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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  • COD has several advantages.

    It's got a large user base in this day and age when everybody and their mom's releasing a game and players are spread thin. Some people buy it just for that. Of course a huge user base means all kinds of riff raffs, hacks, and the like.

    It's got momentum, and that comes from years of weak competition. It has the full weight of an entire publisher and its army of marketing monkeys behind it. People think they're buying for quality when they're actually buying for brand valve.

    The right kind of shooter will come out and knock it off its perch. It gets easier as more iterations are released and they get more and more arrogant. Either way it's a fight for the crown of the summer blockbuster, whereas the game itself is nothing to boast about.

    Thread Truncated. Click to see all 2 replies.

    • So much was true of Guitar Hero and Tony Hawk before it. They're still big games, but not nearly as big as they once were because the market became oversaturated by them.

      Activision is doing everything in their power to ensure that this happens again with Call of Duty. Guitar Hero was made by Harmonix until Activision bought the owners of the name and not the makers of the game. To save a buck. That cost them a split market and an inferior series of games.

      Now they gutted their best internal developer to pieces over a royalty/rights feud. To save a buck, it seems. I'm pretty sure that's going to cost them another split market and inferior series of games.

      Don't worry about them, though. Blizzard'll keep right on doing what they do and no amount of stupidity on Kotick's part will keep them from making a bajillion bucks from World of Warcraft. It's like watching a madman run around town with machine guns and tanks, knowing that in the background there's a Company Man keeping that madman in power and armed.

      Except WoW is the G-Man. Zug zug.