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Kotick: 'No Gray Area' In IW Firings, Decision Not Bonus-Related
Kotick: 'No Gray Area' In IW Firings, Decision Not Bonus-Related Exclusive
May 6, 2010 | By Leigh Alexander

On the heels of a first quarter that roundly beat expectations, Activision CEO Bobby Kotick spoke out directly on the conflicts surrounding Infinity Ward and the Call of Duty brand, painting the firing of co-founders Jason West and Vince Zampella as a move he had no choice but to make.

"The decision to terminate the two executives was not done lightly, and was not done to deprive them of their bonuses," Kotick said on the company's call to investors, addressing the pair's legal suit without once identifying West and Zampella by name.

"Nor was it done without a great deal of deliberation about the consequences," he stressed. "We felt we had no choice but to terminate the Infinity Ward executives. We did this to protect the company's assets and the interest of our shareholders."

According to Kotick, the personal betrayal was difficult as the business decision. "I personally considered [West and Zampella] friends," he said. "Their conduct was a compromise of our friendship, which was equally disappointing."

Nonetheless, although more facts of the dispute will further surface as the legal cases proceed, Kotick was insistent that "there was no gray area."

"There was nothing that would have allowed us to retain their services, as talented as they might have been." Alluding heavily to ethics and the company's code of conduct, Kotick said Activision "chose the difficult right rather than the easier wrong" when it fired the pair.

As for the Call of Duty brand as a whole, Kotick emphasized it still has 325 employees among three studios -- Treyarch, Sledgehammer, and Infinity Ward -- at work on it, a position he calls a "coveted opportunity" for any game developer.

As for what remains of Infinity Ward, Kotick conceded that a total 35 employees have left the studio since the firings of Jason West and Vince Zampella -- "and it is likely that a few more people will leave as well," he added.

The studio remains "an incredibly well-respected group who are motivated and obviously extraordinarily capable," he said. Activision is "obviously disappointed" by the departures, he continued, "and we wish we could have convinced some of these incredibly talented people to stay," he said.

Infinity Ward is re-hiring, Kotick says, and the team continues to work on Modern Warfare 2 DLC and the studio's upcoming, unannounced project.

"Despite the frustrations... we remain the top destination for development talent in the video game industry," Kotick concluded.

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Kirk Williams
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Good that he finally made a statement - Can we all move on now and just let the courts decide on who gets the money?

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@Kirk--- Agreed. It's getting old real fast.

Achilles de Flandres
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I bet Patcher was right.

Activision wants to start charging a monthly subscription to play CoD on-line. Thats how this whole mess started.

Anyway... move on now. Nothing to see.

Terry Matthes
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The fact it looks like that picture was taken in front of a fiery hell scape doesn't help his image much.

Daniel Boutros
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Nothing says 'friend' like shafting people on royalty agreements, then dangling what was already promised to them like a carrot.

Bob Stevens
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Pachter's guess as to the source of the disagreement doesn't square with what we've learned from court documents. That's not to say that he's wrong, just that if he's right he basically got lucky.

Very few people know what happened with the IW employees that left, except what was revealed in court documents. It would be very foolish of them to start rumors online about it with litigation pending, but nevertheless rumors have started. As far as I can tell from their filing they were paid royalties in late March but believed that the amount paid was not as high as expected and that Activision was withholding additional payment to keep them there. This is of course in the allegation stage and will likely be settled out of court so we'll still never know what really transpired.

The point, though, is that this isn't the situation Kotick is referring to. West and Zampella's termination was under entirely different circumstances than those of the IW people who have left. Anyway it's not helpful to conflate the two situations even if you're just trying to be pithy.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Russ Menapace
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That portrait frightens my inner child.

steve roger
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Total lie to say that the firings and bonus are not related. Of course they are related. If they weren't Activision would have paid the bonus.

Bob Stevens
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You would pay a bonus to someone that's no longer your employee? Bonuses and royalty payments are surely different, yeah? Bonuses are a retention incentive, and there's not much point to paying them to people who have been fired.

Anyway this is dumb, the lawsuits will end up rewarding the party deemed correct in court or be settled in a mutually agreeable manner. The rest of us are just guessing based on incomplete information, or in some cases no information (speaking of those who haven't read the court filings).

Jason Bakker
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It's even on a Dutch angle, to increase the tension and general sense of unease! Duhn duhn duhn duhn!

Charles Forbin
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>>> "The fact it looks like that picture was taken in front of a

>>> fiery hell scape doesn't help his image much."

That what happens when you gather dark side points.

Benjamin Marchand
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-"and the interest of our shareholders."

- "I personally considered [West and Zampella] friends"

- "Their conduct was a compromise of our friendship"

LOL, it so sounds like those big evil bosses in conspiracy movies ... xD

Almost a joke ...

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@Terry---ROFL I just noticed that lol. Made my day.

Tyler Peters
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Funny he doesn't mention weekend interrogations for hours on end of various IW employees before the firing of Jason and Vince. Funny he doesn't mention the fact that these people were indirectly threatened with their jobs, if they didn't state something that ATVI could use against Jason and Vince.

Funny he doesn't mention that ATVI illegally withheld bonuses from existing employees until they finished MW3. Funny that this is unfortunately is not hearsay, but fact.

And I strongly disagree that ATVI did this for the bonus money, that money is nickel and dime for this franchise. It was just a happy subplot of evicting Jason and Vince. Those monies will eventually be paid out, in part or in full, and ATVI knows that. It's gaining full control of the brand that they wanted. And now they have it.

Alan Rimkeit
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@Bill Boggess -

Great post. You could also include the case of New Line VS Peter Jackson. They tried to screw over Jackson for over $100 million dollars. New Line swore in court that they did no such thing. Jackson and his lawyers persisted. Eventually it was discovered that New Line was hiding a pile of documents from the courts that proved that they did in fact rip off Jackson for over $100 dollars. Jackson won and the rest is history.

@Bob Stevens -

What if they, West and Zampella, were fired under conditions that could be construed as wrongful termination? I still await both parties day in court and am not really taking sides in this matter until that happens

John Maurer
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I know that this topic may seem "beaten", but industry professionals (of which many of this communities members are a part) should not take this matter lightly. When someone like Bobby Kotick steps into a creative field and values "the bottom-line" over the art form, you wind up seeing a whole lot of abuse, both to the employee (those are the guys that make the suits rich, not well diagrammed business models, slick power-points, and nazi philosophies) and the IP. I don't hate money, and you gotta earn to survive. To that effect COD, Guitar Hero, and WoW are cash cows, not a doubt. But have they really changed all that much over the years? I mean really, ignore the graphical face-lifts and frame-rates, when is the last time any of these franchises truly innovated? I know that an original franchise makes back most of its' investment in its' sequels, which makes it a necessary evil. But I gotta say, any publishing/developing entity whose upper management takes the fun out of making games is eventually going to find themselves making games that aren't fun. Does ANYONE from the biz agree? More importantly, what can the little guy do to stop this kind of thing from happening again?