Announced earlier today, Respawn Entertainment is the new fledgling studio created by ex-Infinity Ward developers Vince Zampella and Jason West. Already signed with EA Partners as distributor on their first project, the team is currently staffing up in the hope of recreating the success the duo have seen working on the Call of Duty franchise.
Here, in an interview with GamesIndustry.biz, the pair, along with EAP's David DeMartini, discuss the reason for the new collaboration, why its crucial for developers to own their intellectual property, and the importance of understanding the community.
Q: Tell us about the initial thinking and idea behind forming Respawn Entertainment and choosing to work with EA Partners?
Vince Zampella: We were kind of forced into it since we were fired from Activision. The day after we were fired we got inundated with calls from publishers who expressed interest in wanting to work with us. That was a great thing for getting us through that special time and after that we started talking to various publishers. There were multiple offers on the table so it came down to picking a company that was going to work well with us and what we wanted to accomplish with our vision.
Q: Why did EA's deal stand out over the other companies that approached you?
Jason West: We looked at the deals and opportunities that we had and the EA Partners deal really seemed like it would allow us the freedom and independence to do whatever we wanted. They respect the culture we want to create, and we would own our own IP and control our own destiny and remain completely independent.
David DeMartini: What were were looking to do was, it would be as if Wayne Rooney all of a sudden became a free agent – how quickly would Chelsea try and chase after him if they could sign him up? We were just trying to provide some level of sanctuary for these guys so they could get back to doing what they love the most, which is making the games.
Q: Where has the finance come from to form and run Respawn Entertainment?
Jason West: It's part of the EA Partners deal, they've provided us with capital and a publishing deal and money to start hiring and get our team together.
Q: What kind of team size are you hoping to get up to at Respawn – what would be the ideal fighting weight for the studio?
Vince Zampella: It's too early to pick that now, we don't what the project is that we're going to work on yet. The goal is to hire a core team, figure out what we want to do, what the project will be and go from there.
Q: But you must have an idea of a core team size, considering your experience of working on blockbuster titles in the past?
Vince Zampella: We're literally just starting up today. We're going to be working through that in the coming weeks. We anticipate making big blockbusters titles so we'd want a team to support that. But specifically, for a super-team, what size is it? That stuff is way too early.
Q: After working with Activision and coming out of that badly, were you sceptical or cautious about getting back into bed with one of the big publishers in the business?
Jason West: We have to move on with our lives and get back to what we love doing, which is making games. So it really wasn't a choice for us. This is a different situation where we own Respawn, we own the IP, so we're in control of our destinies here.
Q: You worked with Electronic Arts before – why go back to working with EA and how have things changed to attract you back for that relationship?
Jason West: Well we've never worked with EA Partners so this is a different situation. It's fair to say EA has changed a lot over the past eight years, and we're anticipating a really good partnership.
David DeMartini: Certainly the Partners programme was in existence eight years but we've evolved quite a bit in the last eight years. Obviously we've evolved in a good way because we've been able to attract Crytek, Valve, id, Starbreeze and lot of other partners. Quality begats quality, and I think when people evaluate partners and people they can hook up with, they look at the other best independent game developers in the world and they've all selected to be part of the EA Partners programme. There are specific reasons for that, and the most important reason is they're allowed to maintain their independence and we're not fighting over the steering wheel. We're in the back seat advising when asked, we're not necessarily in the front seat grabbing at the wheel trying to make life more difficult. That's one of the key differences, we have taken more of a back seat to allow these developers to stay fiercely independent.
Q: You've said Respawn will own the intellectual property it produces, but what control will you retain over the final products in terms of marketing and promotional activity?
David DeMartini: It's a very close collaboration and as much as we'll have an opinion when they form their team and we'll have some ideas, they've got all control over where they go with their IP. As it relates to marketing and PR, we've got a fantastic team worldwide that does a great job of promoting titles once the idea has been formulated. We'll take that on as it comes, we've got a long track record of a huge amount of success and pushing great games out. The core of all of these things is that it all starts with a great game and a great entertainment experience that delights people. That's what these guys specialise in and that's what we expect out of the partnership.
Q: Respawn is making a big point of owning its IP – is there a worrying trend that publishers want the IP and not necessarily the talent that creates it?
Vince Zampella: At Respawn we believe that the more invested the team are and the more ownership they have over it the more dedicated they are to it.
Jason West: When you let the team control the brand they love the game shines through and the fans can see it, so we think it's critical for success.
Q: You're starting from scratch again, which is great for that sense of freedom but it must also be a daunting task – what is Respawn going to do differently to build an industry leading franchise on a par with Call of Duty?
Jason West: I don't know if differently is the right word. This is a reset from us, building everything from scratch from the ground up - literally starting today. For us it's about putting in place the best process, the best teams, getting the best technology and doing the right thing.
Q: Do you see Respawn collaborating or working with other EA studios?
David DeMartini: There's nothing that would force a collaboration and the guys are independent, and we're trying to create a sanctuary for them to do what they do best – focused, high-quality, extremely entertaining experiences for the delight of consumers throughout the world. I think one of the things that the guys specifically have said is they've got a huge fanbase in Europe as well as North America so they need to make sure we talk to people worldwide. I don't know that there is any specific collaborations that will happen, but as is the case with our Partners programme, there is nothing that is ruled out. Anything we can do to facilitate their success, we're going to be open minded to doing.
Q: What kind of steps will Respawn take to involve the community in the decisions and the games that they create?
Jason West: We want to involve the community as early as possible so as soon as we get the team together and we have ideas we want to start to see what the gaming community would like to see us do. Especially for the specific regions – so in Europe we'd want a specific European community manager that speaks the language and understands the local cultures and makes sure our games are received better – and any problems overseas are bought to our attention as soon as possible. Community is a very important part of our future.
David DeMartini: That's one of the attractive things about EA – our reach within Europe. One of the things the guys emphasised is having on the ground support in all of the countries in Europe so that they can get specific feedback. When you form a studio in North America it's easy to have the feeling that Europe is another planet. The guys have such a broad fanbase worldwide that they want to be able to have a pipeline where they are getting direct feedback from all of the countries around the world.
Q: How is Respawn going to distinguish its products from franchises such as Crysis, Call of Duty, Medal of Honor and Battlefield?
Jason West: We're not talking about the game yet, we're just building our team. But we know the fan community wants new and fresh experiences, they don't want retreads. So we want to do something new and fresh.
Vince Zampella is general manager and Jason West is president of Respawn Entertainment. David DeMartini is general manager for EA Partners. Interview by Matt Martin.