In March 2010, Activision fired ex-Infinity Ward heads Jason West and Vince Zampella for insubordination, claiming the pair were secretly planning to start their new studio with the help of Electronic Arts.
West and Zampella filed a lawsuit against Activision for this move, claiming the real reason they were fired was so Activision wouldn't have to pay them millions of dollars in royalties associated with the November 2009 title Modern Warfare 2.
Beyond the performance-based payout and any other court-awarded monetary damages, West and Zampella are seeking to gain co-ownership of the Modern Warfare brand. If successful in court, West and Zampella would have the right to create and release both old and new instalments in the Modern Warfare franchise.
Ahead of the trial on May 29, GameSpot spoke to the attorney representing West and Zampella, Robert M. Schwartz.
GameSpot: How are you and your clients feeling ahead of the trial on May 29?
Robert M. Schwartz: We are delighted that after almost two and a half years of waiting we are finally going to present a case to the jury. We're looking forward to the opportunity to tell the jury what happened.
GS: How do the recently unsealed documents in the trial, including the testimony of former Activision employee Thomas Fenady, help your case?
RS: When we first learned of it [Fenady's testimony], we were stunned that Activision would be so brazen and so vicious in trying to get rid of Jason and Vince and violate their contract.
GS: What propelled Activision to pay $42 million to the group of ex-Infinity Ward members, and how does this affect the upcoming trial?
RS: I think they realised that it looked really bad, that they cheated those people out of so much money and they didn't want the jury to hold it against them. I guess their view was to be better late than never. But this was only a partial payment--that's not all the money they are owed. So the group of 40 ex-Infinity Ward developers is still part of the trial, but I do not represent them.
GS: How has this whole ordeal affected your clients personally?
RS: The firing was devastating. These guys had been keeping Activision afloat. If you look at the financials, they were the biggest contributor to Activision's bottom line of anything they had. They thought they were doing a great job. They were stunned, they were shocked, and they were demoralised. They had to start all over from scratch. They had to leave all their technology behind, and they had nothing. It's been a very difficult process for them that they should have never had to go through.
GS: How do you put all the money your clients are asking for into perspective? It seems like a lot for two individuals to be asking for.
RS: It's pretty easy to put into perspective. It's an outrageous position for Activision to take. The bonuses Jason and Vince earned, unlike the fat-cat Activision bonuses that are for just showing up for your job every year, the bonuses these guys are entitled to are a share of the profit they made for Activision. They've always bet on their own success, and they were willing to take the risk that if their games didn't perform, they wouldn't get anything beyond their base salaries, which are fairly modest.
It's like promising $100 million on a movie contract but only paying $10 million because that's so much money compared to what anyone needs to live on, and that ought to be good enough. If you promised $100 million, you have to pay $100 million. It's outrageous for Activision to think that they're somehow excused from living up to their legal duties because of money they paid Jason and Vince on earlier games, no matter how much it was. And it was always a share of the profits that Jason and Vince generated for them. They have paid Jason and Vince zero for Modern Warfare 2, a game that has put a billion dollars in Activision's profits. That is an outrage.
GS: Can you give me an overview of what supporting evidence you're going into this trial with?
RS: We're very confident. We have numerous damning documents, smoking guns, and admissions from key Activision executives that show they seduced Jason and Vince into entering this contract in 2008 [the memorandum of understanding] with no intention of honoring it. They betrayed them, and they abandoned them. The documents we've seen from their files are appalling…from Bobby Kotick and Mike Griffith, their attitude towards Jason and Vince, their cavalier attitude about breaching their contract. We are eager to get this in front of the jury.
GS: How does the evidence you've seen portray Activision head Bobby Kotick and his role in all of this?
RS: He is the central guy. He made the decision to fire them more than a year before they were fired. He never intended to honor the contract.
GS: How long do you see this trial lasting?
RS: Five to six weeks, maybe less.
GS: How will the trial work?
RS: We'll present our case [Vince and Zampella], and then the 40 co-plaintiffs will present their case. Activision will then respond, after which we'll get a rebuttal opportunity. Then it's up to the jury to decide the case.
GS: Thanks for your time, Robert.
As of press time, Activision representatives had not responded to GameSpot's requests for comment.
Read about the latest unsealed documents, including emails from Activision head Bobby Kotick, here.