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Coming off the recent plea-of-defense from the head of Beenox Studios -- with claims that Activision is getting an undue amount of criticism -- even more damning news surfaces on one of the leading publishers of video game software.
Vince Zampella and Jason West, the studio heads for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 were both owed $13 million dollars each, with the rest of the initial studio owed $1.1 through $2.5 million each. However, documents reveal that to avoid paying out that much, Activision fired West and Zampella.
Both Zampella and West had a standard salary of $436,000 at the time of their firing. Apparently there was a contract where bonuses would be owed to the former Infinity Ward heads who manned Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 into record-breaking media franchises. The bonus royalties included $13 million each for Zampella and West, according to a new e-mail that GameIndustry.biz managed to get a hold of.
According to Activision Blizzard Vice-Chairman Michael Griffith Activision was "paying way too many people way too much" and was trying to figure out "a way to put caps on [the] bonus payouts."
Things got pretty heated according to Ars Technica, because Activision didn't like the rising bonuses attached to the contracts of West and Zampella and were looking for ways to get rid of the two. Things also began deteriorating even faster because Microsoft and Activision had an agreement to let loose footage of Modern Warfare 2 during 2009's E3, which did not happen.
Supposedly, Griffith tried prying Zampella and West to quickly finish a demo for E3, in which case they allegedly hung up on him and when Griffith went to Kotick, good 'ole Bobby had this to say..."If they really did [hang up], I would change their locks and lock them out of their building," to which Griffith replies..."As soon as I get that [Modern Warfare 2] gold master..."
Cue "Project Icebreaker".
According to OXM Online, Activision recently paid off other ex-Infinity Ward employees with a hefty $42 million dollar settlement, but that did not include fees owed to Zampella or West.
The whole thing looks absolutely silly. The main thing is that all of this could have easily been avoided if budget costs were monitored, forecasts for pay were scrutinized and bonuses were kept within a moderate range before contracts were issued.
Given that Activision does little to reinvest into the ingenuity and innovation of the industry (with the rare exception of the upcoming Call of Duty: Black Ops 2) it's not like you could say that Zampella and West were wrong for demanding $13 million each given that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 managed to sell more than 20 million copies and made a breezy $1 billion for Activision.
Well, Zampella and West traded a demon for a devil because they've jumped ship from Activision to Electronic Arts and are now hard at work on a new FPS at their newly formed Respawn Entertainment. We'll keep you posted on what happens with the trial and whether West, Zampella and the original Infinity Ward crew will fare any better at Respawn.