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Activision Countersues 'Scheming' Ex-Infinity Ward Heads
Activision Countersues 'Scheming' Ex-Infinity Ward Heads
April 9, 2010 | By Kris Graft

April 9, 2010 | By Kris Graft
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    36 comments
More: Console/PC



Activision Blizzard filed a countersuit Friday morning against ex-Infinity Ward heads Jason West and Vince Zampella, painting a picture of two insubordinate employees out to harm parent Activision and its shareholders.

In Activision's lawsuit, reported by the L.A. Times, West and Zampella "morphed from valued, responsible executives into insubordinate and self-serving schemers who attempted to hijack Activision's assets for their own personal gain."

Activision fired the pair for alleged insubordination in early March, just a few months after the November launch of Infinity Ward's video game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, which has generated over $1.5 billion globally. The pair sued Activision, Infinity Ward's parent company, for $36 million over the firing.

Activision's countersuit added, "West and Zampella's misdeeds formed an unlawful pattern and practice of conduct that was designed to steal the [Infinity West] studio, which is one of Activision's most valuable assets -- at the expense of Activision and its shareholders and for their own personal financial gain."

Activision also accused the pair of going "on a secret trip by private jet to Northern California, arranged by their Hollywood agent, to meet with the most senior executives of Activision's closest competitor." Electronic Arts' headquarters is located in the Northern California city of Redwood Shores, but the suit did not call EA out by name.

Activision did not name a dollar amount for which it is countersuing, but the publisher said in the suit that it has the right to withhold future payments to West and Zampella to make up for a "period of [the pair's] disloyalty" and that the publisher is entitled to compensatory damages. The suit also claimed the two tried to delay development of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. The newly-formed Activision studio Sledgehammer is now making a Call of Duty game for 2011.

EA director of corporate communications Jeff Brown would not confirm whether the pair spoke to EA. "We don't have the time to comment on the many lawsuits Activision files against its employees and creative partners," he said.


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Comments


ken sato
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Gah!



Suit and counter suit.

Daniel Piers
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Touché, Jeff Brown.



Activision will never see another cent of my money unless they change their modus operandi. How evil does a company have to be in order to morph valued, responsible executives into insubordinate and self-serving schemers who attempted to hijack the company's assets for their own personal gain?

Bruno Dion
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"How evil does a company have to be in order to morph valued, responsible executives into insubordinate and self-serving schemers who attempted to hijack the company's assets for their own personal gain?"



Sounds like Modern Warfare 2 but with less guns and more suits.

Andrew Vanden Bossche
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I enjoyed the suit's use of the word "morphed," as it makes West and Zampella sound like power rangers.

Shaun Greene
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"We don't have the time to comment on the many lawsuits Activision files against its employees and creative partners"



That made my day... way to jab at the evil giant corporation, EA!



Wait, wtf? Oh, how the times have changed...

Alan Rimkeit
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Just let is all go to court. I still think that this is all going to be settled out of court , the records will be sealed, and we the public will never know the final accounting of what really went down.

Bob Stevens
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Alan I suspect you're right, but a countersuit may have been a prerequisite to negotiations.

Alan Rimkeit
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Sure it is. A countersuit is a normal way of dealing with law suits on the corporate level. They, being Activision, can't be seen as being on the wrong end of things for publicity reasons. It may hurt the corporate stock value and all that rot. ;)

steve roger
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the publisher said in the suit that it has the right to withhold future payments to West and Zampella to make up for a "period of [the pair's] disloyalty"



This statement and position by Activision has no basis in law. If it Activision was allowed to withhold compensation for a contractual violation then it would deemed an unlawful penatly--which is not allowed by law.



This is a serious error in the pleadings by the Activision attorneys.

Alan Rimkeit
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@steve roger - I was thinking the same thing. That statement sounds like it has no basis in any form of state law.

ken sato
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Ah, not exactly.



If you're talking about the 5th clause of Action in the suit the claim is the entitlement for further compensation is in dispute. They are not talking about any future payments but rather focusing on reserve stock and compensation pool for IW employees in general. Further payments would constitute a royalty rather project completion bonus that most studios adhere to.



Finally the incentive plan is a contracted agreement on compensation that you sign on to and it has requirements. While it is lucrative, it is some what restrictive.



Also this is contract law which is much trickier than state law as it has so many unique conditions applied.



Allegations aside on both sides, I can only wonder how the situation got so bad.

Alan Rimkeit
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Ken thanks for clarifying, at least a little. I stand partially corrected.

Tim Carter
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Ahem...



Know your situation, and be consistent.



If you want to be an employee of a big publisher - which is exactly what Jason and Vince were (IW was *acquired* by Activision) - you will be treated as such. Employees, from what I understand, have to do what the boss says.



If you take control of your own career - which means becoming a free agent and securing good terms for yourself through a tough, detailed contract - then you will have control over your own career. It's a risky route to take, but potentially more rewarding in the end.



It's really hypocritical of game developers to expect they'll get control over their own destiny if they insist on acting as employees, not free agents.

