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Activision counter-sues ex Infinity Ward heads

Mon 12 Apr 2010 7:47am GMT / 3:47am EDT / 12:47am PDT
PublishingDevelopment

MW3 pre-production delayed by "self-serving schemers" attempting to "hijack" the company

Activision Blizzard

Headquartered in Santa Monica, California, Activision Blizzard, Inc. is a worldwide pure-play online...

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Infinity Ward

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

infinityward.com

Activision Blizzard has filed a counter lawsuit against ex-Infinity Ward bosses Jason West and Vince Zampella which accuses the pair of delaying pre-production on Modern Warfare 3 and attempting to "hijack" Activision's assets.

According to the lawsuit filed by the company, West and Zampella "morphed from valued, responsible executives into insubordinate and self-serving schemers who attempted to hijack Activision's assets for their own personal gain."

The publisher accuses the two of "going on a secret trip by private jet to Northern California, arranged by their Hollywood agent, to meet with the most senior executives of Activision's closest competitor."

The competitor in question is almost certainly EA, however EA's director of corporate communications was unable to confirm the meeting, telling the LA Times: "We don't have the time to comment on the many lawsuits Activision files against its employees and creative partners."

"West and Zampella's misdeeds formed an unlawful pattern and practice of conduct that was designed to steal the [Infinity West] studio, which is one of Activision's most valuable assets - at the expense of Activision and its shareholders and for their own personal financial gain," continues the lawsuit.

It also states that West and Zampella refused to provide written consent for decisions relating to Modern Warfare 3, which delayed pre-production of the game.

"Prior to the termination of their employment with Activision, West and Zampella unreasonably and/or in bad faith refused to provide this consent in an effort to gain and unfair advantage in negotiations with Activision and in an improper attempt to gain advantage for themselves in connection with their plan to leave Activision and establish their own company."

As a result of the breaches, the publisher said it has been forced to commit additional resources to the game, as well as incur costs due to the litigation action.

"Activision has been damaged as a result of West and Zampella's actions in an amount to be proven at trial," it claims.

The two studio bosses, who were among the founding members of Infinity Ward, were sacked by parent company Activision in March, accused of contract breaches and insubordination.

The pair subsequently filed a lawsuit against the publisher seeking upwards of $36 million as well as creative control over all future Modern Warfare games.

They claimed they were owed "substantial royalty payments" as part of their contracts for Modern Warfare 2.

"We were shocked by Activision's decision to terminate our contract," West commented at the time the lawsuit was filed. "We poured our heart and soul into that company, building not only a world class development studio, but assembling a team we've been proud to work with for nearly a decade. We think the work we've done speaks for itself."

18 Comments

Aidan Fitzpatrick Artist

48 2 0.0
"We don't have the time to comment on the many lawsuits Activision files against its employees and creative partners."

oooh. snap!

Posted:4 years ago

#1

Terence Gage Freelance writer

1,288 120 0.1
"We don't have the time to comment on the many lawsuits Activision files against its employees and creative partners."

Ha ha, what a great comeback. It's like when Double Fine partnered with EA for Brutal Legend before Activision sued, and EA said something like "It's like leaving your wife then sueing when she finds a younger, more handsome man".

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Terence Gage on 12th April 2010 11:01am

Posted:4 years ago

#2

Dara Healy Staff Writer, Atamia

4 0 0.0
@Aidan, Terence

Holy crap I almost choked on some popcorn when I read that. Score one for EA.

Posted:4 years ago

#3

Antony Cain Lecturer, Wakefield College

263 21 0.1
If they were talking to EA and it can be proved, where does that leave them?

Posted:4 years ago

#4

Terence Gage Freelance writer

1,288 120 0.1
"If they were talking to EA and it can be proved, where does that leave them?"

Well, depending on what their contract states, it leaves them to prove that they did not break the terms outlined, or force Activision into such a stalemate with the sueing and counter-sueing that the two parties settle.

Either way, and despite not knowing the ins and outs of proceedings, it's still hard to not be on West & Zampella's side!

Posted:4 years ago

#5

Patrick Williams Medicine and Research

93 61 0.7
The situation is simple:

Modern Warfare was printing money for Activision. They made BILLIONS.
Activision is known for milking every penny it can from a franchise, has milked the Call of Duty franchise and has announced plans for further milking.
West and Zampella do not like to be milked. At least not by Bobby Kotick.

The dispute therefore boils down to whether or not West and Zampella are simply employees of Activision and thus have to keep printing money for them by making more sequels or they are a semi-autonomous entity within Activision and thus creative partners and not subordinates.

Everything else, about secret emails and secret plane trips and who owns whatever license, is a manifestation of this dispute and is secondary.

