Washington independent studio Bungie will be rewarded with $2.5 million if its first game published by Activision receives a score of 90 or higher on GameRankings.com, according to terms of the original contract between the two companies.
A bonus of $2.5 million for a 90-plus score appears to be the largest of its kind on public record.
The policy of paying developers to reach certain milestones on game review aggregators (typically Metacritic) has proven controversial, due to the pressures it places on marketing teams, journalists, developers and PR.
In March it was revealed that struggling California studio Obsidian lost out on bonus pay for the RPG Fallout New Vegas because its Metacritic score was one point below the threshold.
Activision’s review score stipulation was revealed in a 27-page development contract which shows that Bungie is building a game with the working title ‘Destiny’.
It will initially be exclusive to Microsoft's Xbox 360 – cited with a 'Fall 2013' release date. A PS3 edition was under review, though not certain, at the time of the contract signing.
In the extraordinary revelations into Activision's publishing plans, the legal documents also state ambitions to continue the series on Xbox 720, PlayStation 4 and PC.
The contract may have been amended since it went into effect on April 16, 2010.
Under the terms of the agreement, Bungie is due to be paid $2.5 million per year in bonuses between 2010 and 2013 Washington studio meets certain quality and budget milestones.
Based on sales of the game, Bungie is entitled to royalties ranging from 20 to 35 per cent of "operating income," the contract shows.
The tumultuous revelation comes as part of Activision’s bitter and protracted lawsuit against two former colleagues, Vince Zampella and Jason West.
The pair, who were famously dismissed from Infinity Ward in April 2010, argue that the Bungie contract should be examined in its lawsuit because, their lawyers argue, it shows that Activision paid Zampella and West smaller bonuses than what it had offered Bungie.
The result is a disastrous disclosure of Activision’s internal publishing plans, its negotiations with development studios, and its finer contract terms exposed to the global games development industry.
West and Zampella are suing Activision for as total damages up to $1 billion. The court case will go ahead in June.