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Fired Infinity Ward execs sue Activision

[UPDATE] Jason West, Vince Zampella charge Call of Duty publisher with breach of contract, wrongful termination; seek unpaid royalties, control of Modern Warfare-branded games; Activision calls claims "meritless."


When Activision fired Infinity Ward president Jason West and CEO Vince Zampella on Monday, the Call of Duty publisher mentioned its expectation of litigation in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing. It's unsurprising, then, that Los Angeles-based legal firm O'Melveny & Myers announced today that it has filed suit against Activision on behalf of the two executives, seeking unpaid royalties, as well as "the contractual rights Activision granted to West and Zampella to control Modern Warfare-branded games."

Modern Warfare 2 generated a healthy return for Activision.
Modern Warfare 2 generated a healthy return for Activision.

According to Activision, Zampella's and West were booted following "an internal human resources inquiry into breaches of contract and insubordination." In a statement released today, the two Infinity Ward executives claim they were fired "weeks before they were to be paid substantial royalty payments as part of their existing contracts for Modern Warfare 2."

"Activision has refused to honor the terms of its agreements and is intentionally flouting the fundamental public policy of this state [California] that employers must pay their employees what they have rightfully earned," attorney Robert Schwartz said in a statement. "Instead of thanking, lauding, or just plain paying Jason and Vince for giving Activision the most successful entertainment product ever offered to the public, last month Activision hired lawyers to conduct a pretextual 'investigation' into unstated and unsubstantiated charges of 'insubordination' and 'breach of fiduciary duty,' which then became the grounds for their termination on Monday, March 1."

West went on to note that he and Zampella were "shocked" after being informed that they had been terminated. "We poured our heart and soul into that company, building not only a world-class development studio but assembling a team we've been proud to work with for nearly a decade," he said. "We think the work we've done speaks for itself." Zampella continued: "After all we have given to Activision, we shouldn't have to sue to get paid."

Claims in the suit include those for breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, wrongful termination in violation of public policy, and declaratory relief. Activision had not responded to a request for comment as of press time.

Released in 2009 to critical acclaim, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 brought in $550 million for Activision within its first week of availability and $1 billion within two months. According to Zampella and West's suit, the Call of Duty franchise has brought in $3 billion since 2003--the same year Activision acquired Infinity Ward.

Following the Infinity Ward executives' dismissal, Activision announced a massive expansion to the Call of Duty franchise. Beyond the previously indicated Treyarch-developed Call of Duty title due later this year, Activision also plans to release an action adventure spin-off developed by Sledgehammer Games and an Asia-targeted massively multiplayer online installment, neither of which have a confirmed release date. In 2011, Activision plans to release yet one more Call of Duty-branded game, which is in development at an unnamed studio.

[UPDATE] Activision has since responded to West and Zampella's lawsuit, and as could be expected, the publisher believes the game designer's case is without grounds. Activision also made a point to affirm its claim of ownership to the Call of Duty franchise.

"Activision is disappointed that Mr. Zampella and Mr. West have chosen to file a lawsuit and believes their claims are meritless," the publisher said in a statement. "Over eight years, Activision shareholders provided these executives with the capital they needed to start Infinity Ward, as well as the financial support, resources, and creative independence that helped them flourish and achieve enormous professional success and personal wealth."

"In return, Activision legitimately expected them to honor their obligations to Activision, just like any other executive who holds a position of trust in the company," the statement continued. "While the company showed enormous patience, it firmly believes that its decision was justified based on their course of conduct and actions. Activision remains committed to the Call of Duty franchise, which it owns, and will continue to produce exciting and innovative games for its millions of fans."

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