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Zampella and West file lawsuit against Activision

Duo make expected claim over unpaid royalties; West "shocked" at termination by Call of Duty publisher

Activision has been hit with a lawsuit by ex-Infinity Ward duo Jason West and Vince Zampella over "substantial royalty payments" as part of their contracts for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

The pair were sacked this week from the company they helped found in 2001, as Activision reshuffled staff and studios for its most successful console franchise, with the publisher claiming Zampella and West were guilty of insubordination.

"Activision has refused to honour the terms of its agreements and is intentionally flouting the fundamental public policy of this State (California) that employers must pay their employees what they have rightfully earned," said their attorney Robert Schwartz. 

"Instead of thanking, lauding, or just plain paying Jason and Vince for giving Activision the most successful entertainment product ever offered to the public, last month Activision hired lawyers to conduct a pretextual 'investigation' into unstated and unsubstantiated charges of 'insubordination' and 'breach of fiduciary duty,' which then became the grounds for their termination on Monday, March 1."

The lawsuit includes claims for breaching contracts and the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, wrong termination and in violation of public policy, and declaratory relief.

"We were shocked by Activision's decision to terminate our contract," commented West.  "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." 

"After all we have given to Activision, we shouldn't have to sue to get paid," added Zampella.

The suit states that Infinity Ward had the right to create games based on the Modern Warfare brand, but this has since reverted to Activision.

"Activision seized control of the Infinity Ward studio, to which Activision had previously granted creative control over all Modern Warfare-branded games. The suit was filed to vindicate the rights of West and Zampella to be paid the compensation they have earned, as well as the contractual rights Activision granted to West and Zampella to control Modern Warfare-branded games."

The Call of Duty franchise has generated over $3 billion in sales for Activision. There are at least three titles in the series under development, at Sledgehammer Games, Infinity Ward and Treyarch.

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Latest comments (11)

Terence Gage Freelance writer 6 years ago
I think this is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. I would be interested to read - in layman's terms - Activision's reasons for firing them. We probably won't find out though, as it will be disguised behind vague legal speak.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Terence Gage on 4th March 2010 10:54am

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Oliver Slviotti Studying Digital Media Development, University of Brighton6 years ago
I think it's important that we stand behind West and Zampella if the accusations they have stated turn out to be true. We can't let these business men take a hold of the creative teams behind games and stifle them. For all intents and purposes, the relationship between IW and Activision *should* be good - IW delivered a product that made them a lot of money and therefore Activion should give them more or less what they want. I hope they get the rights to the Modern Warfare brand too, I can just see Modern Warfare 5 boxes on our shelves by 2012...

Along with this came the news that Activision plan to publish an Action/Adventure Call of Duty game. Can anyone honestly say this is not just them trying to cash in on the franchise? By doing so not only are they diluting the brand, they are also damaging the public perception of their company. Guitar Hero is a good example of another franchise they tried to squeeze every penny out of and ruined. This business mindset it appears they have is imposing on the creative teams that are creating the products they are selling which is going to benefit no one in the long run.
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Aidan Fitzpatrick Artist 6 years ago
Well, seeing as the company has a long standing and very public policy of putting profits before people... Can't say i'm too surprised to hear about this.
For what it's worth my moral support goes to Jason and Vince.
Good luck guys.
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Show all comments (11)
Otakar Schon Technology editor, Economia6 years ago
Its almost funny how Activision-Blizzard's public reception has changed in last few years... It looks like being the biggest publisher out there makes you into real corporate whores...

On the other hand... to judge whats happening there we would need a lot morre insight, I just hope West and Zampella made enough to pay really good lawyers for themselves
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Chris Hayward6 years ago
Something that bothers me in this whole debacle is the issue with Treyarch; if Activision felt as though it had the rights for CoD name when CoD3 was released in 2006, why haven't West, Zampella and IW as a dev team not taken legal action against Activision until now.

Obviously without detailed contractual evidence its hard to say but if IW really were that concerned with its right to the "Call of Duty" name it surely would've acted a good few years ago now.
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Jeff Wilson6 years ago
All I can say is, would you like to have Bobby Kotick for a CEO? This isn't about the money, it's about having to work for someone who has no understanding of promoting creativity in the games industry. Kotick is typical of the MBA types who wheedle their way into a directorship of successful companies and get to wield the the power like Bayonetta just because they can read a balance sheet.

Then, when they have taken their slice of the profits, $35 million in Kotick's case, they fire those around them before the cash till runs dry. I hope West and Zampella get every dollar they deserve. I would much rather work for someone like Peter Jackson or James Cameron. At least these guys are creative and know how to run a business.
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Matt Martin Editor, GamesIndustry.biz6 years ago
Chris - The way I understand it is IW claims to have the rights to "Modern Warfare" not "Call of Duty". Remember the confusion over whether the last game would carry the Call of Duty brand or just be known as "Modern Warfare 2"? So they wouldn't be happy if Sledgehammer were to make a Modern Warfare branded third-person shooter, for example.
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Chris Hayward6 years ago
Ah misread the article, thanks for clearing that up Matt
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Joel Eckert Game Designer, Red Indigo6 years ago
"I think if the corporate types win this one, it will drive us insane, as a industry you know"
to quote watchmen.........
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Robert Huebner President/CEO, Nihilistic Software6 years ago
Now that details emerge, it does support the notion that Activision "did the math" and figured that the costs of litigation & settlement would be less than the amount they would have had to pay these guys as a bonus.

Certainly no publisher would want to send that much money out the door, but its sad to see any publisher take such a short-term view and not put more value on their industry goodwill.

How else could this affect the franchise? MW buyers are core gamers and are reading this stuff. Will they adjust their level of support for the franchise? Will the press let their moral feelings affect review scores of future installments?

Interesting to watch. Activision and investors are betting that bad press won't affect the bottom-line, clearly.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Robert Huebner on 4th March 2010 5:45pm

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Russell Watson Senior Designer, Born Ready Games6 years ago
It is very short sighted.

You would think a business would want to appropiately reward studios/teams that produce exceptionally well performing product. This just says to me that Activision doesnt want to reward you for your efforts even if you do produce the best selling video game of recent history.
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