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Call of Duty: The Lawsuit
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Call of Duty: The Lawsuit


February 22, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4
 

To get development back on track, Activision stepped in, advancing Spark additional funds and assigning some of its own software engineers to assist the struggling developer. Six of the game’s playable levels were reassigned to an outside contractor and the GameCube and Xbox conversions were outsourced, allowing Spark to focus its efforts solely on the Playstation 2 version.

Activision decided to add multiplayer functionality to Finest Hour, something that was not covered in the original development agreement and its implementation also had to be contracted out. The release date was moved to the end of the year, giving Spark the extra time it needed to restructure itself and complete the game.

In May of 2004, Spark’s Chief Technical Officer Adrian Jones left the company. A lawsuit soon followed, adding another $70,000 in legal fees to the company’s tab. As Finest Hour’s costs ballooned, the original development contract was amended to allow the publisher to recoup the $2.7 million in additional advances that were over the game’s original $8.5 million budget from future royalties.

In Activision’s 2005 countersuit against Spark, the publisher described its assistance to the beleaguered developer as a “veritable bucket brigade of rescue workers was deployed to work with a small team of talented and hardworking Spark employees who had suffered under the incompetent regime previously set in place by Spark. In total, over 30 Activision employees and contracted personnel working under Activision’s leadership were directly involved in completing Finest Hour.”

By October, after much hardship, Call of Duty: Finest Hour was finally completed. Although crunch time was over, Spark was entering perhaps the most critical period of its history. Its future existence as a company was dependent on quickly securing another development contract. It was at this point that CEO Craig Allen wrote “Looking Back, Planning Ahead,” including in the document a sequel pitch for a game called Call of Duty: Combined Forces.


Combined Forces Pitch Document

While the postmortem was an honest appraisal of Spark’s hardships and its progress towards better organization, the sequel pitch was less compelling. Disorganized and sketchy, the proposal seemed to describe a game that would be more of an expansion pack rather than a wholly new experience. Spark claimed it could start production in November and have the game ready in twelve months, estimating that it would require over $10.5 million in funding. Activision was unimpressed and felt that Spark had still not fully resolved its organizational issues. The publisher decided to wash its hands of the whole affair and rejected the proposal, releasing Spark from any future obligations.

Then things started to get ugly. Spark demanded a $500,000 cancellation fee from Activision, which the publisher refused. Activision argued that the cancellation fee only covered games already in development and further, that the fee had been amended out of the contract with Spark’s agreement. Meanwhile, Call of Duty: Finest Hour made to the shelves in November 2004. The game received general favorable scores from reviewers and was a big hit with consumers, reaching #5 on the December bestseller lists.

In July of 2005, Spark decided to take legal action against their former publisher, filing a lawsuit that accused Activision of breaching their publishing contract. In an interesting move, Spark’s lawyers attached a copy of the original Development Agreement and its amendments to the complaint without seeking to file them under seal thus making a wealth of confidential information available to the public. Activision quickly answered with a countersuit of its own, accusing Spark of fraudulently representing itself back in 2002, when the developer claimed that it had talent and experience to create a AAA console title.

Since its break with Activision, Spark has signed agreements with a number of publishers. In 2005, Atari announced an exclusive, long-term agreement to publish future titles from Spark, although few details were given. A year later, Sierra Entertainment signed agreement with Spark for an unspecified action game to be released in late 2007. Codemasters also announced that it would be publishing a new game from Spark in Q4 2007 with the working title of ‘Fall of Liberty’ which will utilize the Unreal Engine 3.

The lawsuit between Spark and Activision remains unresolved, still churning its way through the California court system. Spark Unlimited seems to have been born under an unlucky star. Dogged by lawsuits from its very inception, the developer has continued to muddle forward, determined to make it either by the fruits of its labor or the acumen of its lawyers.


Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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