While interest in the Call of Duty franchise remains high, many of the developers that worked on the original games have since left Activision. Many former members of Infinity Ward, the studio that worked on the incredibly successful Modern Warfare games, are heading to court over unpaid bonuses for the two games.
Activision has already paid $42 million to former members of Infinity Ward, but there's a lot more at stake. Ultimately, what caused the huge rift between Infinity Ward execs Jason West and Vince Zampella and Activision? The two say that the team's desire to work on a game other than Modern Warfare 3 made an already tense relationship even worse.
Speaking to Game Informer, Jason West discussed a contract that would have given Infinity Ward free reign to work on any game after the release of Modern Warfare 2. "That contract gave us the right to make whatever game we wanted after Modern Warfare 2. Apparently, they didn't want to live up to that."
West and Zampella believe Activision promised independence after Modern Warfare 2 so that the game would be made one way or another. "I think they just wanted the game, and were like, 'Tell these guys whatever you need to,'" West said. The pair's representing attorney Robert Schwartz added: "I don't think Bobby [Kotick, CEO of Activision Blizzard] ever intended to honor that until he had to honor it. They were in breach of it the day they signed the contract."
When the trial goes to court, West and Zampella will try to convince a jury that Activision wrongfully terminated the two in order to back out of paying them their originally promised bonuses. Leaked emails show a panicked Activision preparing for the fallout from firing the two, with contingency plans laid out for retaining other Infinity Ward employees.
Activision claims that West and Zampella conspired against the company by speaking with rival company Electronic Arts. (West and Zampella's new studio, Respawn, currently has a publishing deal with EA.) However, West believes that's an absurd claim. "They said, 'He orchestrated his own firing,'" he told the magazine. "I said, 'Don't give me 100 million dollars - fire me! That would be awesome,'" he added sarcastically.
Infinity Ward ultimately lost a significant talent pool to West and Zampella's new studio, and it took the efforts of another developer, Sledgehammer Games, to finish Modern Warfare 3. West and Zampella never had the opportunity to work on the game, or develop the new IP they wanted to create for Activision. "Maybe we would have done a new IP, maybe we would have done Modern Warfare 3, or maybe we would have done a new IP and then Modern Warfare 3," Zampella said.
Ultimately, Zampella thought that taking a break from Call of Duty would have been good. "Resting a brand isn't a bad thing," he said. "We saw it as protecting it. And it's like, we're always working, it's not like we're going to sit around and do nothing for a while. So it's like let's do something else that will be good for Activision, and then go back to that."