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Judge refuses to let Electronic Arts off the hook in Activision lawsuit over Infinity Ward [Updated]

March 16, 2011 |  2:34 pm

A California judge on Wednesday declined to dismiss Electronic Arts Inc. from a lawsuit filed last April by Activision Blizzard Inc. against two former Activision employees.

EA's lawyers had argued that Activision had no basis for its claims that EA had improperly recruited Jason West and Vincent Zampella, who were the heads of Activision's Infinity Ward game development studio before Activision fired them last March and sued them several weeks later, alleging breach of contract.

The case has been watched closely by many in the game industry because it involves one of the hottest franchises in history, the Call of Duty series, which generated billions of dollars in sales for Activision over the past eight years. As heads of the Infinity Ward studio in Encino, West and Zampella created the original Call of Duty game in 2003 and made several subsequent titles in the series.

After they were dismissed from Activision, West and Zampella started their own game studio, called Respawn, and signed a contract with EA to publish their next game.

In December, Activision amended its lawsuit against West and Zampella to include EA, alleging $400 million in damages from EA's deal with Respawn.

EA spokesman Jeff Brown on Wednesday said Activision's decision to draw in EA was a "subterfuge."

"This has always been a simple case of two artists trying to get paid for their work," Brown said. "We’re confident that the jury will side with Jason and Vince and order Activision to pay them the hundreds of millions they are owed."

The decision by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle not to remove EA outright from the lawsuit doesn't necessarily mean EA ultimately would be held liable, nor does it mean EA would be in it for the long haul. EA still has the option of requesting a summary judgment to have Activision's claims rejected.

The case took on further nuance Wednesday when West, Zampella and 38 former Infinity Ward developers, who sued Activision last March over unpaid royalties from the sale of their last game, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, added six new claims against Activision, two of which alleged fraud.

The lawsuit now claims Activision in 2008 promised "enhanced royalties" to key employees of Infinity Ward if they promised to stay long enough to finish Modern Warfare 2, which shipped in 2009. Securing the promise from West, Zampella and others was critical to Activision's ability to seal a deal to merge with Vivendi's Blizzard Entertainment, the lawsuit claims.

Activision did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

-- Alex Pham

UPDATED: This post was updated to include the additional allegations in Jason West and Vincent Zampella's wrongful termination lawsuit against Activision.