The lights are on
News hit late yesterday that ex-Infinity Ward studio heads Jason West and Vince Zampella are suing Activision, their former employer. Today, we've received a boatload of new details on that lawsuit through the public court documents (originally posted on Kotaku). I've given the 16-page complaint a couple read-throughs, but rather than attempting to interpret it all on my own, I talked with Eric Chad, an intellectual property attorney with the firm Merchant & Gould. Chad provides some insight into why Activision may have made the choices they did, how relevant the info provided in West and Zampella's complaint is, and just how ugly and lengthy this legal battle could get.
For someone who's completely new to this type of legal document, the biggest surprise was that about 10 of the 16 pages are fairly clear and easy to follow, providing a semi-narrative set of anecdotes about the various problems West and Zampella have faced from Activision over the past few years. Some items I found particularly interesting:
-After acquiring Infinity Ward in 2002, Activision CEO Bobby Kotick told West and Zampella "that they should, and needed to, fight to preserve the 'magic' at Infinity Ward and focus above all else on maintaining its record of top-rated games."
-Following the release and success of the original Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, West and Zampella almost didn't renew their contract with Activision. The duo clearly wanted Infinity Ward to develop a new intellectual property, but they were being pressured by Activision to move right into Modern Warfare 2. From the document:
"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 break neck pace under aggressive schedules, and West and Zampella were concerned that Activision was emphasizing 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."
-Activision eventually convinced West and Zampella to stay with them by offering up a Memorandum of Understanding. In addition to extending their contracts through to October 2011, this legally-binding document gave West and Zampella some major financial bonuses as well as a couple other hefty promises. Chiefly, it gave the two "creative authority over the development of any games under the Modern Warfare brand (or any Call of Duty game set in the post-Vietnam era, the near future, or the distant future) including complete control over the Infinity Ward studio." In other words, Activision could not publish a Modern Warfare-branded game (or a Call of Duty game set any time later than Vietnam) without West and Zampella's full approval.
The Memorandum also promised the duo the ability to "operate Infinity Ward independently and to choose to develop new intellectual property after they completed Modern Warfare 2." Taken with the implied desire to move on to new things from the quote above, that probably means West and Zampella weren't looking to have Infinity Ward develop Modern Warfare 3.
-Sometime at the beginning of February or earlier, Activision launched an investigation into West and Zampella that the complaint alleges "was not to uncover any facts concerning any actual wrongdoing, but to manufacture a basis to fire West and Zampella." The details get downright scary here, with the duo saying that Activision refused to provide them with specifics on what they were being accused of, "insisting instead in Orwellian fashion that West and Zampella 'already have a clear understanding of what they have or have not done.'" The complaint notes that any time West or Zampella questioned the proceedings, they were told that anything but full cooperation would be counted as insubordination, thus justifying the firing in and of itself. Activision supposedly demanded access to their personal computers and cell phones and interrogated them for six hours straight in a windowless conference room on Presidents' Day weekend. Yikes.
Isn't he a reader on this site? Wow, see having skills like that gets you noticed!
***, that was a long read. Wish you would have told me to get the popcorn ready in the beginning.
I will read this tomorrow morning, to busy playing bad company 2.
Amazing. Is there a channel for this kind of stuff? G4TV or something? We dont get that in NZ, im keeping track of this though.
I see what he's saying, that he can't see why Activision would fire them over $36 million when they could just make Modern Warfare 3 but there's two issues with that. First, no matter who is at the head of it, Modern Warfare 3 is going to sell a billion copies. It just is. And secondly, it's clear from the statements that West and Zampella wanted to move on to a new IP at least for the time being. This probably didn't sit well with Activision as they are facing financial difficulties right now. This own site reported just a few days ago that Activision was concerned about over-milking the Guitar Hero and WoW franchises and that they thought they were going to lose money. If this was true, it would be even more important that they release Modern Warfare 3 as soon as possible to ease the loss of money on the other franchises. That's my take on it. And if what they said about Activision was true, geez, I'm never going to be associated with that company.
Funny how it was just recently announced that Itagaki settled with Tecmo, and now this is happening with activision. I mean they're unrelated, but it just goes to show that....... I dunno, something about money? based on the legal documents, Im picturing a law and order style interrogation with Chris Noth and Jerry Orbach... just saying.
All I know is I hope they can come out with a MW3!
This was interesting and i am on West and Zampella side no matter what because they are not crazy like the Bobby there and i have great respect for the time and energy they put into Call of Duty 2,4,and 6.
I bet this will end with infinity ward either them losing boo hoo sad sad or Activision with the millions of dollars they get from suckers like me who play WoW [ TAUREN PALADINS!!!!!!] will pay infinity ward and Activision will get another 20 million from MW3
It's hard for people to see Activision as anything but bloodsuckers, but truth be told they have a business to run. Though I'm also empathizing with Infinity Ward for the most part, I have a strong feeling nobody's hands are entirely clean here.
Read it all i can say is hopefully activision loses they have been shady and money grubbing. Time to pay the piper and get what's coming to u even though i am not a fan of IW i still believe that Activision did them wrong somehow.
Whatever the case, I hope West and Zampella open their own studio, and find the solace they deserve.
all ive heard is how bobby kotick and activision is sketchy. just makes me dislike them more an more
im with wormpuke
Now this is journalism. Thanks for the catch-me-up, GI (especially Phil for this and Andy for his editorial take), I've been busy this week and am only just now trying to process it all.
i seeing new news about activision and infinity ward every day. I think im siding with infinity ward, though i dont know the whole story.
Tim, I would agree one hundred percent. I just can't imagine Activision being so illogical to fire the life force of IW without having some reason. I guess life at Activision must be like Bad Company 2 instead of Modern Warfare 2, cause they couldn't prone to dodge this bullet. ZING
I vote for possibility (c)
oh im ready with my xl popcorn, and xl drink, this battle is going to make the battle at helms deep look like a skirmish (jk, nothing can beat out helms deep or the battle at the white city)
@ tim turi, sure you have a business to run, but when you begin to farm the land to the point of where it becomes barren and you know their trying to get money, thats saying somethin. no disrespect but you realize that the guy who runs activision is the guy who siad "i would be willing to raise the price of overpriced peripherals to higher prices" right?