Bob Stevens
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Are the court documents posted somewhere?

ken sato
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http://www.joystiq.com/2010/04/09/activision-countersuit-against-
zampella-and-west-seeks-money-bac/



And FYI this is pretty standard, the only thing that raises eyebrows is the MOU which is referenced as evidence but not displayed.



In any case, this just depresses me--both the producer in me and the kid.

ken sato
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Added note:



It does sound like CAA was brought in for contract negotiations but I'm not sure if they're being named as one of the alleged parties in the suit. From at least Activision's allegation, is that this is one of the acts encouraged or at least aided by that caused the insubordination.



The documents...gah!

Alan Rimkeit
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Looks like West and Zempalla have fired back.



http://kotaku.com/5513845/axed-call-of-duty-creators-return-fire-
at-activision-plan-to-reveal-creative-future-soon

David Fried
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It pains me that Blizzard's name is attached to Activision. =P

Adam Piotuch
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Egh, still boycotting Activision, until at least we get the full story, which we probably never will.

Tim Carter
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@Bob: If you had made one of the most lucrative entertainment products in history, and your reward for that was to: 1.) be ordered to make a sequel despite wanting to do something else; and, 2.) not receive any share of the earnings - what would you feel?



I've always felt that way about the game industry. If you are trying to get compensated for a good game in the indirect, fuzzy manner of ownership of shares in a studio - instead of the clean, direct way of selling your IP for explicit compensation deal terms (which film directors and screenwriters have done now for decades, and gotten quite rich and recognized for doing so) - then you will be bitter too if you make a really great game and find yourself being treated as an employee rather than being courted as an artist.

ken sato
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Well if only creative elements were involved, I'd agree but title development consists of more than just a writer or director, and has some tangible technology access which is a part of the competitive equation. It's not just seeing several movies with similar plots, characters, or themes but the technology used to deliver titles. An example is Google vs MS-Bing. Common delivery of services but the implementation are competitive secrets, something that other companies attempting to start to further would give an arm and a leg for. That's why personnel and development time to project rather than PR is still a factor in employment. While we should raise a glass to those creative and imaginative devs, you have to remember they still had a technical component to their achievements which evolved the industry beyond expectations.



So I guess the question is: Would a director, screen writer, etc. be willing to accept a non-competition clause in their contract preventing them from writing a similar screenplay, directing a movie, whatever for the space of which the technology is deemed to be competitive? Would a publisher be willing to accept a studio or project head who had no access to internal technology that could be shared to competitors?



All of this gets dicey as you go deeper into development. And while art and design are critical--please! I don't want to convey any insult!--they can be added to, removed, or replaced--albeit not easily and more problematic if you do so frequently. But the technology that you use to leverage this presentation, should it get standardized, loses a competitive edge.

John Mawhorter
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That's because you can mostly steal design by playing a game, but can't steal technology (though you can imitate or guess). That's why we have so many me-too games that are utter shit, because people steal design and poorly imitate technology, all without regard for making changes because of the differences in studios or for trying to innovate. That's why all these WoW clones fail... not merely because they don't offer anything new, but because they are competing for an entrenched MMO audience with the best company in the business, which by default means they are not-the-best, which means they will lose.

Scott Smith
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My question is:



Has the rest of the development at IW received their MWII bonus/royalties from Activision?



If not, when are they expected to be paid?

Mark Venturelli
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@John Mawhorter most of them fail not just because they can't steal technology, but that they don't even understand enough about design to steal it in the first place.

John Mawhorter
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Well yeah, often they fail in even stealing design, but sometimes they manage to steal it, but since they don't improve on it at all they fail. Good point!

jaime kuroiwa
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I don't suppose this trial will get posted on Youtube will it? It's not enough to just hear about the outcome (or the settlement); I'd like to hear more details.



I'm under the impression that this is what success looks like in the game industry, and it's completely disheartening. This whole thing is all about money isn't it? No mention of the creative individuals who *really* made Modern Warfare; just a couple wealthy people comparing the size of their "swords."

Chris Sigma
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Robert M. Schwartz, the attorney representing West and Zampella:

"Activision's inaccurate and misguided allegations lose sight of the reality here: None of the false claims of insubordination or breach of duties had any negative affect on Activision — none. Modern Warfare 2 has been the world's most successful video game. And none of this changes the fact that Jason and Vince would still be at Infinity Ward developing new games except that Activision kicked them out. This is just an Activision tactic to avoid paying Jason and Vince and everyone else at Infinity Ward the millions of dollars they all earned and that Activision owes them."



To me even if Activision is right, it is not worth it for them to damage their own reputation this much. Activision has far too much to lose for any of this to be worth it. As for how much in royalties owed to the two CEOs? Who knows? But this I'm sure has been a HUGE HIT to morale and could affect stock value - why are they taking such a huge risk over... what to me appears a trifle matter.

ken sato
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Activision's position is simple as are their steps to protect brand, shareholder, and employee's per their allegations.



