Q&A: Ex-Infinity Ward leaders and EA Games president explain how they are setting up an independent SoCal shop, discuss importance of owning one's own IP.
Today saw the latest twist in the case of Activision vs. Vince Zampella and Jason West. A month and a half after the two developers were fired for "insubordination" from the studio they founded, Infinity Ward, they are starting up an all-new independent studio, Respawn Entertainment.
The new shop is being established with the assistance of Electronic Arts, which will publish its first game under the EA Partners program. The program offers many top-tier independent developers EA's publishing power while allowing them to retain their autonomy. Its roster includes Harmonix (Rock Band 3), Crytek (Crysis 2), Valve Software (Portal 2), Epic Games (the just-announced Bulletstorm), and now, Respawn.
To find out how Zampella and West partnered up with EA--a deal overshadowed by a major lawsuit--GameSpot caught up with the two developers this morning. Sitting in on the call was EA Games president Frank Gibeau, who was likely enjoying the situation, as Activision had poached two of his top developers less than a year ago. (Ironically, the ex-EA devs are now working on a Call of Duty adventure-game spin-off.)
RESPAWN DEAL: ORIGINS
"As you know, we were let go from Activision," said Zampella. "The day after, our phones were ringing of the hook with interest from every major publisher. It was good for us, because at a stressful time, good guys from all over the industry were in contact with us. We sat down with all the publishers, got a lot of offers, and the EAP deal ended up what we felt was the best thing for us."
The EA Partners deal was announced just days after Activision countersued West and Zampella, accusing them of embarking "on a secret trip by private jet to Northern California, arranged by their Hollywood agent, to meet with the most senior executives of Activision's closest competitor." EA was not explicitly named in the lawsuit, but its headquarters are just south of San Francisco in Northern California. West and Zampella have signed with top Hollywood talent agency Creative Artists Agency, which also represents Steven Spielberg and David Letterman.
Though EA declined to comment on the accusation when it was made, West had no problem speaking out. "That's all false and outrageous nonsense from Activision," he declared bluntly. However, the pair's attorney did tell GameSpot last week that "Jason and Vince had hired the Creative Artists Agency to advise them in their negotiations with Activision, not to breach their contract."
"It made sense for us, given the situation we were in," said Zampella of CAA's involvement. "After we left [Activision], instead of having to fly all around the country taking meetings, it allowed us to just set up a whole bunch of meetings in the same place." CAA also represents developer Double Fine, which also entered into an EA Partners deal after its game Brutal Legend was dumped by Activision.
SETTING UP SHOP
So what's next? "We're just moving on and kicking off our hiring drive," declared West, referring any interested developers to Respawn's bare-bones Web site. He declined to clarify whether or not Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer designer Todd Alderman and software engineer Francesco Gigliotti, who left Infinity Ward last week, might join the nascent studio.
"We'll announce the rest of the team at the appropriate time," said West, "Right now, it's just us." As to whether or not they might be joined by other Infinity Ward staffers, he said, "We have no idea what's going to happen." Zampella confirmed that the two were looking to set up shop in the same part of Los Angeles as Encino-based Infinity Ward. "There's a lot of talent in that area," Gibeau helpfully noted.
Luckily for West and Zampella, they have time to build a new studio, as they are free of the economic pressures usually associated with a startup operation. As part of its publishing deal, EA has given the two developers funds to rent office space and hire the talent they feel is necessary to make "AAA blockbuster games."
"We've reached an agreement where they have the seed money to get started as of today," said Gibeau. "It basically gives them [a] sanctuary where they can really focus in on creative and build a blockbuster product. We're helping these guys pick themselves up and go kick some ass."
"We need to hire people before we can decide what the game is, what our schedule is," explained Zampella. West said that Respawn's Web site would eventually become a full-fledged destination, with information for fans on the studio's progress. "That'll hopefully happen sooner rather than later--I assume we're going to get a lot of interest," he said.
