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Most of Infinity Ward's top-paid staff jumped ship to Respawn Entertainment
Most of Infinity Ward's top-paid staff jumped ship to Respawn Entertainment
May 22, 2012 | By Tom Curtis

May 22, 2012 | By Tom Curtis
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    34 comments
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing



As the case between Activision and ex-Inifinity Ward leads Jason West and Vince Zampella continues to move forward, new documents have been made public revealing that nearly all of Infinity Ward's top paid staff in 2009 have since left for West and Zampella's current studio, Respawn Entertainment.

A 2009 email chain published by the LA Times [PDF] revealed a conversation between Activision employees Mike Griffith, Steven Aguilar, Bobby Kotick, and others, noting the salaries and bonuses of the 21 top-performing and highest-compensated Infinity Ward employees at the time.

Outside of West and Zampella, these employees were each scheduled to earn between $353,000 and $1.37 million in 2009, and Infinity Ward's projected bonus pool had grown to more than $73 million. Judging from the documents, it seems Activision's executives didn't want to write such hefty paychecks.

In the published email chain, Griffith notes, "we are paying way too many people way too much -- we need to find a way to put caps on our bonus payouts."

It seems Griffith got his wish, as a look at LinkedIn and the Respawn Entertainment website reveals that including West and Zampella, 18 of the 21 developers on Infinity Ward's top-paid employees list now work at Respawn.

Shortly after Activision fired West and Zampella in 2010, a number of these former employees sued the publisher for not paying their bonues and royalties, and it's easy to see why tensions became so high between Activision and these developers when you look at the amount of money at stake.

West and Zampella, for instance, were projected to earn a base salary of $420,000 in 2009, with bonuses totaling $3.1 million each -- in 2010, they were projected to earn bonuses as high as $13 million each.

Even the staff below the Infinity Ward heads were set to receive similarly impressive payouts. A lead software engineer, for instance, was on a salary of $145,700 in 2009, and was marked for a bonus of $600,000, with an additional $2.5 million in 2010.

By 2010, all 21 employees on Infinity Ward's top-compensated list were projected to receive a bonus of more than $1 million each.

Just last week, Activision awarded $42 million (on top of a previously reported $22 million) to these former employees, but not to West and Zampella, who still seek compensation for their unpaid bonuses. The trial for that case is currently scheduled for May 29.


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Comments


Mike Murray
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Wow, they were set to receive some serious cash. Makes sense when you're the one responsible for making the company rich.

Activision is scum. Just pay what you owe and be done with it.

Michael Rooney
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Why do you think Activision owes them $1 billion? Given the numbers in this article, that's 50 times their projected bonuses/salary for 2010 had they not been fired.

[User Banned]
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Duong Nguyen
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Is it any coincidence that the day after the emails between top Activision execs are made public about their desire to "get rid" of people and how they truly feel about the talent working for them that the people who could, just bail? I'm sure there are emails now about who to "get rid" of next.. be it for financial or personal motives.

edit: i see this is staff who left in the interm, still point applies the working conditions must have been pretty bad.

tony oakden
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This is precisely why I hate these sort of bonus schemes. If a publisher is giving a bonus for doing good work then it shouldn't be tied to the employee staying with the company past the game delivery date. All that does is to encourage people who would rather leave to hang about until the bonus gets paid thus wasting their time and lowering the overall productivity of the company. I've seen many cases of people sticking out bad jobs, which their hearts where not in, simply in the hope that they'd get their bonuses when really it would have been in everyone's better interest for them to leave and get another job elsewhere. Bonuses should be be just that, bonuses, and not golden handcuffs in disguise...

Cary Chichester
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I can imagine West and Zampella's opening statements now: "Your honor, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 earned over 1 billion dollars in two months...We rest our case"

Joe kennedy
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I agree with Mike,...
Pay them what they owe! Developers at Infinity Ward made them a lot of revenues and help put COD on the map.

You can't fool others by thinking Treyarch, Sledgehammer, Raven soft, Neversoft, and lord knows how many other studios involved in getting MW3 out the door; that this franchise wasn't born by the hands of some of the best and amazing developers ala: Vince_Jason and crew of IW.

This is some greaseball SH#^!!!!!!

Activision is SCUM!!!!!

Let this be a lesson and an eye opener for other publishers that think they can screw CREDIBLE developers out of their rewards. Without these guys Activision wouldn't see these kinds of revenues in the first place. Lets be real!!!! over 1 billion dollars. Name one title in our history that's done this kind of ground breaking sales.

Now instead of having 130 plus doing one hit title, they have to do an all hands on deck across all their other studios to ship "1" title and then pay 600 plus to do the work of 130 strong.

