Call of Duty developers mulled divorce before split with Activision

Jason West and Vincent Zampella
Jason West (left) and Vincent Zampella, who developed the Call of Duty franchise, were fired from Activision in March 2010.
(Ann Johansson)

A case pitting the world’s biggest game company against two of the industry’s top developers is increasingly looking like a messy celebrity divorce.

As the lawsuits involvingActivision Blizzard Inc.and former employees Jason West and Vincent Zampella head to court next week, documents spilling into the public eye give a rare glimpse of a relationship that began to deteriorate long before the actual split-up in March 2010 when the company fired West and Zampella.

From a previous Times report, Activision had contingencies planned for life without West and Zampella, the heads of a game studio that developed the company’s multibillion-dollar Call of Duty series. In additional documents that have recently come to light, we now know the feelings were mutual.

In one email, West and Zampella’s lawyer Harold Brown discusses a “proposal” from Activision rival Electronic Arts Inc. In his email dated Dec. 23, 2009, Brown did not specify what the proposal entailed -- only that it assumed West and Zampella were “free of Activision.”


Another set of emails dated Oct. 26, 2009, concerned 180,000 stock grants that Activision wanted West and Zampella to distribute to top developers at their studio. Zampella asked Brown for advice on how they should handle Activision’s request to distribute the stock options. Brown observed that “the more options the team has, the more difficult it will be for them to leave.”

What Brown meant in his emails ultimately will be up to a jury to decide when the trial gets underway June 1.

Robert Schwartz, the attorney representing West and Zampella in their case against Activision, said in an interview that his clients had not wanted to sever their ties with Activision. The two, he said, were looking to spin off from the company as independent contractors once their contract with Activision was fulfilled, but still intended to make games for the company.

Activision declined to comment on the case.



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