GAME ON, BUT A WAYS OFF
As part of their own ongoing lawsuit against Activision, West and Zampella are asking for control of the Modern Warfare name. Activision owns the Call of Duty brand, but the two contend they were promised control over its wildly successful offshoot. If the two are successful--a big if--could EA end up publishing a future Modern Warfare game?
"That's irrelevant to what we're doing now," said Zampella. "We are launching our new game, our new company--it's a reset. We're focusing on properties at Respawn alone."
What kinds of games might those be? "We have no idea yet, but we can't wait to see," said West, joking, "We're that clueless." However, given the pair's track record, a first-person shooter is a leading candidate. "I think it's safe to say it will be something our fans will enjoy," he teased. When asked if the EA deal was a multigame arrangement, all three men declined comment.
There is one thing West and Zampella are extremely clear on, though. The pair confirmed that Respawn will always remain an independent studio and will always retain the rights to its intellectual properties. "I think we've learned the hard way that if you really want to ensure the integrity of your games and your brand, you have to own your own IP," he said. "It's the only way to ensure quality."
Gibeau also thinks independence will be good for the two developers. "I liken this to when the [Boston] Red Sox traded Babe Ruth to the [New York] Yankees for a ham sandwich and a few thousand dollars. That worked out pretty well for him," he joked.
@FatalAffinity http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=118760978134798&ref=search There you go Bud :) Surprisingly I only have 4 people in the group so far :/
I am so happy that this company is finally free from the greedy claws of Activision. I personally have never supported the actions of that publisher, and with what happened to these two great minds, it's reinforces my distrust. I just hoped that their freedom's price would have been a more peaceful one that the one they actually had to live through. BTW @Chris123333 could you post a link to the fan page you created or add me at facebook.com/darkaffinity and send it to me there?
I SUPPORT WEST & ZAMPELLA!!! I made a facebook group for it :P I hope they get to making games soon. and I hope that they get Modern Warfare too. :)
@LtReviews I personaly don't care at all if they were in talks with EA, all that matters is that Activision wanted to milk the superb franchise IW made for what is was worth with a bunch of spin-offs that could ruin their hard works reputation and i'm super glad they got away from thos greedy idiots. I would much rather have 1 good game every 2 years than 2 bad games every year =)
All its about is the money!!!!! No gaming companies give a damn!! about how good the game is and they dont care about the customers. Video games aren't even like they used to be!! I guess thats what happens when money gets involved!!
@LtReviews you've got a point, and it is a little suspicious. i think they were ultimately planning on joining with EAP prior to them getting busted for it by Activision. If that's the case, then they got what they wanted, but it might cost them in the end.
They're lying... it is so obvious it hurts to read it. They were talking to EA about this and more before they were fired from activision. That's why activision fired them- they went behind their backs and activision didn't want to risk losing an entire studio. They say this didn't happen- and yet they end up at EA so extremely fast after getting let go from activision. They breached their contract- they were fired for the right reasons. Yes, activisions sucks for many reasons, but West and Zampella are lying about this one.
COD7 will be great. Imagine sprayin people with 1970's model m16's and ak's and SMG pistols turning peoples faces red and blowing off there limbs. COD7 will most likely bring it on.
Im glad activision put those dogs at IW at bay. Treyarchs W@W was way more fun than MW2 and 1. MW is good but W@W makes great use of COD4 engine and add bullet wounds and gore. You can really pump rounds in people and see holes in them, Mw2 and 1 don't have this just a boring red puss that comes from an invisible wound!
You can't really class the game companies as evil. At the end of the day they have a lot of different aspects and games to think about but there projects need to work out financially and make a profit to make a game viable to make and to have the money to make future games. It is sad to see some companies lose sight of what foundations made them successful and seem to focus more on their balance sheets. It's good to see that EA understand that they have to let the developers have a sence of freedom and be able to be creative to make new and interesting ip's and hopefully games that will stand out from the crowed.
no money is not the root of all evil happiness is the root of all evil people just see money as a shortcut to happiness still waiting for the south park episode where they show IW getting abused by kotick and Activision maybe shooting random employees and tea bagging them in the face
@minime78362 Compared to Activision, EA is like a Saint. But you are right, EA is still a corporation out to make money just like the rest of them, but for now I'm siding with them.