West and Zampenella's position is equally clear as they protect their standing, payments, and control per their own allegations.



This is not a trifiling matter.



Consider each side allegations, claims of ownership and malfeasance, AND then look at the out right money owed. In comparison, the rights as well terms outlined are not just in the millions in cash settlements but in the tens of millions and possibly hundreds world wide including the marketing and international setups established of a brand both parties set up. This is essentially a divorce where there is one big community asset, and neither side is going to give that up as it has a market value...and a potential value as well as name recognition goes a long way.



In any case both parties are have set up their established positions and are expecting a summary decision should the case not go into settlement. Both sides need to fight this case regardless of the allegations from each side in order to assert their rights, resolve the question of ownership, and more importantly, give all due diligence that they are protecting their rights.



So all I can say is look at the claims and you'll see that both parties are taking appropriate action to support and justify their allegations.



For me personally, it just makes me tired...

Gern Blansteen
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It's not nearly so deep. It all comes down to history repeating itself...



In 2002, Vince and Jason left developer 2015 with EA's Medal of Honor technology tucked under their arm intent on using it to start their own company and to get out from under the corporate thumb. They succeeded.



In 2010, Vince and Jason left developer Infinity ward with Activision's Call of Duty technology tucked under their arm intent on using it start their own company and to get out from under the corporate thumb. They got caught.



And then Activision twisted the knife by timing the firing to hurt them in the pocketbook.



To think the "big corporate machine" wasn't watching and waiting for them to try to repeat this maneuver just shows a severe lack of judgment on their part. I'm sure they'll land on their feet. And then in 2018...

Bob Stevens
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If there had actually been any Medal of Honor technology in Call of Duty... *that* would have been a lawsuit.

wefohj sdfig
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how can I search relative information on http://www.google.com ?

i believe there should be more about it.

Tim Carter
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@Ken Sato: The more developer goes toward the formulaic - the removal of the human hand from the core elements of creativity - the more "deadly" the product becomes. Formula is the kiss of death to creative undertakings. And like it as not, this is an entertainment industry. The technology is just a means, not an end.



And please spare me the whole nonsense story that filmmakers never innovating technology, or that film technology is totally static and set in stone. That's such a load of bullshit. Filmmakers think on their feet, improvise and innovate all the time. In "The Perfect Storm", for example, there were teams devoted for months to writing fluid and water simulation technology. In live action, crews go into hostile environments in faraway places, and have to devise new means to solve problems all the time. In many films they spends months building sets with unique specs tailored for a new film. (If you ever watch the Academy Awards you might notice the mention of the parallel award ceremony for the year's sci-tech innovators.)



But the best thing is they marry this technological innovation with a creative deal structure that rewards core creative and makes a product that is relative to more than a narrow sector of the population; a product that is actually culturally relevant. It is also a deal structure that has the potential to marry an unknown, unusual talent with a multi-million dollar budget.

Tim Carter
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Comments regarding technology IP...



Jason Della Rocca pointed out at the GameON: Finance convention of 09 that the whole matter of tech IP is really overblown. You could count the number of companies that have actually monetized their "game engine" on one hand. The whole focus of making the game industry into a tech industry instead of what it is - a game industry - just drags us down as a whole. Call of Duty could have been made on any number of engines - it wasn't the tech that made it big; it was for human, creative reasons that it was a hit.

Anthony Alexander
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I havent seen anything inspiring in FPS since Perfect dark, or dare I say GoldenEye. The advent of squad based tactical shooters did breathe new life into the genre, but all I seem to see is a bunch of sandboxes + physics engines + production value. Competition is not always a good thing. I really wanted to play BF3, not bad company 2, but I can only imagine why EA wouldn't release a successor to that game. In case you were wondering or went blank, it's because BF2 eliminated the need for any other game in the genre until its engine became outdated.



The video games industry has matured and become just as redundant as the movie industry it surpassed. The only differences in movies are their stories, and such is the case with modern video games. Espionage, sabotage, when the final output is shite that could've been great with a few minor GAMEPLAY mechanic tweaks (much like multi million dollar movies and the careless plot holes). The most amusing part is the modders who seem to know exactly what the developer SHOULD have made the game like, and the coupe de grace: studios attacking modding communities.



I have no hope for the industry until the tools become standardized and the average joe doesnt need 100+ people to make a professional game. This is like a very big joke for me. Modern warfare 2 really suck(ed) and EA has the code base to create any game I can imagine.

Benjamin Marchand
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Dirty world ...

Andrew Tilot
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It's time we stand up and, someones going to have to say enough is enough and make a change. 2010 is time we the game developers stand up to the oppression, and tell activision to stick it up there ass. I know hundreds of talented designers, and one goal in mind is to keep the game world, safe, exciting, and all else a fair community. I feel bad for Jason West and Vince Zampella since they wont see a cent for months into years, but i respect them for expanding an idea that freedom of speech is larger then the world confines it to be. Back Porch Studio stands next to West and Zampella to the end!!!


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