Modern Warfare lawsuit accuses Activision of "unbridled greed"

IW staff not receiving fair share of profits; pressure could "burn out" employees

More details of the lawsuit bought against Activision by former Infinity Ward employees have emerged, in which the Call of Duty publisher is accused of "astonishing arrogance and unbridled greed".

Filed by Jason West and Vince Zampella – who were sacked from the wholly-owned studio Infinity Ward this week – the pair detailed alleged working conditions and the process that led to the developers being ejected from the studio they helped found back in 2003.

"West and Zampella were not as eager as Activision to jump into the development of Modern Warfare 2," stated the 16-page document, reprinted on IGN. "Despite assurances by Activision that West and Zampella would have complete freedom to run Infinity Ward as an independent studio, Activision had begun to intrude upon Infinity Ward's ability to create quality games.

"For example, Activision forced Infinity Ward's employees to continue producing the games at a breakneck pace under aggressive schedules, and West and Zampella were concerned that Activision was emphasising quantity over quality.

"Given Activision's insistence that Infinity Ward continue to focus on sequels to Call of Duty games instead of new intellectual property, West and Zampella were also concerned that Activision's demands risked 'burning out' the Infinity Ward employees' creativity. Nurturing a creative environment had been one of the cornerstones of Infinity Ward's success.

"West and Zampella were not eager to extend their employment; especially as they watched their games receive countless awards and make Activision billions of dollars, while many Infinity Ward employees were not being provided a fair share."

The pair are suing Activision for upwards of $36 million, the creative control of the Modern Warfare brand and the right to approve any Call of Duty games set after the Vietnam war.

The lawsuit asserts that after the release of Modern Warfare 2, Activision set up an investigation to "manufacture a basis to fire West and Zampella". An SEC filing from earlier in the week accuses the pair of breach of contract and insubordination.

When they enquired about the investigation, the lawsuit states that the were told in "Orwellian fashion that West and Zampella 'already have a clear understanding of what they have or have not done'"

The document also claims West and Zampella were "interrogated for over six hours" in a windowless room and that other Infinity Ward employees were bought to tears by questioning.

Yesterday, English lawyer and litigation expert Jas Purewal suggested that future Modern Warfare releases could be vetoed by the pair if the court rules in their favour.

Activision has dismissed the lawsuit as "meritless" and said that it is disappointed that West and Zampella have taken legal action.

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Latest comments (12)

Blackwell Hird Game Designer/Producer, Lock 'n Load Publishing12 years ago
I must say as a student going into the Game Design field, and then reading these type of stories nearly every other week, It does not fill me with a burning desire to jump into a pool filled with legal sharks. Though I suppose all it means is that this business is like every other; Its not a Utopian playground for creatives but a real business world with a creative outlook.
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Neguceanu George Level Designer / Web Design - Promotion, Pixel Toaster Studios12 years ago
And this is a suprise? How? What do you expect when you are own by Activision.
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Private VIdeo Games 12 years ago
It's all getting messy quickly :)
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Show all comments (12)
CaseyB Artist, Digital Extremes12 years ago
Yup, and even if ATVI wins this battle they are going to face a hit in the reputation department. I know if I was working for IW (or any division of ATVI for that matter) I would be rethinking a few things right now. It is nice to make a successful game / IP but when it becomes a key pillar, holding up a very large structure ... and that pillar fails ... don't be under it.
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David Spender Lead Programmer 12 years ago
Is it just me or do I sense a recurring theme? Authors make nothing on books they write, publishers make all the money. Recording artists make pennies on the dollar and the record labels make billions. Game developers make a tiny percentage and the game publisher makes billions.

At first I thought electronic distribution would solve that problem as the only thing stopping individuals from being publishers was distribution. But with Amazon, iTunes, Steam and XBL, etc. taking over electronic distribution channels it seems like the same thing is bound to happen all over again.

How can the 'little guy' with good stuff get it out there sufficiently and make appropriate money on it? I think Facebook and the Apple App store are some good examples of successes. But the publishers eventually get greedier and greedier. A good example of this is Ebay. At first it was a great place to sell goods, but Ebay kept jacking up their cut and now its a sinkhole of fees and percentages.

I wonder how it will all shake out.

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Chris Hayward12 years ago

Suddenly Valve's idea of "consumer financing" makes alot of sense, especially for well known developers such as Infinity Ward. If this were to prove successful, it could undercut the publisher's dominance tremendously. ( Indie Devs could enter into the loan scheme discussed on here recently. Sounds a good idea, in theory.
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Lee Ward Education 12 years ago
Utterly shocking how a publisher with such an enormous turnover, say that "there is demand from the core gamers to pay up for that" and adding 5 on to the RRP, and then screwing over the developers of the biggest grossing game in history, the same people whose talent gave Activision such enormous sales.

I thought some of the shameful stuff Microsoft did in their early years was bad, but this is utterly incomprehensible.

I wish Jason and Vince all the best in their action against Activision, and I'm sure millions of gamers across the world, those who have played Infinity Ward's games, and those that haven't are too.
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Christopher Bowen Owner, Gaming Bus 12 years ago
@David - The little guy is going about via Facebook and Apple.... but is that a good thing? Both of those companies are large, and still hold the strings. We've seen first-hand what Apple's doing with that power (abusing it), and I see no reason to trust Facebook any more. Or any large company, at that.

The only way for these people to go and have their own way is to control the distribution as well. But since people never want to play loose games - it has to be "attached" to something, so it can be played on the bog - that's never going to work.

What a catch-22.
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Haven Tso Web-based Game Reviewer 12 years ago
The thing is Activision is really into money not games. That's why they are acquiring others than creating their own stuff. Looking at all the sequels and crap they churned out. They are no better than EA in any sense. I really hate these kind of companies who reaped the profits of other people's hard work without rewarding them equally.
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Christopher Shaw Studying Msc Games Software Development, Sheffield Hallam University12 years ago
It was obvious that all they wanted was the money, the way they overhyped the game and all the advertising and events they put on for its launch just to pull in more people. The game itself was not a tremendous leap from any of its previous installments or really any other FPS from this generation.

All the best to Jason and Vince, I feel it would be an unlikely win - but if they did manage to get something out of the case then maybe Activision would get the message that they aren't gonna get away with treating their employees in that kinda way.
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Blaise Guy Studying Bachelor of Games and Interactive Entertainment, Queensland University of Technology12 years ago
"The document also claims West and Zampella were "interrogated for over six hours" in a windowless room and that other Infinity Ward employees were bought to tears by questioning." - I think that after the first twenty minutes I'd quit and become a McDonald's manager... it's about the same pay, anyway.

Making smaller games as a hobby gives a person a lot more freedom, and I am a little worried about where the future is heading - with smaller, creative games being made and sold for pennies, and larger, less innovative games being constantly churned out by the big guys backed by soulless publishers.

Makes me wonder if I should start making a few games now, just to get used to the new "indie" structure that one might be forced into in order to stay creative in this "creative industry"
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Kevin Clark-Patterson Lecturer in Games Development, Lancaster and Morecambe College12 years ago
I'm not sticking up for Activision or anything and fair play to West and Zampella for saying no


If the conditions andf treatments were so bad why didnt they resign before being ordered to march?


Blow the whole thing wide open! :D I'm no Sherlock Holmes but I'm guessing royalty payments - again fair play!

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