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Activision emails detail discussion right before firing West and Zampella

Was not having a live gameplay demo for E3 the start of it all?

Activision settled its case with rival Electronic Arts recently, but the publisher is proceeding to trial on May 29 with former Infinity Ward studio heads Jason West and Vince Zampella. The LA Times has secured new emails sent amongst Activision executives, detailing the company's mindset concerning the duo and the huge backlash Activision would face if the publisher went ahead to fire the developers.

West and Zampella were fired in March 2010, but emails between Dave Stohl, Mike Griffith, Rob Kostich and Bobby Kotick show that the relationship had already been scarred badly nearly a year earlier. In fact, Infinity Ward's inability to produce a live gameplay demo of Modern Warfare 2 for Microsoft's E3 press briefing in 2009 may have been the spark that led to an explosion.

Griffith, who used to head Activision Publishing prior to Eric Hirshberg, wrote that "[Microsoft] will go ballistic over this and the deal is seriously risked." Then, allegedly when Griffith phoned up West and Zampella about the situation, the duo hung up on the executive. CEO Bobby Kotick immediately reacted: "If they really did I would change their locks and lock them out of their building."

"Is everyone ready for the big, negative PR story this is going to turn into if we kick them out?"

Dave Stohl

The Activision management knew that firing West and Zampella would have huge ramifications in terms of PR and backlash from employees. There was also concern about who'd work on completing Modern Warfare 2.

"We should also discuss what the plan B is going to look like," Dave Stohl wrote. He noted that Activision would be facing "a ton of risk getting the project done depending on how the team takes it." He added, "Treyarch taking it over now is also an option, but scary given the tight timeline."

Stohl also acknowledges his giant fear about the backlash the entire situation would generate: "Is everyone ready for the big, negative PR story this is going to turn into if we kick them out?" He commented that it's "freaking me out a little."

Elsewhere in the emails is a note from Griffith about an equity-based retention plan for Infinity Ward's "top 12 team members" - a proposal designed to "help ensure we retain the team if things blow up at the top." As it turns out, however, top talent and a significant number of staff followed West and Zampella out the door, many of whom ended up joining the pair at their new studio, Respawn.

Last week it was revealed that a court filing has shown that Activision's former IT director, Thomas Fenady, has testified that he was asked to hack into work email, computers and phones in order to 'dig dirt' on the pair, eight months before their contract was terminated.

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Latest comments (6)

Pier Castonguay Programmer 4 years ago
Typo in article : Acvtision
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"Activision's former IT director, Thomas Fenady, has testified that he was asked to hack into work email, computers and phones in order to 'dig dirt' on the pair, eight months before their contract was terminated."

...now, that's "Management"... great example, isn't it ?! :)
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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd4 years ago
While I don't think Activision are great people, I really don't think this is a case of good guys vs bad guys as much as bad guys vs bad guys. West and Zampella were intentionally subverting the company and actively rebelling against their employer. They were also seeking new employment under contract and poaching fellow IW members for their inevitable departure.

I understand it's easy to make big publishers the enemy and we always inherently want to protect the developers as the artists, but sometimes people are just jerks.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Nicholas Pantazis on 23rd May 2012 12:03am

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Aleksi Ranta Product Manager - Hardware 4 years ago
I wish this would all just blow away and we could all go back to playing Pong.
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Barry Scott Software Design 4 years ago
"Is it really hacking when it is work related email?
Surely all emails sent with a company based email address are subject to that companies scrutiny?"

Depends on what country you are in I understand.
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David Radd Senior Editor, IndustryGamers4 years ago
As I've said in the past, this situation was a failure of Activision's management to retain it's top talent. Obviously there were some big egos in the room, but when it comes to your top money making franchise, someone should have made sure that the core team at Infinity Ward were retained, or in the very least that any parting of the ways was on amicable terms. They basically had to scrap a Call of Duty spin-off so that Sledgehammer could make sure Modern Warfare 3 came out on time and they've already conceded some unpaid bonuses. I can't help but look at this and think it could have been avoided.
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