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Activision adds EA to West/Zampella lawsuit

Wed 22 Dec 2010 10:12am GMT / 5:12am EST / 2:12am PST
PublishingDevelopment

Court document pillories "faithless executives" who are "obsessed by jealousy"

Activision Publishing

Activision, Inc. is a leading international publisher of interactive entertainment software products....

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Infinity Ward

Infinity Ward is an accomplished team of game makers focused on creating games that are fun, exciting,...

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Call of Duty publisher Activision has amended its cross-complaint against former Infinity Ward studio heads Jason West and Vince Zampella to include Electronic Arts as a defendant.

New court documents accuse Electronic Arts of unlawful conduct at "the highest levels". The harshly-worded statements claim that: "Electronic Arts conspired with two former senior Activision executives [West and Zampella] to derail Activision's Call of Duty franchise, disrupt its Infinity Ward development studio, and inflict serious harm on the company."

Activision is demanding $400 million in actual and punitive damages, "including profits Activision would have made but for EA's interference, costs incurred in rebuilding the affected studio, and damages suffered as a result of delays and disruptions."

The angry language then intensifies, with Activision seeking to "recapture compensation previously awarded to its faithless executives" and "prevent Electronic Arts and the former executives from benefiting from their illegal conduct."

The complaint then goes on to summarise the entire case, which began when Activision fired West and Zampella for "insubordination". Activision claims that the pair conspired with Electronic Arts to use the publisher's resources to renege on their contract, which still had two years yet to run.

The documents then describe how, "Electronic Arts would finance the illicitly-created start-up in exchange for an ownership interest or exclusive distribution rights to the content created by their new company, which would produce video games for Electronic Arts instead of Activision."

Soon after West and Zampella's exit they did establish new studio Respawn Entertainment with the help of Electronic Arts - a development which EA Games president Frank Gibeau described in May as, "something that fell into our laps".

Activision alleges that an August 2009 meeting With Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitello was facilitated by former Xbox evangelist Seamus Blackley (now working for Creative Artists Agency - which is also named as a defendant by Activision) and lawyer Harold Brown. Brown's law firm Gang, Tyre, Ramer & Brown is also now a defendant, with Activision alleged that Brown was specifically chosen because he was a former board member and legal counsel to Activision.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of the new complaint is Activision's apparent evidence of West and Zampella's conspiracy with Electronic Arts and attempts to discredit rival studio Treyarch. Activision claims to have copies of e-mail exchanges between the pair that include quotes such as "Dunno how to scan secretly" and "Probably better to just photocopy and Fedex."

The most provocative language though is left to describe the pair's attitude to fellow Call Of Duty developer Treyarch: "Although West and Zampella preferred to portray themselves - both to the public and within Activision - as game developers often forced to battle with corporate 'suits,' the reality was and is much different. They were small-minded executives almost obsessed by jealousy of other developers and the thought that another Activision game or studio might share their spotlight."

The documents offer specific examples, claiming that a Modern Warfare 2 video was purposefully released the same day as a World At War downloadable video. Activision even claims to have text messages sent between West and another unnamed Infinity Ward employee, which has West responding to the release of the Treyarch video by saying: "We release our video? Crush and destroy with our video." The other employee then responds with: ""We already did. And . . . we already did", to which West replies, "Nice."

Activision also claims that West and Zampella attempted to block retention bonuses and other incentives for Infinity Ward employees, in order - it is alleged - to make it easier to encourage staff to leave Infinity Ward. A group of 38 former Infinity Ward employees have already filed a $54 million lawsuit against Activision, primarily over unpaid bonuses.

According to Activision though West and Zampella, "were already appropriating for themselves approximately 1/3 of the total Infinity Ward bonus pool each quarter." The lawsuit also claims that the pair refused to reveal which other employees were due bonus payments.

As a final retort Activision's lawyers complain that censored information in court documents, classified as confidential by Electronic Arts and West and Zampella, are being concealed merely because they contain information that is "embarrassing and damaging to Electronic Arts and its co-conspirators."

14 Comments

Klaus Preisinger
Freelance Writing

953 804 0.8
In European pro-football, nobody would be surprised, if a player switched to another team because of better pay. Happens all the time. Do the teams fear of losing their fans? No. Does the quality of the team go away? Not really, at least not with teams who constantly scout for new top players to replace the old. If Treyarch proved anything, then it is that franchise fandom supersedes quality to some extend. With more quality added to the existing, who is to say CoD will decrease in overall quality? If anybody can pay the bill for higher quality, it is Activision.

