Zampella and West could veto Modern Warfare releases

Duo could seek injunction prohibiting work on MW series, claims legal expert

Sacked Activision duo Jason West and Vince Zampella could veto the planned release of downloadable content or future releases in the Modern Warfare series, if the legal issues with former employer Activision are ruled in their favour.

That's according to Jas Purewal, English lawyer and litigation specialist, who said that the duo's claim of creative control over the Modern Warfare brand could have very serious consequences for the future of Activision's war franchise.

"This is potentially explosive," wrote Purewal on his personal blog Gamerlaw. "West and Zampella are arguing they have contractual creative control over the Modern Warfare brand. The details will have to come out in the litigation, but it could see West and Zampella demanding a veto over Modern Warfare 2 DLC as well as any other Modern Warfare games."

He continued: "It will be interesting to see how aggressively West and Zampella pursue this claim: if they have a good legal basis for their argument, you could even see them seeking an injunction against Activision prohibiting any further work on Modern Warfare until this lawsuit is resolved. That would be a difficult argument to run but, whether successful or not, it wouldn't go down very well with Activision."

Activision is claiming it sacked West and Zampella due to breach of contract and insubordination, but Purewal as well as noting that 'insubordination' has no legal meaning in the UK or US suggests that even if this is the case, the pair could still claim the bonuses owed to them following the sales success of Modern Warfare 2.

"West and Zampella may have an alternative legal argument, i.e. that even if Activision is right regarding their 'breaches of contract and insubordination' it was still legally unfair for Activision to fire them just before their royalty payments were due to be paid. If that argument has legal force under Californian law, and is accepted by the Californian court, then in principle West and Zampella could seek to claim their royalty payments even though Activision may have been right to fire them."

Unless Activision deals with the legal issue quickly, it's likely to lead to a messy court battle which could disclose sensitive issues such as employment arrangements at Activision, remuneration, commercial and personal relationships between the developers, their employer and the Infinity Ward business, said Purewal.

"The short-term prognosis at this very early stage does not look good," he continued. "Activision faces a high-profile, high-value lawsuit from hostile plaintiffs which is likely to stay in the spotlight for some time.

"Worse, unless it can get rid of the lawsuit quickly, Activision faces lingering legal doubt as to whether West and Zampella retain creative control over Modern Warfare. And, worst of all, this will mean the industry watching very carefully what it does next and how it relates with developers in the future."

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Latest comments (3)

Terence Gage Freelance writer 8 years ago
I don't want to make any sweeping judgments over any of this until we have more 'facts' at hand, but Activision do seem to consistently operate under abhorrent business practices. If this does turn out to be them at fault, I really hope West & Zampella get a good payout and form their own development studio with a lot of the Infinity Ward staff -- maybe even retaining the rights to the Modern Warfare franchise, for the icing on the cake!

I don't know if Activision Blizzard are deliberately trying to screw things up at the moment, but their focus very much seems to be on short-term profits, rather than having enduring and sustained franchises. They really need to put more onus on the talent and creativity of their studios; especially one so prolific and successful as IW.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Terence Gage on 4th March 2010 5:12pm

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Nik Love-Gittins Senior Character Artist, FreeStyleGames8 years ago
Well done on resisting making any sweeping judgments there.....
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Christopher Bowen Owner, Gaming Bus 8 years ago
To be fair, Terence is really only looking at Activision's recent history; it doesn't bode well for their current predicament.

Here's something I noticed: when MW2 released, Bobby Kotick immediately sold off shares he had in the company. I don't have the exact numbers in front of me right now, but he made a lot - a LOT - of money off of that. That lends some credence to Terence's claim that Activision's interests are in short-term profits more than long term gain or creativity (something Kotick is on record as saying he's against, and no, don't take his DICE comments for anything beyond what they were: a charm offensive to get the game industry off his back)
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