West and Zampella today announced their new studio, Respawn Entertainment, and a publishing agreement with EA Partners. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, it's EA's seed capital that's providing the startup funds for the project. Respawn will own its IP, however.
Respawn also said that EA, through its EA Partners division, holds exclusive worldwide publishing and distribution rights for future titles coming out of the new studio. "This is like the time the Red Sox traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees," EA Games head Frank Gibeau told us.
"Respawn Entertainment marks a fresh start for Jason and me," said Zampella, who will act as the new studio's general manager, in a statement. "For the past decade we led a great development team and poured our hearts into creating an epic game franchise. We're very proud of what we built -- and proud that so many millions of fans enjoyed those games. Today we hope to do it all over again -- open a new studio, hire a great team, and create brand new games with a new partner, EA."
"We're excited," adds Respawn president West. "Now that the team is in control of the games and brands, we can ensure that the fans are treated as well as they deserve."
The pair said they're staffing up for a variety of positions; a new official site for the studio currently contains only an email address for inquiries about jobs.
The pair have been in the midst of a public dispute with Infinity Ward parent Activision over the Modern Warfare brand they helped build as the heads of Infinity Ward.
Activision fired Zampella and West for alleged insubordination in early March, just a few months after the November launch of Infinity Ward's video game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, which has generated over $1.5 billion globally. The pair sued the publisher for $36 million over the firing.
Late last week the publisher filed a counter-suit, accusing Zampella and West of trying to "steal" Infinity Ward. The counter-suit also includes an allegation that the pair went "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."
Gamasutra sources have said that going independent has long been a desire of West and Zampella's, and that a contentious relationship between Infinity Ward and its publisher has existed since the beginning of Modern Warfare 2's development, with the studio's desired original IP project coming into conflict with Activision's production schedule for Modern Warfare games.
Activision's counter-suit now aims to withhold future payments to West and Zampella to compensate itself for a "period of [the pair's] disloyalty". The publisher also wants damages.
"It has a certain irony to it," Gibeau told the LA Times of West and Zampella's return to making games for his company (the pair were involved in EA's Medal of Honor series). "But the fact that they were in this situation was a stunning opportunity for us."