Infinity Ward’s failure to deliver a live demo for E3 2009 might have sparked the feud.

The trial hasn’t officially started yet, but that hasn’t stopped evidence from entering the public awareness. The L.A. Times acquired copies of emails sent between Activision executives and, based on the contents, the massive game publisher looks even worse in its dispute with Jason West and Vince Zampella. The two heads of Infinity Ward drew ire from Activision when the studio didn’t deliver a live demo for Microsoft’s E3 press conference in 2009. When called about the delay, West and Zampella reportedly hung up on Activision’s head of publishing at the time, Mike Griffith. The executives go on to discuss removing the pair while worrying about the PR backlash, as well as possibly allowing Treyarch to finish work on Modern Warfare 2.

Activision had a deal with Microsoft to contribute a live playable demo of MW2 to the press conference in 2009, but the code wasn’t ready to show. West and Zampella were unapologetic, and Activision CEO Bobby Kotick didn’t react well.

“They hung up on me,” wrote Griffith, to which Bobby Kotick responded, “If they really did I would change their locks and lock them out of their building.”

Of course, that’s exactly what Kotick did less than six months after Modern Warfare 2 sold 7 million copies in one day. It seems Kotick took Griffith’s advice to “get a gold master” of the game before any move was made against West and Zampella.

That’s because the Activision executives knew they were in a bind. They had a bad working relationship with Infinity Ward, but the game needed to get made. Although they put forth the idea to let the other Call of Duty studio Treyarch finish the game, they were worried Treyarch could pull it off in time.

“We should also discuss what the plan B is going to look like,” wrote another executive Dave Stohl. “There still could be a ton of risk getting the project done depending on how the team [at Infinity Ward] takes it. Treyarch taking it over now is also an option, but scary given the tight timeline.

“Is everyone ready for the big, negative PR story this is going to turn into if we kick them out?” Stohl added in a reply. It’s “freaking me out a little.”

Kotick and his cronies tried to execute plans to keep the top 20 employees at Infinity Ward happy by offering a “retention plan” of more money. “This would be an equity-based award for the top 12 team members ex Vince and Jason to help ensure we retain the team if things blow up at the top. As you know, this has been a difficult relationship,” said Griffith in an email dated June 17, 2009.

The plan didn’t work. Most of the top Infinity Ward staff members jumped ship to join the new studio Respawn after West and Zampella were forced out.

All these emails are crucial to pointing out that Activision wanted West and Zampella gone way before Modern Warfare 2 shipped in November 2009. In addition to IT people admitting they were asked to “dig up dirt” to find grounds to fire the Infinity Ward heads in “Operation Icebreaker”, and it looks like Activision will end up paying out the royalties West and Zampella are due based on the termination of their contract.

We’ll find out more when the trial begins on May 29th.

Source: Los Angeles Times

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