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.
It doesn't seem sane to fire them just to save $36mil. However, since Activision cannot move forward with another MW game unless the duo gives the say-so, then they are missing out on alot more that just 36mil. As stated above, the team would not work on MW3 after MW2, as they were moving on to new IPs. Kotick was probably pressuring them to stay the course with MW to keep that fat cash rolling in.
Activision isn't alone in stupidity here. West and Zampella signed this contract that supposedly says they can't talk to other publishers. I, personally, would not have signed this contract. You have to be able to preserve the ability to option your employment near the end of your contract (say, 6 months prior to contract expiration, they can have talks with other publishers, Activision can counter offers to keep them). Otherwise, your employer owns you. You can't look for another employer without getting fired and your unemployed with the contract expires.
Either way, It appears that Activision had it set that they didn't want the two running IW anymore. For whatever reason, they were going to get rid of them. Events took place that allowed (legally or not) them to do that. We shall see how this plays out though.
Oh this is indeed getting moe intresting...
@ Ryan M. Eft
Really, by not buying these products, you are hurting the people that made them, not Activision. Activision can take a hit from poor sales, but if a game fails commercially, then there isn't alot that would keep Activision from closing the studio, or laying people off.
Alot of people jump to protesting this way, but in the end, it only hurts those you are trying to protect. So go get that pre-order in-order again. Do your part in keeping this from happening to another studio. Look at IW. Even the successful ones aren't entirely safe.
millions here millions there bah all al u are rich becuz of us so activision should thx us! for that and stop all this bull***.
Hey, does the attorney you spoke with practice in California? Non compete agreements are considered non-enforceable here except in very narrow situations explicitly defined by statute.
I have not seen the MOU or their employment contracts, so I don't know the specific language they'd try to use to prevent them from shopping around. But if Activision is relying on a non-compete agreement, they're going to lose.
screw activision, they have no talent. i hate publishers.
I don't see this going anywhere anytime soon, since it seems to be a he said/she said type deal, and since we'll never see the documents that will actually have any bearing on the outcome of the case we'll never be able to guess what will happen. It's easy to vilify Activision in this case, and since they're a big corporation they'll never be able to write a document such as this explaining their side because they have to be political and unbiased going into the courtroom, careful not to step on any toes.
Easier just to forget about this for the next year or so, playing some great games, and get updates when something actually happens.
@CA_ATTY, I don't practice in California. Non-competes are generally disfavored everywhere, but my understanding is that unenforceable non-competes are those non-competes that perpetuate after a term of employment. I'm not an employment law expert, but I don't think there's any public policy against contractually requiring the loyalty of a currently-employed employee. Sure, now that West and Zampella are terminated, they're free agents, but I'm fairly certain that there's no policy or statutory prohibition from keeping contracted employees from hedging by seeking a better deal elsewhere.
West and Zampella should just make a new game. call it mordern warzone or somthing and use the cash to start a new company and keep there middle fingers aimed at activision the whole time. i think if people knew that they made the game it would be enough to sell major amounts of copies. maybe this lawsuit makes this idea imposible but it sounded good in my head! all i know for sure is that this is a prime time for another dev to steal the military fps crown off activision mellon.
I have officially spent more time READING about this debacle than I have playing MW2 and COD4: MW put together, haha. (I'm actually serious)
I'm still rooting for Infinity Ward. Intellectual Property should always be owned by the creators, I have a serious problem with industry 'standards' that dictate that publishers own artists' intellectual creations for perpetuity just because they front the manufacturing and marketing dollars. This is the core of the problem.
I had a strong feeling that branding the new Modern Warfare game with very little reference to Call of Duty was a move to distance MW from the COD name owned by Activision.
Best of luck guys.
Activision eliminated two threats by firing West and Zampella :
the $36 million payout
the chance of IW getting to own COD outright.
now that IW is leaerless, it will be easy enough to put an Activison yes man in there and make MW 3 for cheaper with less overhead and rake in the millions.
Wow that was pretty interesting.
Wow, this is some serious business. There could be no Modern Warfare 3 or it could suck. I hope West and Zampella win and take control of the Modern Warfare franchise. That would be awesome.
There are 2 sides so I want to see what Activision says happened.
From how Activision has been acting lately and how they've released an overwhelming amount of sequels, it sounds like Activision didn't like the fact that IW was gonna explore new territory, because this ran the risk of hurting their last money-making franchise, and the last franchise they could milk, Call of Duty. So how I see it is that Activision got rid of them so that they could justify not paying them the 36 million, and the ability to milk the Call of Duty franchise beyond decency, since they own the name. Plus, the fact that they interrogated them like terrorists and wouldn't tell them why them were in trouble, and were pretty much like "If you don't cooperate and just accept our accusations, you're in big trouble" is just downright dirty and unacceptable, that just shows that Activision has no interest in their employees and franchises, only the dollar signs and how many games they can kick out in a year, but I think it's mostly Bobby "egotistical ***" Kotick that's money hungry.
Sorry, this is a rant, if you like that sorta thing, enjoy,
This incident just highlights the developer/publisher disconnect. Developers do the real work and produce the actual product that generates revenue. Publishers simply happen to be fortunate enough to be holding the cash bag.
Obviously, Activision, or more appropriately, talentless hack executives within Activision, have been inflating their own compensation(salary, benefits, stock options) to astronomic levels. Surely, developers have reaped some increased earnings, but nothing at all close to the executives.
Didn't we just read about ole' Bobby K cashin' in on MW2 by converting $20,000,000 worth of stock options to cash. I'm sure he's going to reinvest it in the company and not spend it on a lavish lifestyle. This is the problem, executives stuff their pockets during the "boomingest" of years and then expect it to continue forever. When financial difficulties arise, perhaps the bloodsucking executives should start cutting back on their pay, perks, and feelings of entitlement to become millionaires over and over again on the backs of others doing the actual work.
Instead they try to force the developers to work even harder, generate revenue faster, stuff Bobby K and all his pals with more money because they deserve it for having such lackluster managerial skills that they can't anticipate a market downturn or the fact people might get sick of buying stuff like Guitar Hero: Spice Girls, or Call of Duty: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull(I read on IGN they want to take Call of Duty in an action/adventure direction in addition to FPS, if they're not gonna milk Guitar Hero, WoW, they gotta milk something).
Exactly how many millions of subscribers to WoW do they need, how many millions of copies of multiple successful franchises do they need to sell in order to satisfy this executive money lust. Yeah, they may have a business to run, and apparently like the rest of corporate America they're doing it wrong. If a company can be as successful as Activision and still be suffering financial woes then the people at the top are grafting entirely too much of the revenue for their own.
I'M ON TEAM IW ON THIS ONE
Fantastic article. Wow, that had every last bit of info I wanted to know neatly poured into it. Excellent job, truly.
My opinions on this whole mess are a little jaded. I am tired of hearing about big companies screwing their employees, and they big companies claiming the employees screwed them. After following this case closely, and without too much information, I can only think of one explanation.
If Jason and Vince's contract was up in 2011, then they may have been motivated to look at their future. Obviously they wouldn't be staying at Activision anymore, so they needed to look elsewhere. I have a feeling that they were indeed talking to EA or another company, but only about securing a new hone after their contract ended. I do not think these guys would be stupid enough to put their jobs in so much jeopardy. I think they were simply trying to guarantee themselves a new job at a different company when they contract ended.
This obviously got Activision very angry. So angry, in fact, that Activision fired them.
heres 2 shorting activtion...
Whew, I tell you. This is one big mess!
interrogated for six hours Holy $H!T