They say they don't even know what their next game will be yet. But the former lead men behind Modern Warfare 2 tell Kotaku that their new company, Respawn Entertainment, will make something big that won't be "exploited."
"Honestly the sky's the limit in what we can do," Vince Zampella said in a phone interview today, about the news that Respawn exists and is making games through Madden and Medal of Honor studio EA. Zampella is one of two employees of Respawn Entertainment, the company formed by himself and Jason West, the former heads of Modern Warfare 2 development studio Infinity Ward who have spent the last two months in the news for being fired by and trading lawsuits with their former bosses at Activision.
The first Respawn game, Zampella and West said, could be anything. But when Kotaku jokingly suggested to the two men who have made their career creating military first-person shooters that they might make a turn-based role-playing game next, all we got was laughter — and a mock suggestion that it'll be in a browser.
The game will be published by EA. That much is known from this morning's announcement that Respawn has an exclusive publishing deal with Activision rival EA, a company for which West and Zampella used to make Medal of Honor games before leaving to create Call of Duty. The EA Partners deal allows Respawn to own the games — intellectual property, or IP — that it creates.
"We're excited for the ability to control every game that comes out based on this IP," Zampella said. "We don't know what that's going to be yet. We haven't decided what the game's going to be yet, what the IP's going to be. But we think that's a good thing for us and our creative process."
One thing Respawn Entertainment won't be doing is working on any of EA's existing military shooter franchises, Battlefield and Medal of Honor included. "That's not an option," EA Games label president Frank Gibeau said. "These guys are about pursuing their own IP. Internal to EA, we've got some incredible development and franchise happening with Medal of Honor and Battlefield. This is an EA Partners deal ... these guys have no roles in those franchises."
These are the earliest days for Respawn. The company of two won't put a timeframe on their next game or even suggest which platforms it might be on. They know, though, that it better be significant, certainly a standard one would expect given that Infinity Ward's previous game, Modern Warfare 2 was the blockbuster of the last holiday season. They say the game will be big and expect it to be treated as such: "A game coming out should be a big deal," West said during the interview. "And maybe shouldn't be massively exploited."
That "exploited" line appeared to be a shot at Activision whose corporate chiefs have been criticized in some circles to talking, during financial earnings calls, about "exploiting" their gaming franchises.
West and Zampella stayed clear of explicitly discussing their former employer during their interview with Kotaku. An EA spokesperson said that, on the advice of company lawyers, they could not address anything in the lawsuits. They declined to respond to a question from Kotaku about whether West and Zampella, whose lawsuit against Activision maintains they have the authority to okay or nix any Activision Call of Duty games set after Vietnam, could wind up with the Modern Warfare license.
Asked how owning their own game would impact the kind of games they create, West said: "We can insure the integrity of the games, the integrity of the brand, and make sure that it has a long future and that fans are treated as well as they deserve and everything can stay strong." It was no secret while West and Zampella were at Infinity Ward that their studio wasn't thrilled with the Call of Duty games made by other Activision teams, a practice that produced new Call of Duty games every year, even though IW's games came out only every other year.
West and Zampella are now in hiring mode. They have seed money from EA and are looking for office space. They want to bring in a team and figure out what's next. Of course, they'll also continue to wrangle with Activision over legal matters.
The two Respawn bosses are suing Activision for $36 million, accusing their former bosses of "Orwellian" practices. Activision contends in its suit that West and Zampella for insubordination and for holding up development of future Modern Warfare games.
They may not have a game yet, then. They may not have a company logo. Zampella jokes that they have an official drink, at least: coffee. And they have a website. Plus, they have a company name... a company name that is telling.
West explained the thinking behind the Respawn name: "On the one hand it's cool in that we wanted something that relates to gaming ... Gaming experiences are unique among the mediums of books, television and movies. The idea that you can go out and have an experience and then die and try and come back in a different way seemed to fit. There's also the feeling you get of being sniped from the mountaintop from a mile away and then you get to come back and try again. There's that meaning also."
Yes, there's that meaning too.
For a recap of the latest events in the imbroglio involving Activision, Infinity Ward, West, Zampella and now EA, check out Kotaku's recent Call of Duty Legal Warfare round-up.