampella and West were looking to leave anyway, I wouldn't call it "conspiring" with them. If there was no paperwork, or a contract drafted up with EA while they were still with Activision then it's not going to get anywhere in court. I agree with your post, but I don't think Activision in southern Indiana terms has a pot to piss in when it comes to this case. They are screwed, and that's why their representatives aren't commenting.

N0tYrBeezin
N0tYrBeezin

 @Albelnox0 EA is a good company? A lot of good studios disappeared under EA. EA has the reverse of the midas touch. Everything they touch withers!

WillyChong
WillyChong

 @Tizn0w Please recommand a few of them, I currently in degree of visuals and special effects, but I'm a Modeller and storyboard script writer students, got big plans :D

jasonlc3221
jasonlc3221

@N0tYrBeezin I never said that I thought EA was god's gift. In fact I don't even buy many of their titles. I was pointing out how the business world works. But I have to admit, EA must be doing something right if they have all that money, even if it is by just producing the same Madden game year after year with roster updates......but apparently people keep buying them

WakizashiSabre
WakizashiSabre

"They probably made a less then decent game" I would rather used - better selling game. Many games are damn popular due name of the series. Pointing at Diablo III now. While it is very playable, it has so much flaws that when I finish the game, I will put it into a shelter (getting off the HDD) and rather play D2 again ot other good RPG.@jasonlc3221

N0tYrBeezin
N0tYrBeezin

 @jasonlc3221 All those "corpses" of dead studios speak volume of the track record of EA. You can continue thinking that they are a god's gift to mankind if you want.

Dudeman315
Dudeman315

 @jasonlc3221 You missed the part where you write the next "Harry potter" quality story and EA tells you that you must change it to be into an just legally different Critters 4, cause that's the only story they want.

 

Studios that are praised for their quality of games are forced produce COD-lite games until EA can beat it, rather than focus on what they actually do well.

jasonlc3221
jasonlc3221

 @N0tYrBeezin You obviously don't understand the business world. Do you really think that all the developers under EA were breast-fed by EA? You have to PROVE your worth in this world. If the developers that made a game published by EA and then disappeared, well, they probably deserved to. They probably made a less then decent game, and they had a contract to live up to. EA did their part, they published it.

 

I would say that DICE is the only exception.........they probably do get breast-fed.

 

If I were to write a book and walk into a publishing firm, do you really think they are going to make sure I'm well taken care of financially, even if the book does suck? Grow a brain and think before you say outlandish crap.