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Interview: Vince Zampella and Jason West talk Respawn Entertainment

Today we spoke with recently laid off Infinity Ward cofounders Vince Zampella and Jason West about their new project, Respawn Entertainment, and their new partner, Electronic Arts. While there's no game to promote just yet, and no physical location determined for the new studio, and just two employees battling it out for Employee of the Month, there's still plenty to talk about -- including the best magician-themed analogy we've heard in awhile. Read on!

Joystiq: Why is it important to announce Respawn Entertainment now, so soon after leaving Infinity Ward and with all the legal stuff going on?

Jason West: We didn't leave -- we were fired. That was a very traumatic time for us. We were trying to figure out what we wanted to do and all the major publishers around the world started sending us emails and our phones started ringing. So we got a lot of offers and we looked at them and the EA Partners deal gave us the independence and freedom and respect for our culture that we thought would allow us to make great games and get back to what our passion is and what we love to do. And we have seed capital and a publishing deal now, so it's time to hire a team.

Vince Zampella: The big thing now is we're kicking off today the launch of the company and we're looking to hire people. The reason to get the word out there is to start that hiring.

David DeMartini: From EA's perspective, obviously when we heard there was such an attractive free agent out on the marketplace we jumped at the opportunity. And all we're really trying to do is to try and allow them to settle down and provide them a certain level of sanctuary where they can get started and get back to what they've been doing for well over a decade, which is just making incredible entertainment experiences. It would just be a shame if they didn't have an opportunity like they have right now to start this company and bring together a great team.

So, hiring being the focus of this morning's announcement. Are you actively soliciting your former IW colleagues? Do you expect any of them to follow you to Respawn? Have any of them already jumped ship?

JW: We're absolutely not soliciting in that way. We're kicking off our hiring drive today. We've got our website up. And you know we're excited to get the team together, and we'll announce the information at the appropriate time.

EA already has a handful of military shooters, mostly designed to compete with Call of Duty, strangely enough. Regardless of what you work on,

"There's always an insane amount of pressure ... We're used to it."

do you think there's a market saturation of the type of game that you broke out with, in Call of Duty?

DD: Obviously the guys don't have an idea. The one unique element of this deal really -- because the rest of the deal is fairly typical -- the one unique element is that they didn't specifically approach us with an idea. They approached us with a concept that two really creative geniuses are going to get together, form a team and make something special happen again.

With regards to an abundance of shooters in our lineup, I don't think we worry too much about that genre. I don't think we worry so much about anything other than creating high-quality experiences and delivering them when we say we will. We had a really good year on that front last year, and I think both internally and externally we'll have a really good front on that going forward. It's not so much about whether it's done internally or whether it's done externally, what's really important is just creating a high-quality entertanment experience that brings delight to people.

Regardless of what the game concept you come up with is, are you worried at all about competing against the brand you helped create: Call of Duty?

JW: It's not about the brand. We think you go and make new games, make it fresh -- awesome gaming entertainment that's quality and that fans will appreciate.

In starting up a new development studio -- you already did this with Infinity Ward, moving from 2015, Inc. -- is there anything you've learned from the Infinity Ward period that you would change or that you're looking to change with Respawn.?

JW: I wouldn't tie it with anything in the past, but going forward we want to own the IP, control our own destiny, and put the team that we hire in a position to pour all of their passion and love into the game, and we think that will shine through, and we think that's a hallmark of quality and helps with success.

The development model that you guys are at least conceiving of means creating a new brand just for Respawn?

JW: We're going to create entirely new games and entirely new universes, worlds. This is a hard reboot for us.

So you're not interested in licensing other brands, but are really looking to create something fresh from scratch?

JW: Yes, that's correct.

You've mentioned the "summer blockbuster" model. Does that mean you're going to be focusing on one product at a time?

VZ: Right now the company is one day old, and Jason and I are the only employees. The first thing to focus on is getting the company infrastructure in place, getting one team up and running and getting our signature game out there. So for the foreseeable future, we're single game, absolutely. After that, we haven't put a lot of thought into it. There's no plans or anything.

Medal of Honor: Allied Assault was a massive success with EA. Call of Duty was a massive success with Activision. And now you're looking to do it again. Do you feel any increased pressure to capture lightning in a bottle a third time in a row?

JW: There's always an insane amount of pressure. I don't think we could get any more. We're used to it.

DD: One thing that's a hallmark of all the companies that are in the EA Partners program is that the greatest indicator of future success is past success. It's not necessarily carrying on with the same IP, but you carry on with the same creative people that were able to do it the last time.

"We're going to create entirely new games and entirely new universes."

And that's the biggest indicator as we've looked across the industry of what will predict future success.

We're just extraordinarily excited to see what direction these guys go with regards to who they hire, the team that they collaborate with, and then the idea that that team comes up with. Because past success will very much dictate future results.

Are you looking to set up shop in the same location you're in now or are you looking to relocate?

VZ: We don't have anything planned. The Valley area is kind of midpoint between where Jason and I both live. We'll battle it out. He'll try to push it closer to his house, I'll try to push it closer to mine, and we'll see where we end up.

Any other plans for this new IP? Are you really looking for cross-media opportunities? Are you going to be more protective or more aggressive with your brand, say relative to Call of Duty?

JW: I don't think we're specifically targeting a cross-media strategy. It's all about the game and making a culturally relevant big IP that people will enjoy and really want to get involved with. And then, if later, it becomes something people want to make movies about or books, then that's something to talk about at the time. For now, it's definitely all about the game. That's our focus.

There's a massive amount of fans of the Call of Duty franchise and, with Modern Warfare 2, it's grown even larger. How do you convince a lot of those fans to try what you're going to work on next, when a lot of what they know isn't the developer, not to mention the people behind the developer, but really just the brand name?

DD: The news is that these guys are starting up a studio. There's exactly two of them. There's certainly a lot of things that we're gonna have to worry about between now and when they actually ship their title. Right now, I think they're looking to get ahold of PG&E to turn some lights on somewhere. But as it relates to the longer-term strategy, the magic comes from the magician. And these guys have proven to be incredibly strong magicians with a really good eye towards collaborating with other really strong magicians, and then combined, they'll have a lot of magic come out of whatever they create.

And the interesting thing about fans is that people like brands, and people hang onto brands, but people know -- the industry, the world is so small right now, when you create something special, people find it. There's nowhere to hide. And these guys certainly aren't going to be able to hide anywhere, and what they create is going to be found by millions and millions of people. They do have a huge advantage in that they were the creators of that other franchise and people will find out where they go next.

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