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Activision dismisses "meritless" $36m Modern Warfare lawsuit

Zampella and West want creative control of MW brand and approval of Call Of Duty games set after Vietnam war

Call of Duty publisher Activision has dismissed as "meritless" the lawsuit bought against it by two founders of Infinity Ward over unpaid royalties and the right to creative control of the Modern Warfare brand.

According to a report by the LA Times, Vince Zampella and Jason West are seeking upwards of $36 million, the right to creative control over all Modern Warfare games and that Activision may not release any Call of Duty titles set after the Vietnam war without their approval.

"Activision is disappointed that Mr Zampella and Mr West have chosen to file a lawsuit, and believes their claims are meritless," said the publisher in a statement to the press.

"Over eight years, Activision shareholders provided these executives with the capital they needed to start Infinity Ward, as well as the financial support, resources and creative independence that helped them flourish and achieve enormous professional success and personal wealth.

"In return, Activision legitimately expected them to honour their obligations to Activision, just like any other executives who hold positions of trust in the company. While the company showed enormous patience, it firmly believes that its decision was justified based on their course of conduct and actions. Activision remains committed to the Call of Duty franchise, which it owns, and will continue to produce exciting and innovative games for its millions of fans."

Activision acquired Infinity Ward in 2003 for $5 million, and after the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Zampella and West signing an extension on their contracts to 2011. At the beginning of February Activision began an investigation into the pair for "breaches of contract and insubordination" and sacked both employees earlier this week.

The demands for creative control on the best-selling war franchise could cause delays to products, with English lawyer and litigation specialist Jas Purwal suggesting today that the ex-employees could potentially veto the release of downloadable content and future Modern Warfare games.

Infinity Ward isn't the only studio working on the Call of Duty brand – Treyarch has worked on games set during World War II and is rumoured to be working on a Vietnam-based game for release this year, while newly formed outfit Sledgehammer Games is putting an action-adventure spin on the series.

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Latest comments (8)

Justo Jones Rigger 11 years ago
Hope it's more to do with creative independance than who gets the profits from the $1Bn franchise... somehow I think the latter... At least this will never happen to my fav game: Kabuki Warriors '__'

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Justo Jones on 4th March 2010 11:31pm

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Pier Castonguay Programmer 11 years ago
I've read a few articles already about this story, but none explain what exactly is the "breaches of contract". Is it something stupid like they sent a backup copy of the source code on their home computer or something more important like leaking information who helped crack and hack to be developed? I also heard a rumor where they simply didn't want to work on MW3 as Activision asked them to because they had a much better idea instead.

Anyway, I hope everything turn to the best for both of them. Activision (as with EA, Ubi and a few others) unfortunately became a too big corporation to make logical decisions. We all know that high ranked people in there probably never played a video game in their whole life and simply aim for the biggest profit before thinking about employees, quality of games and their public image. All those big games corporations are lucky to be in a "fun" domain where employees work hard to do good polished work even when it's not easy or compensated correctly, simply because they want to stick in the video game business at all cost or else they would already had closed their doors.
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Tommy Thompson Studying Artificial Intelligence (PhD), University of Strathclyde11 years ago
@Pier: The full court document submitted by Wells and Zampella popped up yesterday on Kotaku. It's a pretty interesting read - if you can get round the horrific English employed in the opening statement. As far as W&Z are concerned, there were no breaches of contract and every charge against them was fabricated to further Activisions agenda. It also reveals a lot about the 'tensions' between the two parties that have existed since the release of the original Modern Warfare.

Of course we still need to hear both sides of the argument, however I doubt Activision will be willing to allow their side to be posted on the internet.

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Antony Cain Lecturer, Teesside University11 years ago
I don't really want to touch this story with a bargepole but is that document for real? I could understand how some points might be unintentionally exaggerated but...

"Activision investigators brought other Infinity Ward employees to tears in their questioning and accusations and threatened West and Zampella with "insubordination" if they attempted to console them."

What the hell?
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Tommy Thompson Studying Artificial Intelligence (PhD), University of Strathclyde11 years ago
@Antony: It's not a story I want to express any opinion on at present, at least not until we see if any 'facts' come to light. I get a feeling this is only going to get messier as time passes.

Apparently... the document is legit; Wells and Zampellas attorneys decided to email it to the likes of Kotaku and IGN. Though I still am a tad skeptical, this is the internet after all. That and the quality of writing in the document. This is the first lawsuit filing I've ever read, can anyone else verify that this is the standard to which they are written? I thought my writing in research papers and technical reports was suspect, but this?

Some of the accusations and purported facts are crazy, yet frighteningly, still within the realm of possibility. Even if half of this is true, it's pretty damning evidence against Activision.
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Nick Loman Director, Gamer Network11 years ago
The wording of this document looks more like an attempt to make Activision look bad than a genuine attempt to sue. It's pretty fuzzy on any legal specifics that surely would be required when so much is at stake. Making it public makes it even more likely this is an attempt to shame Activision into making them some kind of "shut up" settlement.
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robert troughton Managing Director, Coconut Lizard11 years ago
I disagree - I know from speaking to solicitors after Midway's shenanigans during and after Newcastle's closure that, actually, being in the public eye is exactly what you don't want to do if you plan on the other party being reasonable. In our case it didn't ultimately matter either way... but the solicitors told us, all the way, to try to keep things civil - the fear of public outrage is often worse than actual public outrage.
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Dragos Stanculescu Technical Director, FUN labs11 years ago
Until more facts come to light is rather pointless taking sides, seems both parts are... less then ellegant on the matter. Sure, the most easy point of view on the matter is evil coproration and exploited employees, but is it as simple as that ?

What suprises me is that did they really hope to enjoy the benefits of a publisher-owned studio, such as ;
- big team funding for two year development cycles,
- huge marketing machine behind the game,
- Triple A support in any other way.

Yet still retain the advantages of an idependent studio, such as
-creative freedom
-IP ownership,
-not being fired over disagreements regarding the above from the studio you helped create ?

I mean a lot of people are working really hard in independent studios doing contracted work or little projects to stay afloat in order to keep these rights, as best they can. The (relative) safety and fame of a publisher-owned studio come at a price (though to be fair, exceptions to this rule do exist but are extremely scarce).

I'm not advocating one over the other, both are viable paths, but both should be walked with eyes wide open.

Edited 5 times. Last edit by Dragos Stanculescu on 5th March 2010 2:00pm

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