The nasty lawsuits between Call of Duty publisher Activision and the ousted lead creators of that hit series franchise just got uglier with accusations that the makers of Modern Warfare gleefully sabotage the sister studio behind this year's Call of Duty: Black Ops - and that the president of rival EA was instrumental in trying to "hijack" the Call of Duty developers.
In a new legal filing, Activision now charges that its rival, Medal of Honor and Battlefield publisher EA tried to sabotage Call of Duty and "hijack" parts of is company.
The company wants to add EA to its lawsuit against Jason West and Vince Zampella, the founders of original CoD studio Infinity Ward. West and Zampella were fired in March for alleged acts of insubordination. Activision wants at least $US400 million from EA and has described a series of clandestine efforts by EA to woo West and Zampella away.
Activision also has spelled out what it says were acts by West and Zampella to hurt Treyarch, the Activision-owned studio that just released the mammoth Call of Duty: Black Ops.
The tales of alleged bad behaviour are all a part of an amendment Activision shared with Kotaku today that they will try next month to add to their original counter-suit against West and Zampella.
Kotaku is reaching out to EA for comment.
"Cooking Up Chaos" - What They Say EA And Its Allies Did
West and Zampella, as founders of Infinity Ward, were deep into making Modern Warfare 2 in the summer of 2009 and and had two years left on their contract with the company when, Activision claims, EA came calling.
Activision's legal filing today sets this up:
Unable to compete with Activision and Infinity Ward, and, upon information and belief, enraged by the recent defection of two Electronic Arts executives to Activision (unlike West and Zampella, the executives who left Electronic Arts were not under employment contracts), Electronic Arts was determined to retaliate. Electronic Arts set out to destabilize, disrupt and to attempt to destroy Infinity Ward. Although the precise dates the scheme was conceived and initiated remain somewhat unknown to Activision it was clearly underway no later than July 30, 2009.
At that point, the Call of Duty publisher claims that EA's number two executive, John Schappert, started communicating in secret with West and Zampella, bringing Hollywood agents into the mix and trying to woo the Infinity Ward chiefs away.
The Activision filing includes copies of e-mails allegedly sent by CAA agent Seamus Blackley saying ""I'll wager a kidney that you'll be astonished" about the opportunity he wanted to set up for the Infinity Ward guys. Another e-mail featured Blackley inviting the IW guys to visit with EA boss John Riccitiello: "JR cooks a mean BBQ. I think we could accomplish some interesting."
In time, and with EA's knowledge that West and Zampella were under contract to Activision for another two years, Activision claims EA and the two Infinity Ward founders hatched a plan to start a spin-off company that would make games to compete with Call of Duty. According to Activision, EA, CAA and the Infinity Ward founders were assisted in their plot by Harold Brown an attorney who was formerly a member of Activision's board of directors. He is not being sued by Activision.
Activision is informed and believes that the negotiations between Electronic Arts and West and Zampella were structured with the design and the expectation that West and Zampella would "spin out" from Activision and would take significant numbers of key Infinity Ward employees with them to set up their own independent company so that Electronic Arts could make another run at competing with Activision. Electronic Arts would finance the illicitly-created start-up in exchange for an ownership interest or exclusive distribution rights to the content created by their new company, which would produce video games for Electronic Arts instead of Activision.
Since earlier this year, Activision has claimed that it knew West and Zampella had talked to EA, but until now it hadn't squarely accused those parties of scheming to hurt the Call of Duty series.
What They Say Infinity Ward's Founders Did To The Black Ops Team
The new legal filing we saw today also goes into richer detail before in alleging how the founders of Infinity Ward supposedly tried to interfere with Treyarch, the Activision studio that had traded making Call of Duty games with them in recent years, taking the odd years, and with whom IW was already known to have a frosty relationship.
This is an example of what Activision claims was going on:
Although West and Zampella preferred to portray themselves – both to the public and within Activision – as game developers often forced to battle with corporate "suits," the reality was and is much different. They were small-minded executives almost obsessed by jealousy of other developers and the thought that another Activision game or studio might share their spotlight. Motivated by envy and personal greed, West and Zampella went so far as to deliberately undermine the efforts of other developers within the Activision family and then lied about their conduct. On the same day that Treyarch released a video trailer promoting a follow-on product – a "map" pack or "downloadable content" – designed for players of Treyarch's game Call of Duty: World at War, West and Zampella released a marketing video for Modern Warfare 2 with the purpose of hurting Treyarch's and Activision's marketing efforts. Far from being remorseful, West attempted to justify his actions on the ground that Treyarch had insufficiently coordinated with Infinity Ward by stating: "We released on the same day as you because we had no clue you were releasing anything. We are not happy about it." The real truth, however, was revealed by a series of text messages between West and an Infinity Ward employee contemporaneous with the video trailers' release. The employee texted West that "treyarch released their mp dlc video." West responded: "Super nice? We release our video? Crush and destroy with our video." The employee answered: "We already did. And . . . we already did." West's following comment: "Nice." Thus, West's own words reveal his intentional strategy to "crush and destroy" his fellow developers at Treyarch.
What They Say The Infinity Ward Employees Did To Their Employees
Activision has an interest in painting West and Zampella in the worst light possible, of course. They are counter-suing these two fired employees who fired them. In the past Activision has intimated that the Infinity Ward founders withheld money their subordinates at IW deserved. In this new filing, Activision is more explicit and provides a lurid example of alleged unfairness.
The following are examples in which West and Zampella's self-interest in executing their secret plan to leave Activision corrupted their judgment so fully that they actually attempted to damage the very Infinity Ward employees they purported to lead. In July 2009, West and Zampella were asked by Activision management to provide the names of the Infinity Ward employees that should receive millions of dollars of Activision stock grants in connection with the development of a Wii version of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. West and Zampella adamantly refused. Again, in October 2009, when Activision planned to include Infinity Ward in its annual equity grants, West and Zampella refused to provide Activision with a list of the names it needed of the Infinity Ward employees that deserved awards of valuable stock and options. In responding to the President and CEO of Activision Publishing concerning the equity grant, West wrote, "You can give all the options to Vince and I . . . .," thereby depriving their own Infinity Ward employees of additional compensation.
It's not clear if the current and former employees of Infinity Ward are familiar with this version of events, but several dozen Infinity Ward employees did leave the company after West and Zampella's dismissal, many of them joining the two men's new start-up Respawn Entertainment, which is making a game for EA.