Activision countersues ex-Infinity Ward execs

[UPDATE] Call of Duty publisher claims Vince Zampella, Jason West were "self-serving schemers" trying to set up new studio; developers fire back.

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Activision fired Infinity Ward studio heads Vince Zampella and Jason West in March, and the publisher stated with seeming certainty at that time that the courts would soon be involved. Two days after their termination, Zampella and West confirmed that suspicion by firing off a legal salvo that sought some $36 million in damages, as well as control of the Modern Warfare franchise. Today, Activision returned fire.

Activision claims Zampella and West were turning traitor.
Activision claims Zampella and West were turning traitor.

The Los Angeles Times reports today that Activision filed a countersuit this morning in the Los Angeles County Superior Court against Zampella and West. The suit sheds further light on Activision's original claim that it fired the formally prized creators of the lauded, and highly lucrative, Call of Duty franchise due to "breach of contract and insubordination."

Activision's filing states 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." Infinity Ward's Call of Duty franchise has logged sales of more than $3 billion for the publisher, following its 2003 acquisition.

Bolstering initial reports that Zampella and West were defecting to their former employer Electronic Arts, the filing also accuses the two of embarking "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." EA was not explicitly named in the lawsuit and declined to comment on Activision's claim, but its headquarters is just south of San Francisco.

The suit also claims that the two prevented "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." Last week, Infinity Ward lead designer Todd Alderman and lead software engineer Francesco Gigliotti both departed the company.

Additionally, the filing states that Zampella and West held up the development of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 as part of a bid to gain more money. 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 and whose actions threatened both the future of the Call of Duty franchise and future of Activision's (Infinity Ward) studio," the filing states.

Activision is seeking to withhold all future payments to Zampella and West, as well as compensatory damages. [UPDATE] Responding to requests for comment, Activision said that its countersuit today shows that Zampella and West were terminated for "good reason."

"Activision's cross-complaint filed today against Jason West and Vince Zampella makes clear that the company did not arrive at its decision to fire them lightly or without good reason," the publisher said in a statement. "It further shows Activision was forced to sever the relationship when it became apparent that long-standing attempts failed to convince West and Zampella to conform their conduct to what was required of them by their contracts, company policies and as fiduciaries."

[UPDATE 2]: West and Zampella's attorney sent out a press release today with their response to Activision's countersuit. The prepared statement called Activision's claims in the suit "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 to 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, not to breach their contract."

The statement went on to say that Activision's suit is just an attempt for the publisher to drag its heels on paying out "millions of dollars" owed to the developers and their former co-workers at Infinity Ward. It also affirms that West and Zampella "have taken steps to regain control over their creative future and plan to have an announcement very soon."

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