In 2009, Infinity Ward heads Jason West and Vince Zampella were abruptly fired by the company's owner Activision. West and Zampella had directed the original Call of Duty, and brought the series to superstardom through Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Their sacking just before the release of Modern Warfare 2 shocked the industry, and arguably changed the course of both Call of Duty and the FPS forever.
Now a developer who worked at Infinity Ward at the time has recalled the dramatic events of that day. Paul Sandler, who is currently Lead Designer at NetEase games, wrote am article on Linkedin detailing the day's events. "Jason and Vince just got fired!" the article starts, in the words of a "lead artist" who broke the news to Sandler while riding a scooter around Infinity Ward's office. "I just sat there in stunned silence with my eyes wide open," Sandler recalls. "I stood up from my chair and sad: "What the fuck?...Why?"
Some of what Sandler recalls is familiar from articles written around the time. He writes that West and Zampella were fired for "insubordination" after a "series of executive-level meetings" and that following the firing Activision's security guards "showed up at the studio to make sure they could not come back inside." What's less familiar, however, is the reaction of Infinity Ward's remaining staff. "The fact that our respected studio-heads, our leaders, had been canned in such a sudden and cold-blooded fashion brought the entire team a collective feeling of anger and a deep sense of unfairness," Sandler writes. "Activision had stepped on a metaphorical landmine. They were about to lose nearly half of the entire studio, putting the development of Modern Warfare 3 at risk."
According to Sandler, Activision saw the rebellion brewing, and attempted to stop it. At an "emergency company meeting" in the studio kitchen, Activision executives tried explaining what was happening, but nobody in the team "bought or cared for this". With an explanation falling on deaf ears, Activision apparently tried a different tactic. Sandler paraphrases what the executive said next.
"Guys, if you stay with the studio to make Modern Warfare 3, you will receive your MW2 bonuses. AND we will also give everyone a fifty-percent salary increase." Sandler writes that "If anything, most of the team was feeling even more upset" at which point the executive played hardball, reportedly saying "Just take the money and get over it."
Sandler says that, in the end, 40 of Infinity Ward's 100 employees left the studio in the wake of West and Zampella's firing, though other reports say the final total was 46. Of these, 38 joined the pair's new, EA-backed studio Respawn Entertainment, and would work on games like Titanfall and Apex Legends. Sandler himself remained "undecided" at Infinity Ward, due to the impending legal trial over unpaid Modern Warfare 2 bonuses. Regarding his final decision, he concludes "that is a story for another article".