Activision Alleges EA and Infinity Ward Co-founders Conspired to Sabotage Call of Duty

By Alice O'Connor, Dec 22, 2010 9:10am PST The legal battle between Activision and Jason West and Vince Zampella has taken an unusual twist. In new court documents filed this week, the video games giant accuses the pair of conspiring with rival company Electronic Arts to sabotage Infinity Ward as well as fellow Call of Duty series developer Treyarch and the brand.

First, a quick summary of events so far: West and Zampella, who co-founded of Call of Duty creator Infinity Ward before it was bought by Activision, were fired in March under mysterious circumstances; West and Zampella sued for unpaid royalties and brand rights; Activision scoffed. With us so far? Excellent.

IW employees then began leaving the studio in drips and drabs--around 35 eventually left in all; Activision counter-sued, claiming West and Zampella tried to "steal" IW; the pair formed Respawn Entertainment and signed a publishing agreement with EA; some IW veterans joined Respawn; Infinity Ward was restructed. Get it? Got it? Good.

On Tuesday, Activision filed an amendment to its complaint, reported by Joystiq, detailing a whole spread of alleged improprieties. It's claimed that West and Zampella had been in talks with EA for eight months before their firing, plotting together to create a new studio with Activision and Infinity Ward talent. To foster discontent, Activision says, the pair resisted Activision's attempts to pay employees bonuses and incentives. On top of that, they were "already appropriating for themselves approximately 1/3 of the total Infinity Ward bonus pool each quarter."

It's further claimed that West and Zampella intentionally released a Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 trailer on the same day as Treyarch released a trailer of their own for a Call of Duty: World at War map pack, to undermine the other developer and the series. Activision has produced supposed text message records of the plan.

"Treyarch released their mp dlc video," an anonymous employee sent to West, who responded "Super nice? We release our video? Crush and destroy with our video." The mysterious person affirmed "We already did. And ... we already did." "Nice," said West.

As West and Zamepella still had years left on their contracts, they rocked the boat by threatening to stop developing Modern Warfare 2, and then hold up Modern Warfare 3, as leverage in negotiations with Activision to found another own studio and work on new games under terms less favourable to the publisher.

EA worked with West and Zampella and their talent agency to plan all this, Activision alleges, with the goal of weakening the Call of Duty franchise and poaching Infinity Ward talent. This included bringing the pair by private jet to a "secret meeting" at EA CEO John Riccitiello's house. However, much of the supporting evidence for these claims is, the defendants insist, confidential and cannot be revealed. Large portions of the legal filing are redacted.

Supposedly, EA had also "sought to extract confidential information from West and Zampella, including information about the Modern Warfare marketing plans and how Electronic Arts could make a 'COD killer.'"

Activision is seeking "at least 400 million dollars" from EA to pay for profits lost due to its inference and for the cost of rebuilding Infinity Ward, as well as "punitive and exemplary damages to punish Electronic Arts and to deter similar conduct in the future."

It also wants back money West and Zempalla had received "during the period of their disloyalty" and to stop them from using confidential information owned by Activision in making their own rival products.

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  • I'm finding it hard to sympathise with either side on this. You have Activision and Kotick on one hand...they seem almost eager to garner hatred (particularly Kotick). I generally think they're influence on the industry as a whole is bad.

    Then you have the IW guys who more or less told a portion of their audience (which I am part of) to go fuck themselves in a PR disaster that was just completely baffling. They came off as huge tools and the decisions they made with MW2 led to me moving on after a couple weeks. They also came off as somewhat arrogant/big-headed through the whole fiasco.

    As much as I want to say "fuck the IW guys"...in the end they're the developers; they made a game that made Activision tons of money and I'm likley to give them the benefit of the doubt.

    I'd also add that for all the bashing Treyarch gets...they don't actively seem to want to fuck me over and piss in my face (lol, hyperbole!). They seem actually interested in fixing issues on the PC (and they seemed to put some effort into fixing issues with W@W on PC long after release from what I heard...though I never got into W@W)...they just seem to be a little inept. But I can forgive that more than what IW did, and I feel that BLOPS was a far better game than MW2 (which I felt to be a low point in the series...not just because its matchmaking system was a pain in the ass...but because the gameplay did nothing for me and the single player felt like a chore).

    Thread Truncated. Click to see all 5 replies.

    • 1) I think the matchmaking vs server was as much a decision by Activision as by IW. I think they owned it because they had to and made the argument because that's what was going to be. You can't infight against a management decision made at the top in public no matter how much you may want to and risk killing the golden goose. So you own the decision, you make it your decision, and you embrace it for whatever it offers. It's clear that years after with MW still having a great server life with mods, etc, that Activision saw that as money lost. They want control and they want all of it. Even Black Ops revealed that when they used the fact that IW took the brunt of the blame for the no servers fiasco and made Treyarch into the conquering heroes by having them promise to allow servers again. Then in fine print later acknowledged that they were not the servers anyone expected, just the option to buy your own server from one specific company. But hey, it worked. You're here praising Treyarch despite the fact they released Black Ops in the worst shape imaginable on PC, far worse than MW2 or MW or even W@W. I guess it's true there's a sucker born every minute.

      2) Look at why Treyarch went with the server option they offered versus just throwing off the shackles and letting anyone host a server that wanted to. It's a corporate decision. The original decision (for MW2) was no servers. When they needed to cast Treyarch as heroes of the community and help rebound from the fact that IW is now an empty shell of what it once was, they used the spectre of servers with limited confirmations that later required a lot of clarification to get at the truth. Clever marketing. Why spin? Because it's a corporate call. Activision's to blame.

      3) Meanwhile, I blame Treyarch for daring to release Black Ops in the shape it was in. You really should have bought the game on launch day for PC and read the steampowered forums. Hell, read shacknews at launch. How many posts were here saying, "Black Ops getting patched." "Promise of new patch coming after this." All promising to correct problems that kept the game from being PLAYED. Not played smoothly, not played well, not optimized. We're talking the opportunity to PLAY the game you just paid $60 for.

      Of course, the real reason they released it rather than QA it or bugfix it properly was... well, it was Call of Duty Day. And better to have a Call of Duty on the shelves on Call of Duty Day than have one that works on shelves a month later.