In Hollywood there is one surefire way to communicate your movie sucks and that is to put "from the makers of" into the trailer somewhere. EA are putting themselves into that position right now with Respawn. Because they do not need a CoD competitor. They need a game that is the next step from there. Who cares if Middleton FC is the new competitor to Real Madrid, Middleton won't have fans, therefore less revenue. No matter how good they play for a few years.

All of this legal battle is just a lot of e-drama. It is not like anybody is going to topple CoD from the top spot of "almost on rails shooting galleries". Not even a better game. EA should know, their FiFa was not the best football game for a while, yet they simply rode it out. Activision will do the same with CoD.

Posted:3 years ago

#1

Aleksi Ranta
Product Manager - Hardware

246 96 0.4
Im loving this.

Posted:3 years ago

#2

Finlay Thewlis
Studying Game Design & Production Management

26 0 0.0
*grabs popcorn*

Posted:3 years ago

#3

Terence Gage
Freelance writer

1,288 120 0.1
I'm not really sure how EA are accountable for any corporate wrongdoing - I mean, is it illegal to meet with employees of a rival company if said employees have an interest in leaving that company? I'll bet this kind of thing happens all the time, in all walks of business. Surely West and Zampella were the ones under contract therefore if these claims are true then they are the party at fault.

Anyway, this constant bickering between EA and Activision is getting a bit tiresome - if it's not Riccitiello making discreet swipes at Activision and the CoD franchise, it's Activision suing West/Zampella or someone else involved. And I think it's going to drag on a long time, and probably get a lot worse before it gets resolved.

Posted:3 years ago

#4
I second Terance on this. There doesnt seem to be a strong correlation between EA and Activision, much less any strong basis for a legal case

Posted:3 years ago

#5

Graeme Jennings
Senior Producer

105 14 0.1
This is going to be interesting...

Posted:3 years ago

#6

Graham Simpson
Tea boy

220 7 0.0
No one knows how this is going to pan out now it's in the hands of the lawyers. I did find the charge that West/Zampella blocked long term equity/earn outs so they could deliberately poach staff amazing (and selfish if true). That's a bombshell if true and you could forgive current/and former IW employees for viewing these two in a different light. Also if true then the employees who are suing ATVI in the class action are in fact suing the wrong people - it was West and Zampella witholding the bonus'!

I've seen a company sue for the amount a market capitalization has fallen after bad press articles (and the paper settled) so if EA's actions caused uneccessary additional expense on ATVI's part they've got a point. So don't assume EA is wearing a teflon coat in this.

Posted:3 years ago

#7

Sam Brown
Programmer

237 163 0.7
It's a cliche, but both sides will lose and the lawyers will win. :)

Posted:3 years ago

#8

Alfonso Sexto
Lead Tester

714 495 0.7
They did the same with Double Fine... do they expect to get anything from it?.

I donīt see any "unlawful conduct" here. But a bit of "inmoral marketing", well... "a lot" more than "a bit".

Posted:3 years ago

#9

John Donnelly
Quality Assurance

314 38 0.1
The double fine suite was actually diferent and would not come close to the nature of this case.

Posted:3 years ago

#10
"Hate as old as time....
Shooters on release
Beauty & the Beast"


Posted:3 years ago

#11

Benjamin Dixon
Studying Computer Games Design and Programming

20 0 0.0
This is definitely going to be interesting to watch it all unfold.

Posted:3 years ago

#12

Patrick Frost
QA Project Monitor

383 174 0.5
I'm with Graham on this. The only question is whether Activision can substantiate their claims and if they can then this could get pretty ugly.

@Terence - If EA have funded a project with West/Zampella and have used their knowledge of the inner workings of Activision to damage the company then this would be illegal industrial espionage and sabotage. Obviously this all depends on whether Acti can bring the evidence to court but yes this would make EA accountable.

Posted:3 years ago

#13

Jordan Woodward
Level Designer

44 0 0.0
This is getting quite interesting to watch now...I doubt they can win against EA though, when EA don't even really seem to be at fault. It'll be interesting to see the evidence presented.

Posted:3 years ago

#14

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