Retarded move on Activision's part. At what price are they now having to pay to ship these titles now?

Michael Joseph
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Perhaps certain higher ups within Activision felt threatened by Jason West, Vince Zampella and other IW leads?

The psychology behind the motivation to kill golden geese is fascinating. Maybe some behavioral game theorists have written papers on the subject.

Ken Nakai
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I swear. It's either Activision is ridiculously greedy (they're walking away with plenty of cash) or they're just plain stupid (the bonus should be a percent of profits earned that way it comes out of available funds, not funds that may not be available). Maybe they should consider reconfiguring the business (Activision) to work like a business, not a carbon copy of the film or music biz where you've got execs who have no idea how to do anything below their pay grade but seem to think they do. Seems more like someone at Activision should have been fired, they should have paid out the bonuses and renegotiated contracts so they're realistic. Just make it "shares" of the profits from sales so that $1 billion sales mark (of which Activision gets half, not 100%) doesn't result in bonuses that cause a loss on the books (assuming they actually do...).

Russell Watson
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I wonder what those activision execs were projected to earn in salary + bonuses and whether they thought they were being paid too much also?

Ah sorry I forgot, everyone below executive level management exists to make executive managers rich. Wont happen again.

Michael Rooney
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You know the salaries of the Activision Blizzard board are available in the financials as a publicly traded company.

Russell Watson
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What I was getting at is, how much did their pay increase in comparison to the employees they were complaining about paying too much?

Michael Rooney
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What I was getting at is that you can just check their financial statements and know exactly how much. o.O

http://investor.activision.com/index.cfm

It's probably under SEC filings if I had to guess?

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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"we are paying way too many people way too much -- we need to find a way to put caps on our bonus payouts."

That's it right there folks, for anyone still naive enough to think that the elite "job creators" have anyone's best interests in mind but their own. Don't delude yourself into thinking that statement comes with any intention other than self-interest.

I have had enough. I want to see a revolution. I want to see all executives in this industry that don't care about their employees or their customers torn kicking and screaming from their ill-earned thrones and put in jail until their pointless lives end. You can't pay someone "too much" for their work; you don't get to DECIDE how much is too much in a true free market where sincere customers support sincere developers, which incentivizes innovation. Only in this lunatic work-for-hire capitalist society that we falsely call a free market can the fat pigs at the top comfortably feed their bloated bellies off the working class and then have the fucking AUDACITY to decide when the working class is getting over-paid. Find the nearest suit. Ask him or her what they think of that statement I quoted. If they show anything but disgust, they are your enemy; your oppressor. And for your sake as well as the rest of the nation, as well as the rest of the world, they must be stopped. These psychopaths must be put to rest so innovators and hard workers will once more be the ones that are rewarded, or this will get much worse: http://www.cbpp.org/images/cms//6-25-10inc-f1.jpg.

John Woznack
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Jeffery, instead of bitching about it, why don't you go start your OWN video game development/publishing company and show all of us just how to "properly" run it?

I'm tired of whiny people that point to a few bad individuals in an industry and cry "revolution!" while at the same time bashing capitalism. If capitalism is so bad, what's a better system in your eyes?

Keith Nemitz
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John, I don't agree with Jeffrey, but the answer to your question is, sufficiently regulated capitalism.

Personal rant: Too often consumer tax money ends up paying for damages that corporations failed to pay from their competitive prices. Capitalism encourages companies to cut corners, worse, to game the system. Capitalism encourages monopoly, which concentrates power, which is therefore used to corrupt the system.

John Woznack
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Keith, can you define "sufficiently regulated" for me?

---
..."Capitalism encourages companies to cut corners, worse, to game the system."

Please name for me a better, more successful business model that doesn't "encourage companies to cut corners, worse, to game the system"?

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..."Capitalism encourages monopoly, which concentrates power, which is therefore used to corrupt the system."

Again, please name for me a better, more successful business model that doesn't "encourage monopoly, which concentrates power, which is therefore used to corrupt the system"?

[User Banned]
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Michael Rooney
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To be fair Keith, your personal rant is on regulated capitalism, not on capitalism. In non regulated capitalism failing companies fail, they aren't bailed out.

Investors and stakeholders are brutally punished for ignorance/poor choices, which is the major fault with capitalism, and is why it's regulated that way at present. I don't want to get into my opinion on it, I just don't like when people mislabel faults of government regulations on capitalism as a fault of capitalism.

@Jeff It really isn't that simple; especially in a publicly traded company. They are an employer, and a big part of that is exactly deciding when the 'working class' (read: studio heads making millions of dollars in bonuses every year) is over-paid.

John Woznack
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No Dave. Keith didn't define what "sufficiently regulated" means. Neither did you.

