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Activision adds EA to West/Zampella lawsuit

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

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."

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David Jenkins