Ex-Infinity Ward heads asking for $36 million in suit

Jason West and Vince Zampella alleging publisher trumped up HR charges, conducted "Orwellian" investigation in order to avoid paying royalties, giving it control over Modern Warfare franchise.


The basics of Jason West and Vince Zampella's lawsuit against their former employer Activision were laid out in a press release from their legal representation this morning, but the announcement lacked some colorful details from the actual court filing. The developers' attorneys have provided GameSpot with a copy of the suit, which paints a more fleshed-out picture of Activision's alleged misdeeds.

The legal spat between Activision and its former employees is almost as heated as the action in Modern Warfare 2.
The legal spat between Activision and its former employees is almost as heated as the action in Modern Warfare 2.

"This lawsuit is solely and regrettably the result of the astonishing arrogance and unbridled greed of defendant Activision," the suit begins, before getting to the accusations at the heart of the dispute. The developers are accusing Activision of launching a bogus investigation into the pair's activities specifically for the purpose of firing them and evading contractual obligations, as well as royalty payments set to begin March 31.

In detailing the investigation that led to their exit from the company, West and Zampella claim that Activision refused to tell them what they were being investigated for, "insisting instead in Orwellian fashion that West and Zampella 'already have a clear understanding of what they have or have not done.'" The publisher's investigators are accused of using strong-arm tactics, including a six-hour "interrogation" in a windowless conference room over the President's Day weekend.

Additionally, West and Zampella said Activision representatives interviewed other Infinity Ward employees so doggedly it drove them to tears and then told the pair they would be guilty of insubordination--grounds for termination--if they attempted to console the employees. The suit also claims that Activision insisted that West and Zampella turn over their personal computers, cell phones, and other such devices for review. When the pair cited their right to privacy, they were told that asserting that right would be considered insubordination.

Beyond the investigation and the way it was conducted, West and Zampella are also accusing Activision of trying to back out of a 2008 agreement with the developers. Under the terms of that deal, West and Zampella would extend their contracts until October of 2011 and deliver the finished version of Modern Warfare 2 by November 15, 2009.

In return, the publisher promised to give the pair creative control over any Call of Duty game set after the Vietnam era (including near-future and far-future versions) or using the Modern Warfare brand. West and Zampella also claim the agreement gave them the right to run Infinity Ward independently of Activision (while remaining a wholly owned subsidiary of the publisher) to develop a new intellectual property after finishing Modern Warfare 2, as well as increased compensation in the form of stock options and royalties for all Call of Duty games and non-Call of Duty games that are built using Infinity Ward's Modern Warfare engine.

"Activision has adopted the corporate strategy of forcing Messrs. West and Zampella to sue for their pay--in the hopes of either getting away with not having to pay them anything or maximizing its leverage to reduce that pay," the suit alleges. "Such actions are not surprising, given that Activision is run by a CEO who has been publicly quoted as believing the best way to run a video game studio is to engender a culture of 'skepticism, pessimism, and fear' and who prefers to pay his lawyers instead of his employees."

West and Zampella are demanding $36 million in damages (as of the date of the filing), future royalties, legal fees, and a judicial determination of their rights to creative control of the Modern Warfare brand, as well as their rights over the Call of Duty brand, as stated in the 2008 agreement.

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