But let's go with your "sufficiently regulated capitalism". Fine. Now, can you define what THAT means exactly?

Do we just start with "plain 'ol" capitalism and then continually throw regulation after regulation on top until no one's happy?

How much "sufficiently regulated capitalism" will it take to prevent "fat pigs at the top" from "cutting corners", "gaming the system", and "corrupting the system"?

Are you able to, here and now, write down the laws you think are necessary to create this "sufficiently regulated capitalism" we apparently need so desperately?

[User Banned]
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[User Banned]
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Michael Rooney
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@Dave: That just ain't true. It's Microeconomics 101.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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"Jeffery"

It's Jeffrey, thanks.

"Jeffery, instead of bitching about it, why don't you go start your OWN video game development/publishing company and show all of us just how to "properly" run it?"

I am in the process of doing that. I am working with friends on an entity to develop games, and if that somehow gains traction then I fully intend to support other developers in ways that does not tie them to me as my eternal bitches. I am also communicating with like-minded developers to discuss ways to remove the plague of suits that profit off our work. I am also working on a development environment/distribution system set up to reward developers with no intention of becoming a for profit middle man myself, merely as a way of giving developers options other than the standard 30% cut that corporations feel they deserve because that's what they can get away with. I am also studying the history of capitalism and communism because, though I think those words are empty and divisive, they seem to crop up a lot. I find it interesting though that you think the only thing I am doing to fix the problem is the one thing you happen to see me doing right now, as if I stop existing when I'm not communicating to you. But communicating, conglomerating, er... "bitching", if you will... is very important too. Very few hard problems can be solved by an individual, and if people are really blind to the trends of oppression in our current society then they will be blind-sided by those trends when it is too late to reverse them. If it is not too late already, then I am going to do whatever I can to reverse them -- and I don't give a god DAMN if you're "tired" of that. Don't get on the internet anymore than. Honestly though, why can't one bitch about a problem while fixing it :)? It's cathartic to say the least, I've been driven to suicidal levels of depression over this mess our species has gotten itself into so I don't feel guilty for channels of catharsis from time to time.

"I'm tired of whiny people that point to a few bad individuals in an industry and cry "revolution!" while at the same time bashing capitalism. If capitalism is so bad, what's a better system in your eyes?"

Perfectionism, an economic system where everyone does the perfect thing at the perfect time. It is better than Capitalism by definition.

No, I am mostly kidding, just illustrating why I don't like "ism"s that much. But instead of mentioning a better system by name (because the "next" system we end up evolving into probably hasn't been named yet), let me just say that a better system than capitalism (or perhaps a better "version" of capitalism) would be one in which the road to success is not guarded by the already successful. In other words, you don't get to earn your success (I will admit this is the case for many of the rich), then dangle money over my head that you can just as easily give to my competitor and force me (yes force) to sign up with you out of fear of you siding with my competitor instead. That is what the mafia does, that is what publishers do, that is what capitalism _encourages_ if not _mandates_. A better system than capitalism? How about a system where those who create are given proportional wealth for their work instead of merely those who set themselves up as the gate keepers. Anyway, it's more than a few bad individuals in one industry, the rich are getting richer at a nearly unprecedented rate. Did you not see the graph I linked to? Did you not understand it? Did you not agree with its accuracy or message? Do you think that the middle class suddenly got lazy when unemployment skyrocketed, or that the top 1% have somehow worked three times as hard over the last thirty years?

"John, I don't agree with Jeffrey,"

I find that interesting, because I agree with your points here :).

Anyway, the mistake that we are all making, and why I always find the "name a better system than capitalism" argument a bit misdirected (though I admit I asked for it), is trying to find a system that works for us instead of adhering to standards of ethics and taking responsibility ourselves for what is right or what is wrong. There is no free market, no magical or mathematical construct optimizing things behind the scenes, and while you and many believe there is a code of honor to let things "just happen" in the global market while focusing on your "local" market (what job am I going to take, if I go to that store I can get this for a little cheaper) there are a ruling elite gaming the system, putting puppet politicians in place, outsourcing your jobs not so they can give wealth to poorer countries (which I would be for in a heart beat EVEN IF it meant I lose wealth) but so they can get away with dirt-cheap wages and become even more entrenched as the rulers of this world.

And you ask me what system should replace Capitalism? What white knight set of rules will create equality and harmony among men that can't be abused? None. There is no system waiting to save us. There is no magical algorithm. There is only causality affected by rational agents. We can't just write a dictation to counter unethical behavior because a perfectly unethical person can always take said dictation and find a loophole in it. Why do you wait for a better system, or adhere to a broken one? Why do you think an "ism" will save us? Volitional cooperation and respect for the well-being of others as much as yourself is ALL that will save us from destroying ourselves, not finding the perfect set of rules that makes it hardest for the slimiest randroids to enslave us. The Capitalism vs Communism false dichotomy is just a distraction tactic built from years of dick-bragging propaganda between two world powers.

