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?"
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.