E-mails unsealed during the West-Zampella vs Activision pre-trial hearings have been made available to the public, showing that the pair were to recieve $13 million in compensation during 2010 had they not been fired.
Jason West and Vince Zampella were fired by Activision in March, 2010, and filed suit two days citing breach of contract, and claiming $36 million in damages.
Activision claims this figure has grown to $1 billion, which the Modern Warfare creators claim as royalties owed them due to the success of the franchise and the loss of creative control they claim was part of their deal with the publisher.
The e-mails, made available by the L.A. Times, show Activision executives had been in discussion about damage control for over a year prior to the firing, and had even considered what to do with the money no longer owed the Infinity Ward developers in compensation.
"I know you mentioned that Brian K. is pretty over them at this point, but is everyone ready for the big,
negative PR story this is going to turn into if we kick them out?" says one e-mail dated January 2009.
"Just want to make sure we know what we’re getting into. Freaking rne out a little."
The same e-mail mentions a "proposal" put to West and Zampella, and discusses the possibility of bringing Treyarch on to finish work on Modern Warfare 2.
Another e-mail from May 2009 speaks of "plan A" and "plan B" succession for "IW post ship of MW2".
A few days later, the relationship, already soured, took a dramatic dive south, as plans for an E3 demo of Modern Warfare 2 imploded, jeopardizing a deal with Microsoft. West and Zampella informed Activision that the demo would take longer than the alloted eight minutes, and as negotiations were in the works, things got ugly.
"They hung up on me," wrote Mike Griffith, apparently after asking the pair to make a ten-minute demo for investors.
"If they really did I would change their locks and lock them out of their building," replied Activision CEO Bobby Kotick.
"As soon as I get that gold master…" said Griffith.
By June, Activision was discussing retention plans for IW employees, with equity based rewards for the top twelve members "ex Vince and Jason" to make sure the studio remained intact should "things blow up at the top."
"There’s plenty there for retention," said Griffith to Kotick in an e-mail discussing a spreadsheet of compensation for the top twenty at IW.
"My guess is these folks are not very well educated on what’s there and when it will likely occur."
"We are paying way too many people way too much – we need to find a way to put caps on our bonus payouts."
By January of 2010, executives at Activision were becoming increasingly certain that the future of Infinity Ward would not include West or Zampella, with Kotick noting in an e-mail that their compensation would likely be available for use in other deals.
When West and Zampella were fired, Activision found themselves in the middle of the nightmare they had spent so long preparing for. The majority of the Infinity Ward team left their positions, and followed West and Zampella in filing suit against their former employer.
Activision paid $42 million dollars to the Infinity Ward employee group last week, but has made it clear that this does not constitute a settlement.
A seperate suit against EA, which Activision accused of meeting with West and Zampella prior to their dismissal, was resolved out of court.
But it is the West-Zampella case itself that has done the most damage, with internal communications and contracts drug before public eyes, and possibly facing millions in damages.
The trial is set to begin next week on May 29.