And yet I explicitly attack Capitalism don't I? I am probably a hypocrite, but the concoction of manifest destiny, rugged individualism, and objectivism mixed with an intelligent minority bent on running the lives of the ignorant majority that still thinks there is a slice of American Dream waiting for them is the agent of greatest evil in my country. And my country happens to have the biggest dick right now, which means it is the greatest evil in the world, if you draw things out to their logical winner-takes-all conclusion. If you can't envision this, then play a game of Monopoly and replace fake money with real, rent-paying, food-buying (and now vote-buying) wealth and you will understand.

When you do this, I am curious to see if you're not bitching about your destiny too, or merely bitching about the bitching of others :).

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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Oh, John, here's a good write-up of some problems with capitalism: http://listverse.com/2012/01/16/top-10-disadvantages-to-capitalis
m/. I want to highlight #7, "Under a capitalist system, the profit motive is far greater than altruism. If people are worried about what’s in their own pocket, they will avoid helping their fellow human beings because they’re concentrating on looking after themselves. People feel the need to put themselves first because they think no-one will be there to help them if they lose all their money." I think this is very important because I've felt this fear, this -- "If it's dog-eat-dog and people are plotting to take all the wealth for themselves, I don't have time to help the poor", and it feels rotten. I'm as self-centered as anyone, but I just can't live in a world where those in misery are systematically doomed to continue said misery, so I will never be happy in Capitalism. And yes, the profit-motive is so key to Capitalism by any definition I know that I don't think this is a mere side-effect we can polish out; it is built in, as soon as we get to a system that rewards and encourages empathy for others instead of hoping it happens as a side effect of "rational self-interest" or the "free market" (whatever that means, assuming happenstance can guide us better than we can guide ourselves), I think it will be sufficiently different from Capitalism that we can't call it Capitalism. So that is why I explicitly rail against "Capitalism" while simultaneously saying it is silly to focus on "isms". I'm sure I'm still a hypocrite, but I'm struggling through all of this too :). Maybe on the other end I will have more clarity and less hatred for those I view as oppressors; until then, I am more concerned with global happiness and freedom than protected the status quo or not offending people with my "bitching".

John Woznack
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Jeffrey (A thousand pardons for misspelling your name),

---
..."I am in the process of doing that."

That answers my first question to you. I'm happy to read that you've decided to participate in Capitalism! Do you have a web site for your new company yet?

---
..."And you ask me what system should replace Capitalism? What white knight set of rules will create equality and harmony among men that can't be abused? None."

And that answers my second question to you.

Thank you, and good luck with the new company!

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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"Jeffrey (A thousand pardons for misspelling your name)"

I will only accept a thousand and twenty, at the very least. ;]

"That answers my first question to you. I'm happy to read that you've decided to participate in Capitalism!"

Where did I say I was participating in Capitalism or deciding to?

"Thank you, and good luck with the new company!"

What _company_? John, I was giving you a hard time about misspelling my name but that was in jest (a lot of people spell it "Jeffery" anyway, no big deal). But now you are seeing words that I did not type. Are you properly hydrated?

[User Banned]
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Patrick Haslow
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The title of this story isn't exactly unrevealed news.

As soon as Respawn's website went up, they were touting a person-by person role call of IW's best and brightest. That was over a year ago now.

Steven An
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It would be hilarious if in 2012...20 of Treyarch's best employees go to Respawn after BO2 :P :P

Craig Page
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That's cool, trying to weasel out of paying bonuses and get rid of the people who make the company a fortune every other year. Maybe EA could share their award for Worst Company in America?

Rom Broad
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Does anyone know how these numbers stack up against industry average, against similar roles at other developers? To play devil's advocate, isn't this just ATVI simply doing the proper thing in tackling a corner of its business that appears to have grossly inflated remuneration levels over (presumably) every other part of its business? [ducks]

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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That paying employees is a cost instead of an honor implies competition and selfishness.

If we are going to live in a selfish and competitive society then there is no need to give respect or props to our enemies.

Either you treat your employees with respect or you deserve none of mine even if what you are doing is "economically intelligent".

I am working on brevity :]

Michael DeFazio
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Wow, a must read from Game Informer (Interview with Jason and Vince):

http://www.gameinformer.com/b/features/archive/2012/05/24/respawn
-39-s-west-and-zampella-sound-off-on-upcoming-activision-lawsuit.
aspx


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