Jason West and Vince Zampella were integral to Call of Duty’s success. Because they were the heads of Infinity Ward and creators of the massively successful franchise, it came as a major bombshell to the industry when, on March 1, 2010, Activision terminated their contracts of employment with the company.
West and Zampella sued for wrongful termination of employment and $36 million in lost earnings three days later. Activision then counter-sued, accusing the Call of Duty creators of “stealing” Infinity Ward “at the expense of Activision and its shareholders and for their own personal financial gain”.
Game Informer managed to get an exclusive interview with the developers and their lawyer after the lawsuit became public knowledge. In short, Activision decided to terminate their employment and sue them for loss of earnings, as Modern Warfare 3 would be a better game if they were still employed by the company.
Activision also brought EA into the legal proceedings after West and Zampella made a deal with the giant publisher to set up their own studio called Respawn Entertainment there.
Activision accused the pair of making deals behind their back -- but as the pair revealed to Game Informer, they had explained to EA that they were still under contract with Activision and could not consider their offer at that point. There were also underhand tactics which wouldn’t look out of place in a spy movie, with Activision’s Head of IT being asked to break into the duo’s e-mails.
On May 31, 2012, Kotaku reported that the two parties agreed to settle out of court for an undisclosed amount.
This case explores how far an employer can go in demanding the most from their employees. Activision’s decision to terminate the pair’s employment almost out of the blue, whilst conducting behind the scenes investigations, seems pretty brutal. Also, it’s worth noting that according to Eurogamer, the developers took a reduced royalty rate of 20% from the series in 2008 – around 2 years before they were fired.