Posted:4 years ago

#6
@Patrick Williams
My thought exactly ... ^^

Posted:4 years ago

#7

mb Level Designer

3 0 0.0
It's hard not to see this as the publisher strangling their golden goose because it didn't want to lay more golden eggs but diamond-encrusted ones. I'm sure whatever the goose laid next would have been precious, even if the diamonds did hurt on the way out that goose would probably take the pain to be able to lay something new... and I've taken this anal(parp!)ogy too far.

Posted:4 years ago

#8

Alex Wright-Manning Talent Officer, Playground Games

172 2 0.0
News just in; EA announce brand new studio - Respawn Entertainment - with West and Zampella as heads. Holy crap! The gloves are off ladies and gentlemen!

Posted:4 years ago

#9

Dragos Stanculescu Technical Director, FUN labs

3 0 0.0
The gloves have never been on since this thing started .
If anything, Respawn being signed with EA will further fuel the suspicions that they were after all having talks with EA while being employed at Activision. Not really the wisest move.

Posted:4 years ago

#10

Fran Mulhern , Recruit3D

863 707 0.8
Talk about messy. Urgh.

Posted:4 years ago

#11

Alex Wright-Manning Talent Officer, Playground Games

172 2 0.0
As far as EA are concerned it's an extremely smart move. It will take advantage of the huge amount of press coverage that is very likely over the coming months, and the Robin Hood syndrome that seems to be sweeping t'internet - portraying W&Z as folk heroes battling the might of the evil overlord Activision. EA stepping in covers them in glory.

Admittedly I thought it was a little rash given the ongoing legal action, but it's very beneficial to EA regardless of complications that ensue for W&Z.

Posted:4 years ago

#12
As none of us know anything about anything, and everything we say is only so much smoke anyhow here's my two worthless cents: I imagine the whole problem came about because many years ago W&Z sold the farm for what it was worth at the time. Fast forwards kabillions of dollars and W&Z are frustrated with Activision - but also their former selves - over that contract. Seeing the oceans of cash wash by them, they want a better deal. Stuck with the Activision one, all that it generates is frustration and mistrust over time. Then along comes dashing, handsome, world-weary (but born-again) EA and tells W&Z they look even more beautiful than when they used to go out many years ago.

I doubt it's more complicated than that - all the detailed accusations of the suit are just so much legalese and court process bullshit.

Anyway these seem very natural urges to me, I don't see any evil party here. Let's not get on our high horse - is there no joy to be had from the pleasure of watching numerous fat rich blokes punching each other in the face over coppers in public anymore?

Posted:4 years ago

#13

Michael Crivello Software Engineer

5 0 0.0
Doesn't this side of the suit boil down to whether West and Zampella had a non-competition clause in their employment contract? Assuming W&Z's claims that Activision granted them exclusive creative control over the MW franchise are true, the only thing a secret visit to EA would have threatened is a non-competition clause. Otherwise as employees they should be free to interview or discuss other business opportunities with any publisher they wish. I don't know that Activision would have much of a legal leg to stand on unless that non-competition clause is in their contracts.

Either way, this is obviously about creative control of the MW franchise. If the bonuses due W&Z are numbered in the $30-40 million dollar range, then why wouldn't Activision have just paid them their royalties and let them leave for EA? Because the MW franchise is possibly worth billions, and Activision gave W&Z the creative rights to it and could have seen them walk out the door with it.

It's sounding more and more like Activision screwed this up badly...

Posted:4 years ago

#14

Kostas Hajaropoulos Writer - Journalist

5 0 0.0
I have to agree about the EA + Respawn = Activision fight. And I cannot stop thinking that this is THE golden opportunity for EA to drop at last that "criminal record" of the past by providing Respawn with the nessesary "weapons" for a new breed of games, therefore countering the effect of Activision and Modern Warfare Brand on the industry. Not to say that Kotick will look REALLY ugly if this turns out from bad to worse for Activision in public opinion AND developers alike.

Posted:4 years ago

#15

Ben Howse

9 0 0.0
Would love to see EA and Respawn produce some top quality titles.
As for the legal battle, I eagerly await the years and YEARS it will take to sort that mess out, but if it turns bad for Kotick, Activision is really going to have egg on it's face for years to come...

Posted:4 years ago

#16
This is just wrong

Posted:4 years ago

#17
That's just another example of bad management from Activision. It just goes to show that if you push it two far and force the Golden Goose to vomit you a Golden Egg each year, she's just going to blow up in your face at some point.
This was Activision's Goose time to go. Nasty!
Oh well! They still have Tryarch to milk now.

Posted:4 years ago

#18

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