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Activision Claims Ex-Infinity Ward Heads Delayed  Call Of Duty  Map Pack For Rival EA

Activision Claims Ex-Infinity Ward Heads Delayed Call Of Duty Map Pack For Rival EA

January 20, 2011 | By Kris Graft, Leigh Alexander

January 20, 2011 | By Kris Graft, Leigh Alexander
More: Console/PC

A California Superior Court has allowed Activision to officially add Electronic Arts as a defendant in its $400 million cross-complaint against ex-Infinity Ward heads Jason West and Vince Zampella, according to court documents obtained by Gamasutra.

But the most compelling, newly-unveiled developments in the lawsuit lie in previously-redacted emails, one of which shows Electronic Arts executives allegedly discussing Infinity Ward's intentional delay of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2's first map pack until after the launch of EA and subsidiary DICE's competing military FPS, Battlefield Bad Company 2.

In a document shown in Activision's amended cross-complaint, EA's senior director of global marketing Lincoln Hershberger sent an email titled "The Fall of IW?" to EA SVP of marketing Jeff Karp, EA LA general manager Sean Decker, EA Europe SVP Patrick Soderlund and EA Games label president Frank Gibeau.

Copied in the email was Karl-Magnuss Troedsson, executive producer of the Battlefield franchise.

The email was sent on March 3, 2010, the day after news broke that Activision had removed West and Zampella from their positions under accusations of insubordination.

Hershberger allegedly wrote in the email: "A couple months ago, I asked Vince [Zampella] to hold back their map pack [allegedly Modern Warfare 2's Stimulus Package] until after we launched (he owes me one). Given that they've already made a billion, he was cool with that, obviously [Activision CEO Bobby] Kotick took it as being belligerent."

Activision's Stimulus Package launched on Xbox Live on March 30, 2010. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 launched a few weeks earlier on March 2.

EA spokesman Jeff Brown told Gamasutra that the email was meant to be a joke. "This was obviously sarcasm," he said. "It's clear from the email this was a joke and they never spoke. We explained this to lawyers at Activision -- who apparently don't have much of a sense of humor."

Activision's cross-complaint said EA's motive was to "boost its competing but less successful FPS franchise."

Based on that email and other documents, Activision alleged that "Electronic Arts secretly conspired with Infinity Ward employees to affect the timing of the release of Electronic Arts and Activision products to the benefit of Electronic Arts and detriment of Activision."

The cross-complaint alleges that EA conspired with West and Zampella to encourage the two to break their contract with Activision, a contract that still had over two years left. Infinity Ward is the original creator of the Call of Duty military shooter franchise, which has generated billions of dollars and competes directly with EA's Medal of Honor and Battlefield franchises.

Activision's cross-complaint also said, "...In conjunction with EA's plan to interfere with Activision's contracts by extricating West and Zampella and gutting Infinity Ward, Electronic Arts worked to subvert the Call of Duty franchise from the inside out."

The cross-complaint also alleges "unlawful conduct" from "the highest levels" at EA, including CEO John Riccitiello and COO John Schappert in relation to talks with West and Zampella.

Previously-redacted emails displayed an alleged exchange between Riccitiello and Schappert from August 2009.

Schappert: "Suggest Frank join - let's chat to close ..."
Riccitiello: "Excellent. You should meet them separate and join me. More angles is good."
Schappert: "Fyi, looks like Seamus has it in hand and Vince/Jason are aligned, which is good."

At the time, West and Zampella were under representation by Seamus Blackley of Creative Artists Agency.

Just a few days after the email exchange between the executives, EA allegedly sent over a private jet to fly West and Zampella from Southern California to San Francisco to have a "secret meeting" at the home of Riccitiello. Activision alleges the meeting was to discuss partnering with EA, its main rival.

Another previously-redacted email from CAA's Blackley to Riccitiello said, "We need to talk to our two friends down here -- all is good but it's time for a more aggressive approach."

The discussions, Activision claimed, went beyond a simple barbecue at Riccitiello's home. Another email from Sinjin Bain, VP of worldwide business development at EA Partners to EA Games' Gibeau -- with other execs copied including EA Partners head David DeMartini -- allegedly referred to specific terms of a deal with West and Zampella in November 2009.

"IW - Dan will send out email to JR with term sheet for JR to approve..." Bain's email read.

The emails allegedly took place before the firings of West and Zampella, and the April 2010 announcement of their new studio, Respawn Entertainment, which signed an agreement with EA Partners for exclusive worldwide publishing and distribution rights for future titles coming out of the new studio.

Counsel for Activision said the emails were originally redacted at the request of EA, but after a window of time passed for EA to justify the confidentiality of the content, the court allowed the documents to be disclosed.

Activision's original cross-complaint, prior to the amendment, was filed in April 2010 in response to a lawsuit from Zampella and West that accused their former employer of breach of contract and other claims.

An Activision rep told Gamasutra, "We have taken this difficult, but necessary, step to protect our rights and intellectual property. We acted only after we determined during discovery the illegal conduct by Electronic Arts and we look forward to making our case in a court of law."

In December, when Activision filed to amend the cross-complaint to add EA, EA spokesperson Brown called the move "a PR play filled with pettiness and deliberate misdirection."

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