Respawn Entertainment is the new studio headed by former Infinity Ward leadership Vince Zampella and Jason West, who were fired by Activision in March. Respawn has a website but no logo, no office, and no game. Respawn does have a publishing deal with Electronic Arts when the company does begin developing games over the next few years. The deal is with EA Partners, not EA proper, which means Zampella and West get something Activision couldn't provide: control over their creative destiny.
EA doesn't own Respawn's future gaming franchise, Respawn does.
The duo are still caught in a legal battle with their former publisher, but it hasn't stopped them from moving forward. Respawn is open for business as of today, actively accepting job applications, and they spoke over the phone with me this morning, joined by EA Partners head David De Martini, to discuss what life is like after Infinity Ward, their future and what it feels like to be fired from Activision.
G4: Why today? You're just starting. It's just the two of you and the EA partnership. What made it so important to get the announcement out so quickly, given that you also have the legal stuff happening in the background?
Vince Zampella: I think you nailed it on the head with the [idea that] it's just Jason and I. We need to get the hiring going. [laughs] We need to get the word out there that the studio exists and we want people to send their resumes in.
G4: Was it important to you that even though you have the legal situation that you're working out, to publicly say that "we are doing this, we're doing it now, and we aren't fading into the background"?
Zampella: For us, it's about getting back to what we love to do. We're gamers, it's in our blood, we want to get back to it. We don't don't want to sit around idle. It's important for that reason.
Jason West: We got fired, and that was very traumatic, and we were sitting there thinking about what to do and a lot of publishers from all over the world showed a lot of interest. Our phones started lighting up and we started getting a lot of e-mails and that was great. The offers started coming in, so it was...then we took some time and looked at what we had and we thought EA Partners was a great fit because they'd respect our culture, give us the freedom to do what we needed to do and own the IP, so now we're ready to respawn and get the hiring going.
David De Martini: From the EA Partners perspective, I think after a big, traumatic event like that, I think what we're trying to do is provide some level of sanctuary for the guys to give them the freedom and independence to be able to get started, find a facility, announce the formation of their company and then start hiring the best people in the industry to collaborate with. As has been the case in the past, the greatest games come out of the best collaborations, and these guys have proven to be creative visionaries and great collaborators.
G4: Given your experience with the Call of Duty franchise, with Respawn, it's clear that having control of the IP is important to you. Would you guys have signed with EA or anyone without that? Was Respawn's control over the IP contingent upon you guys signing?
West: Yeah, that was required going forward.
"We need to be in a position to control our own destiny and make sure the integrity of the game is preserved"
G4: What makes that so important? Depending on your publisher, you'll have a different amount of influence on an IP you work on. Only a select few in the industry have pulled off the ability to completely control their IP.
West: We think to make the best games, you need a team that's passionate about what they do and be able to put all their passion and love into the game, and the fans respond to that -- it's critical to success. We need to be in a position to control our own destiny and, you know, make sure the integrity of the game is preserved.
Martini: From EA's perspective, I think our attitude is that you don't want to hold the partner hostage by holding their IP hostage. They will be the creators of the IP, it is their IP. I understand that we're funding the IP and I think that we get the parent benefits of the publishing and distribution. I think the way that you keep and maintain good relationships is by both doing what you're supposed to be doing -- these guys creating 95-rated games and us doing a great job with doing the PR and marketing on the game so that it sells effectively, so that people really enjoy the entertainment experience. I don't think contracts keep people together, I think it's trust in a relationship that keeps people together.
G4: You guys talked about how the firing through Activision was a traumatic event. I know you're working out the legal end of that, but what went through your mind when you went through that? Given that I was the one that originally broke that, too, it certainly made my week interesting. [laughs around the room] Emotionally, what was it like?
Zampella: It was...surreal.
West: If you were involved in launching the biggest entertainment property of all time and then three weeks before you're supposed to get your bonus check, you got fired, it feels something like that. [laughs]
Zampella: It's been a tough time. That obviously affects us, it affects our families, it affects other people. It's a pretty traumatic experience, it really is.
Martini: And I think I've used the word sanctuary before, but I think that's why it was important after the guys got fired for, obviously, all the publishers around the world to step in and lend a hand of support out there. It is a traumatic experience. These are a couple of guys making great games and all of a sudden you find yourself out of a job. I think it's important for the community to rally. They've been bringing great entertainment to people for years and I'm sure it must have been a really great feeling to see so many people rally.
G4: You guys have left. You're starting over. Do you have any words to the guys that are still over at Infinity Ward? That was the team that you guys have built over a number of titles.
EA Publicist: Sorry, they can't really comment on people still employed at Infinity Ward or any of the litigation.
G4: Are you guys modeling yourselves off any other independent studios?
West: That's an excellent question. There's a lot of independent studios and I'm sure we'll be reaching out to them for tips and talking to those guys, definitely.
G4: Do you expect you'll remain a single-game studio? That was the model at Infinity Ward.
Zampella: Literally, today is our first day. It's just Jason and I. [laughs] The main focus right now has to be getting the infrastructure of the studio in place, getting one team up and running before we can even consider or think about anything else.
West: It's all about focusing and making sure our premiere title is huge and something that the fans and the gaming community really are gonna love. That's what we're all about right now.
G4: You guys have the Call of Duty name attached to you as you go forward, but the gaming industry doesn't really highlight the actual individual developers. They may know an Infinity Ward or Bungie or Valve. How are you guys going to remain in the public consciousness? Clearly, it's going to be a while before until you're talking about the game itself.
West: We definitely want to engage the fans early and often. It's gonna be less about me and Vince and more about Respawn Entertainment and the team we're building and what we want to do going forward. It's not just about our games, we want to build a new studio and build a new relationship with the gaming community, and we'd love to hear what they want us to do, too.
"It's all about fans and coming up with something that's going to make their heads explode"
G4: What happens from here? What's the next step? What's the next six months for Respawn?
West: As Vince was saying, we're gonna find space and infrastructure and build up those things, we're gonna build up our team, we're going to start talking new ideas, start talking to the community, both here and abroad to get the international perspective on what everyone would love to see us do, and we'll go from there.
G4: You guys have been able to sign a major publishing contract and control the direction of your new IP. It's early days yet, but do you expect that's going to be the future for a lot of other developers, or at least an aspiration?
West: To the degree that publishers fire the heads of their biggest franchises, I think that's gonna keep happening.
Zampella: I don't think it's completely unusual for other developers. Some of the top developers do still own their own IP.
G4: But it's certainly not sort of an industry standard, it's among an elite group.
Martini: We obviously have a lot of deals in place. I don't think it's particularly unusual for the top level of independent studios. Once people have established themselves within the industry, I believe the table turns from unproven, you're taking an awful lot of risk as a publisher to fund a project to these guys who are incredibly proven -- the Cryteks of the world, the Vavles of the world, the Epics of the world. I don't think that's unusual at all, I think it's more difficult.
G4: I know you guys don't have much to talk about in terms of your next project yet, but if you could speak to the fans, what would you say is Respawn's mission statement? What do you want to say to the guys who have been following you guys for years and are clearly going to be keeping a close eye as Respawn goes forward?
West: It's all about fans and coming up with something that's going to make their head explode and get them completely excited and give them a ton of fun. We can't wait to start talking to them about what we're doing and what they'd love to see us do.