Activision fires back at ex-Call of Duty developers, calling them 'self-serving schemers' [Updated]
In a lawsuit that read more like a dramatic Hollywood script, Santa Monica-based Activision claimed it fired Jason West and Vincent Zampella in March because the two "morphed from valued, responsible executives into insubordinate and self-serving schemers who attempted to hijack Activision's assets for their own personal gain."
Activision's suit, filed Friday morning in Los Angeles County Superior Court, counters a complaint that West and Zampella filed against their former employer on March 3, two days after being fired as the heads of Infinity Ward, the Encino-based studio purchased by Activision in 2002. Infinity Ward has developed several Call of Duty games since the inception of the franchise in 2003, including the original.
Robert Schwartz, the attorney for West and Zampella, in a statement said Activision's allegations were "false and outrageous."
In their lawsuit, West and Zampella allege that Activision fired them as a way to deprive the developers of royalties earned from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, which has generated more than $1.5 billion in worldwide revenue since the game launched in November. The lawsuit claims Activision owes the duo $36 million in royalties and damages.
Activision responded in its 23-page complaint that "West and Zampella's misdeeds formed an unlawful pattern and practice of conduct that was designed to steal the [Infinity Ward] 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."
The suit did not specify a dollar amount that Activision would seek, but claimed the publisher was entitled to withhold all future payments to West and Zampella, to recover past payments "during the period of their disloyalty," and compensatory damages.
The lawsuit says Zampella and West went "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." Creative Artists Agency recently confirmed that Zampella and West are clients.
The lawsuit did not name the rival company, but Electronic Arts Inc. is based in Northern California's Redwood City and is thought to be who Activision is referring to in its filing. Asked whether this was the case, EA spokesman Jeff Brown said, "We don't have the time to comment on the many lawsuits Activision files against its employees and creative partners."
Among the charges Activision leveled at the two developers was an attempt to "prevent Activision from awarding additional compensation to [Infinity Ward] team members as a reward for the success of [Infinity Ward]-developed games, in order to make these employees easier to poach when West and Zampella executed their plans to leave the company and set up their own company."
The suit also claims that the pair delayed pre-production on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, which Activision likely hopes to release in late 2011.
A CAA spokeswoman declined to comment.
Schwartz, West and Zampella's attorney, issued the following statement Friday afternoon:
The allegations Activision made today are false and outrageous. Just one example is Activision’s allegation that Jason and Vince conspired to spin off Infinity Ward. Activision itself proposed spinning off Infinity Ward when, last year, it sought to renegotiate Jason and Vince's contract and induce them to forego developing a new game in favor of doing another Modern Warfare sequel. Jason and Vince had hired the Creative Artists Agency to advise them in their negotiations with Activision, and not to breach their contract. The conversations with IW employees, talent agents, and others during these negotiations with Activision were conducted to see if Activision's proposal could work, and not in disrespect of their obligations to Activision.
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. Since being fired by Activision, Jason and Vince have taken steps to regain control over their creative future and plan to have an announcement very soon.
So far, Wall Street has taken little to no notice of Activision's legal drama. The Santa Monica company's shares have steadily risen from $10.94 on March 1, when West and Zampella were fired, to $12.12 on Thursday.
Updated at 1:53 pm to include a statement from Robert Schwartz, attorney for Jason West and Vince Zampella.
-- Alex Pham and Ben Fritz
Photo: A scene from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Credit: Activision Blizzard.