Zampella: You have to protect employees if you want them to invest

Ex-Infinity Ward boss says that workers need creative control to shine

Vincent Zampella of Respawn entertainment, previously of Modern Warfare studio Infinity Ward, has told the 3D Gaming Summit that getting employees to invest in a project means making them feel that their work is worthwhile and protected.

Zampella wouldn't be drawn on the ongoing courtcase with Activision or his team's new project, but spoke on a number of other subjects, including creative control, reports Gamasutra.

"In my opinion, the deal we had - had it been honored - was a great deal," Zampella told his audience.

"But you need control. If you want people to be invested, you have to put something into it. It's an industry that demands that you put a lot of yourself into it; it's creative, it's driven by what you're going to put into it, the end product.

"So if you want people to be invested, who are putting their hearts and souls into it, they need to feel like it's protected, and what they do means something."

Zampella's comments are likely to refer to his experience with Infinity Ward and Activision, a bitter ending to which has resulted in a complex three-way legal tussle between Zampella, Respawn and Infinity Ward co-founder Jason West, Activision and EA, who are accused of 'tapping up' the pair of developers via illegal means.

That case is due to be heard in LA on May 7, 2012.

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Latest comments (12)

Kevin Clark-Patterson Lecturer in Games Development, Lancaster and Morecambe College8 years ago
Makes total sense - if you want your employees to give their all then you have to give them something in return. A simple thanks these days even seems far fetched to some companies. Some even go so far to say if you don't like it [busting your ass] you're in the wrong job.

Money talks unfortunately but recognition goes a long way.
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Christopher Lee Designer 8 years ago
It's not an assembly line job - frankly if you're in a creative industry, there's more to it than just money. You can have fifty animators that are all unmotivated and just do the bare minimum and you'll end up with a poor product if they aren't invested personally in the project.
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Gareth O'Neill Environment Artist (Contract), Ubisoft Reflections8 years ago
100% Agree
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Show all comments (12)
Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 8 years ago
Dude, if you want them invested, give them a piece of the residuals. The game industry is light years behind film, television, actors, directors and writers - all of which have unions which guarantee a piece of residual take unless they are bought out at a higher rate.

Talking about "protecting employees" is patronizing if you're not paying them to a degree that reflects their input. I don't need a boss to "protect me", thank you.

And Christopher, you need more experience in the creative industries. In more mature ones, contracts have been fought for which give a much larger take to creators. Creators feel resentful when they make something out of thin air which is then used by suits to line their pockets. Some of that take rightfully belongs to them.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Tim Carter on 26th September 2011 6:57pm

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Adam Saslow Executive Producer, NT7 Games8 years ago
I don't think you're going to see unions in the Games industry anytime soon. Publishers will pack up and leave for (insert anywhere in the world here) once labor costs become too expensive or unions negotiate working hours in an attempt to eliminate/reduce crunch. I'm not saying "screw the workers" by any means, but unionization is not the answer either. Maturation of the studio-side production process coupled with reforms in publishers' involvement in the implementation of creative vision is the key. A couple of wage claims filed coupled with negative PR against studios/publishers who engage in egregious abuse of labor laws will also probably help shape policy and make for happier workers.

Now that being said, I'm not sure why anyone thinks the rank-and-file folks at Infinity Ward, Treyarch, etc. don't see any bonuses for their work on the CoD franchise.

I am aware of no financial standard in the dispersion of profits between studios and publishers other than recoupable or recoverable clauses against (often huge) budgets before studios see a dime. Consider the risk and capitalization rates of projects that publishers are investing in. The number of successful franchises out there are exponentially dwarfed by those that don't make a penny. Selective investment in new IPs (albeit not as selective as Activision has become - I disagree with their strategy) coupled with appropriate contractual agreements for returns is the only thing any media company should be expected to do.

I could go on all day about this topic, but I'll start ranting if I do :)

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Saslow on 26th September 2011 8:58pm

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Murray Lorden Game Designer & Developer, MUZBOZ8 years ago
I think these are great words, and they are really not about money in this case.
Obviously working conditions, working hours, and money are all important.

But here, I think Zampella is talking more about people's sense of themselves in their workplace, their sense of value and personal contribution on the work they are involved with.

If creative control over the work your are doing is all taken away and moved "upwards", the person who is doing the hands on work starts to feel disconnected and dis-empowered, and this does not result in "magical works". :)

Obviously there's a balance to strike between having a strong, unified, meaningful vision for your product, and giving the individual workers freedom and creative input.

I think Zampella's point is that it can't be all one or the other. If a project is dictated entirely from above (even from external sources above the whole company), then those who are working on the project can become befuddled and frustrated by the experience of creating the thing. And I would say that likewise, if every individual is given full freedom, then the product will become non-unified (a "bloody mess", as per the technical term).

Financial incentives and rewards can certainly offset a feeling of "just doing the work". But ultimately, some amount of actual true-input is what many creative people need to satisfy their creative drive, and maintain balance. :)

I think this deeper level of satisfaction and personal-needs is what Zampella is talking about, not money and hours.
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 8 years ago
Agree 100%
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Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 8 years ago
@Murray: That's all nonsense. There's an old saying: "Words without action is a corpse." You have to walk the talk, not just talk the talk.

If you value employees you will pay them. Trying to make them "feel good" without paying them to a level commensurate with their contribution is talking out of two sides of your face.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Tim Carter on 27th September 2011 3:31pm

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Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 8 years ago
@Adam: It's easy to make a residuals deal that is fair: give a good back end deal.

What does that mean? It means that on the front end people just get their wage. But if the game does become a hit, a bonus kicks in. There is no excuse for not giving a deal like that since it adds no risk to the investor.

Also, people should have the opportunity to forgo some upfront wage for points of *gross*. (Not profit. Profit is a meaningless term since it is subjective.)

People say that game developers are well-paid. Bullshit. Compared to core creators in other industries - say film - they don't make an income anywhere near what they contribute.

Actor's union regulations demand something like 3% of gross - though 1.) this can be bought out (meaning the executives and pay more to not pay gross; and 2.) this is divided among the whole cast. (Notice I'm not including directors, writers, etc.) This means that if a game does business like CoD:MW2 did, it would be automatic to get a bonus. No need to go to court and so on. In the CoD:MW2 case, with a deal like that, Activision would have had to pay the *talent* - not the development studio, the actual talent itself - 3% or so of $1 billion. That's a hell of a lot of money.

The suits are pwning the creators in this industry.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Tim Carter on 27th September 2011 3:38pm

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Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 8 years ago
@Murray: I should also say that creative control is not some touchy-feely thing. It is an actual, enforceable legal concept.

I submitted an article for this to Gamasutra but they wouldn't publish it.
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Murray Lorden Game Designer & Developer, MUZBOZ8 years ago
Without a doubt, you need to be paid properly, and work reasonable hours.

I'm just saying that, for creative people, it's important to satisfy other needs beyond the pay and working condition, to make people feel like they're really important to the process, and making achievements each day. :)


Edited 3 times. Last edit by Murray Lorden on 30th September 2011 1:00am

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Rex Mcnish Environment Artist 8 years ago
This industry needs unions, publishers are too disconnected from developers to care about giving them fair working conditions otherwise.

Publishers will NOT change. Publishers are NOT developers, and they only care about how your project is going to be viewed by the consumer base.

Just like with anything, Publishers have most of the power in a Publisher/Developer relationship. That power needs to be kept in check because at the moment, it is NOT kept in check and is causing some serious harm to the industry at large.
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