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[EDITOR'S NOTE: In January of this year, Gamasutra featured the full contract between Spark Unlimited and Activision for the development of Call of Duty: Finest Hour, with industry commentary by leading game attorneys.
For today's feature, we present the rest of the story, taken from additional court documents made available during Spark's related trials, this time covering its battles both with Electronic Arts leading up to the formation of Spark and Activision, following the release of Finest Hour.]
The legal dispute between Call of Duty: Finest Hour developer Spark Unlimited and its one-time publisher Activision must certainly be a vexing distraction for both companies. However, for the rest of us, their increasingly public argument provides a unique opportunity to learn from other people’s mistakes.
Spark’s founder Craig Allen had been in the video game industry for years, working as a producer for Disney Interactive and later an executive at Jim Henson Interactive. In early 2002 he decided the time was right to start a development studio of his own. It would be called Spark Unlimited and it would be employee owned and independent. Rather than investing in R&D, Spark would take advantage of middleware solutions and license any software tools it needed, enabling its artists to concentrate their talent on delivering immersive and compelling experiences.
The core of the startup would be Allen as CEO, Scott Langteau as Chief Operating Officer, and Adrian Jones as the company’s Chief Technical Officer. Both Langteau and Jones came from Electronic Arts Los Angeles, where they had been in key positions on the development of the Medal of Honor franchise’s two Playstation installments: Medal of Honor and Medal of Honor: Underground. They also contributed to Medal of Honor: Allied Assault for the PC and the upcoming Medal of Honor: Frontline for the Playstation 2. In addition to Langteau and Jones, Craig Allen was hiring many of the same artists and engineers who had previously worked on the Medal of Honor games at EA LA.
With dream team in hand, Allen approached Activision for a development deal. The publisher was making big plans for a World War II franchise of its own, having already commissioned Infinity Ward to create Call of Duty for the PC. Spark seemed to have the talent that Activision was looking for to carry its franchise on to home consoles and in the Fall of 2002, Activision and Spark signed a formal development contract.
Spark would create three AAA quality products for the Playstation 2, Xbox, and GameCube. The first would be Call of Duty: Finest Hour, an original, historically accurate World War II first-person shooter to be delivered within 24 months. The second and third would be either sequels to Finest Hour or games based on a new IP. The contract set monthly milestone goals for the first game as well as a payment schedule and royalty rates. The total cost for the first game was pegged at $8.5 million to be paid out in installments and Spark was given an advance of $1,023,000 to cover its start up costs.