Why are you guys talking like EA is this nice corporation now? All corporations are evil, they are all in it to make money, and money is the root of all evil.
this could be a really great thing. as horrible as this whole law suit business is, it's really put these guys on the radar. (ashamed face) i didn't really know these devs until i read about the suit, and now i'm really psyched up for this new IP they are creating. i'm sure a lot of the gaming community support them and will show great interest in their further developments, partly due to this whole mess. even if their next project is only a AA standard (highly unlikely) game, i'll be buying it purely out of support.
Its funny, EA used to be the lumbering corporate evil and Activision was the gentle giant a few years back...Now the tables have turned and EA seems to be repenting for their actions and Activision seems drunk with power. This is one interesting world we live in
Respawn Entertainment = Giantbomb. Companies should learn not to fire their best employees(hint hint). Stupid.
I want a "RESPAWN" t-shirt ASAP!!! Go, guys! Run! Show us what you can do now that you're FREE!!! And thanks, Tor!!! I have been following this and your reporting as always is informative and well written!
ROCK ON RESPAWN ENTERTAINMENT!!!!!!!!! Activision can stuck their heads up their asses!! =P I hope the whole Infinity Ward team breaks up and they all go to Respawn. KICK SOME ASS!!!!!!!!!!!
Funny how things are repeating themselves... Bright future for Respawn is ahead. I'm definitely sure of that.
as much as i want respawn to get control of the MW brand it could be tough with activisions deep pockets, they would rather spend millions and billions then to give something to someone or to admit wrong doing. if not it don't matter we know activision merely just put up money to help produce the game they didn't spend any time making it. we know west and zampella and crew spent hours and months making mw and mw2
I'm glad things are coming together for them, i see some good games coming in the future, all i can say is keep an eye on respawn because i see good things coming from this crew when there official
i think this is a good thing because it means another studio which means more games! i also think that they should take the modern warfare name off of activision, maybe they can make the multiplayer a little less annoying
@elozl Konnichiwa, otokonoko. You forgot to say it the right way, its actually "Activision has always been EVIEYELLLLLLL, MUHAHAHAHAHA!"
I truly Can't wait to see what these men design they are on the top of the game it's a coup de etat for EA.If Modern warfare was a hit what ever these men develop will be awesome!
Go Respawn! It sounds like EA has a very attractive model: they take a cut of the revenue while providing start-up money and publishing support. The devs get the IP. Good for everyone, including fans who want to see the brand stay true to itself.
Haha i bet EA couldn't be more happy about this, think about it, the two key people who made Medal of honor back with EA. Suck on that Activision, by all means im not really a great fan of eather company's, but this is still good none the less. Looking forward to seeing new IPs
I'm happy for them. Activision screwed them over, now EA is helping them make a fresh start. I'm extremely excited to see what they produce over the next few years.
Well i don't really care whether if it is EA or Activision as long as these guys(west and zampella) are in the market. besides @jokethis21 if u hate BC2 so much,why the hell u hav rated 8.5 to it ??? people dont give fake opinions here dude ... unless i misunderstood u then ignore ...
@jokethis21 well do you want a overpriced mess of a modern warfare from activision or do you want the old infinity ward crew to make one?
i do know that that have "beef" with activision.....maybe, but i hope everything is cool before it is heat up, and if they (activision) lie...maybe they shouldn't know.
Well EA is letting Respawn have full control of their own IPs so ofcourse they would leave Activision who demanded that Infinityward stick to making WWII games. And now Activision is pretty much milking the CoD franchise for all its worth.
if zampella and west get rights to the cod series, activision would definitely go down little by little, like all gaming companies its all about the money and in this case with ea having those developers along with the cod franchise theyll definitely going to have alot more money coming in, it wouldnt be a competition anymore bbc, cod since theyll both be under ea plus the whole medal of honor too man, activision sucks lol
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