Call of Duty Lawsuit Separates "Call of Duty" and "Modern Warfare", Explains Scope of Royalties

By Brian Leahy, Mar 04, 2010 12:58pm PST Documents detailing the lawsuit against Activision brought by Jason West and Vince Zampella--the co-founders and former heads of Call of Duty series creator Infinity Ward--have surfaced via Kotaku, offering a clearer view of what's going on.
Review of the 16-page lawsuit paints an interesting picture, from the perspective of plaintiffs West and Zampella, about Infinity Ward's history, relationship with Activision, and the Call of Duty and Modern Warfare franchises.

Perhaps most interesting is that West and Zampella refer to "Call of Duty" and "Modern Warfare 2" as two distinct franchises throughout the lawsuit. Furthermore, in an agreement made between the plaintiffs and Activision on March 31, 2008, creative authority and approval for any "Modern Warfare" titles set in the post-Vietnam era, near future, or distant future was given to West and Zampella.

This also lends credence to the rumor that Treyarch, another wholly-owned Activision studio responsible for releasing non-Modern Warfare Call of Duty titles beginning with Call of Duty 3, is working on a new Call of Duty title set in Vietnam.

West and Zampella are not only suing for compensation and royalties, but control of the "Modern Warfare" brand. They claim the royalties they seek were agreed to in that March 2008 agreement, and cover money owed based upon the record sales of Modern Warfare 2 as well as future royalties for any titles published by Activision under the "Call of Duty" name or titles that utilize a significant portion of Infinity Ward's proprietary technology.

That latter portion--games that use a significant portion of IW's technology--likely refers to Treyarch's, as it made both 007: Quantum of Solace and Call of Duty: World at War using Infinity Ward's technology, though the studio is never named in the lawsuit.

Additionally, this March 31, 2008 agreement gave Infinity Ward to option to choose to develop a new intellectual property following the release of Modern Warfare 2.

The plaintiffs also claim that they still have "creative authority" over any Modern Warfare-branded game and "the conduct of Infinity Ward," though Activision just replaced them a day after they were fired as it announced plans to create a dedicated "Call of Duty" branch and revealed at least two new titles in the franchise that will be developed and released by Treyarch and Sledgehammer Games.

3D Realms co-owner and Duke Nukem Forever developer George Broussard tweeted the following: "My take? Activision: 'Cheaper to fire the guys, deal with a suit / pay them off than have them control the MW brand/studio'"

Activision has already released a statement about West and Zampella's lawsuit, calling it "meritless". While we only officially know West and Zampella's side of the story, Activision's hand may have been revealed.'s Patrick Klepek, originally responsible for breaking the story, is reporting that Activision is seeking several internal Infinity Ward "documents regarding West and Zampella's communications with Activision's competitors, including but not limited to Electronic Arts."

Word of Activision's rivals are coming into play only furthers the rampant speculation and rumors that the duo had opted to develop that new IP after the release of Modern Warfare 2 and were shopping it around, though that's still unconfirmed.

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  • One of the more interesting things in the industry for all of us that have been watching it grow and evolve over the years is that it seems to really be a simple science. It's easy to say "everyone that makes games like Blizzard" will be successful, but realistically speaking it's impossible to get to that level without investors that own your soul.

    The sad part with the whole situation is a lot of the people in power don't care about anything but the almighty dollar. That's what they're paid to do. They aren't paid to be empathetic about anything. EA learned this the hard way and now they are failing incredibly and even though now (from everything they're trying to do with what they've seen to make things better) it's hard to change your image once you've been branded with the scarlet letter. I think of all the incorporated's EA has really made an effort (with the purchase of Bioware/Pandemic) to make unique original games. They've done their part in getting them out the door but they've still failed. This is the grave that they dug themselves as well. As much as I'd love to say it brings joy to me to watch them fail it doesn't. As a gamer I want the conflict of choosing between a lot of quality products, but sadly that is not always the reality.

    Activision even did this with the Guitar Hero franchise. They laughed at Harmonix and figured they wouldn't be able to do shit. Rock Band destroyed Guitar Hero. Activision openly admitted to having way too many GH sku's on the market, and were scaling back. It's always reactive business decisions they make and not proactive.

    It just seems like sure they make the effort to fix the mistakes they make, but only when their dollars are affected. The company vision is tainted. Yes...investors are in it to make money. Yes that's how the industry will succeed. For indie developers as much as we as a community want to support them they have just as many turds as the big companies, so sure it's all well and good to support them in theory, but my dollars are what really say "keep up the good work".

    Sadly a lot of franchises we love are going to be victimized by this and there is nothing we can do about it. People get all pissed off at Valve with claims of them making shovelware (L4D/L4D2 fiasco) and at the time that was happening I couldn't believe how disrespectful the community was to one of our honest and wonderful developers/publishers. Valve is a company that gives us a TON of free content with our games. This isn't a case of game released Monday, DLC Tuesday. They made a legitimate expansion on top of providing the additional scenarios for the low cost of a whole lot of nothing.

    It's not that I'm a fanboy of any particular company. I'm a fanboy of good games, regardless of paltform, and respectable business models. It pains me as a longtime Bioware developer to look at some of the DLC they offer up and plan before the game is even released and in my head I have to think if it's a money grab or real legitimate content they're providing.

    Speak with your dollars. MW2 made a fantastic amount of money. If you're really upset at what Activision is doing then don't buy their products. If you think this will never happen either just look at EA. People get sick and tired of being treated like shit.

    Also back those developers who are getting fucked over. Although I won't claim to be an expert on this issue between IW/Activision it's clear that everyone is getting greedy.

    When money is in your eyes your passion is gone. As the industry grows we can always use our smarts to ensure how it grows. The big American car manufacturers learned this the hard way as well (although their situation isn't 1:1 with gaming). The Japanese manufacturers moved in and started producing quality. Given a bit of time and they're now at the top. Toyota/Honda...we need to look to our own industry and find these gems of developers.

    This is all a lot easier than it seems. The creme will rise to the top, and when we start thinking before we spend our dollars it really says how we want everything to evolve.

    GL to both parties. I just hope we as the gamers don't lose our industry.

    Thread Truncated. Click to see all 3 replies.

    • I don't have much hope for huge publishers who own dev houses, like Activision, EA, Take Two, and Ubisoft. I fear that the strongarm tactics from Activison to keep IW in line may become the norm. I'm also wary of publicly traded companies driving the agenda on game development, since they'll be motivated for maximum profit acquisition, as opposed to making genuinely great games. Like you said, "when money is in your eyes your passion is gone".

      I look at Id Software agreeing to be bought by Zenimax, after years of wondering if Activision would try to buy a controlling stake in them. Look at John Carmack explaining the acquisition back in June last year:

      ZeniMax came with an offer. The more we looked at it, the more we liked it. The two obvious choices [of id buyers] were Electronic Arts and Activision. They're the two giants of the industry. But we knew that we would have to go through big corporate changes if we went with them. We know the developers at the studios owned by those companies. And while they have good things to say, there is no doubt about it that things would change at a company of that scale. If we had gone to one of those companies, we would be one more studio. We would be a prized studio. But we wouldn't even be their only shooter studio. We would be competing for resources with our brother and sister studios. There is no question if they have Call of Duty project, there would be some degree of conflict there.

      Big corporate changes. What just happened on March 1st at Infinity Ward? And now Infinity Ward has seemingly lost their 2-year rotation to Sledgehammer. I'm also wondering what Kotick said to Infinity Ward in the March 2nd all hands meeting; probably something to try to entice (or coerce) them into staying. We won't know for years.