Former Infinity Ward President Jason West and CEO Vincent Zampella have entered into negotiations with Electronic Arts to form their own game studio, Respawn Entertainment, according to the LA Times.
West and Zampella have had a busy six months. First, they release the insanely successful Modern Warfare 2, earning over $1 billion, and propelling the game into the third spot of top selling U.S games. Then in March, everything changed. Activision Blizzard Inc. fired the duo, citing insubordination and breach of contract. Activision claimed that the pair were deliberately slowing development of games, while seeking the capital to form their own, independent company. West and Zampella claim the firing came as a shock to both, and that the move by Activision was to deny them royalties they owed them. And then the lawsuits began.
West and Zampella sued Activision for $36 million, claiming that they had been ousted to avoid paying royalties, and that Activision had been looking for a way to fire them for weeks leading up to the actual termination. They claim that Activision reps went as far as to interrogate them for six hours at a time in windowless rooms, even while the duo remained unclear on what it was they were being interrogated about. The lawsuit includes royalties due, legal expenses, and the control of the Modern Warfare brand.
In response, Activision claimed that the pair had less creative influence to the series than they claim, and that they knew that West and Zampella were planning on using the royalties to form a new game company, independent of Activision. Then yesterday it was announced that Activision would be countersuing, claiming that West and Zampella held up game development and withheld employee bonuses in an attempt to increase their own royalties. The move could be the beginning of a long and brutal lawsuit that could go on for years, or it could be the informal beginning of negotiations.
But now with West and Zampella free to pursue their own plans, they have announced a new partnership with Electronic Arts is in the works, and they will begin their own independent game company, Respawn Entertainment. EA will provide the startup capital for the company and retain exclusive distribution rights to the game.
EA – Activision’s chief rival in the video game publishing world – has reportedly offered the duo total control over their intellectual property, and complete ownership of any new properties they create, an honor reserved for only a handful of developers in the video game world.
So now it appears that Activision’s fears about West and Zampella’s forming a new company are true, but whether it was the culmination of a long term plan, or a self fulfilling prophecy brought on by the firing, we may never know. No word yet on what the new Respawn Entertainment will focus on first, but West and Zampella have made their reputation through first person shooters.