This is actually A/B vs. 40FIWE, Round 2, but that would just make for a confusing title card. Since we’re already world-famous for our exclusive, hard-hitting coverage of the ongoing saga between Activision/Blizzard and its former trophy studio Infinity Ward, we’ll stick with the title we know.
40 Former Infinity Ward Employees have also filed suit against the publishing giant, alongside former studio heads Jason West and Vince Zampella. The day before yesterday, they revised their lawsuit, adding some juicy details about Activision’s increasingly shocking (if true) behavior.
We’re talking secret interrogations behind locked doors, we’re talking thugs hired to guard the exits of Infinity Ward’s Encino studio during development of Modern Warfare 2, and – of course – we’re talking even more details of the hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid royalties owed to the studio. It now appears that Activision withheld the money as a carrot to force Infinity Ward to develop Modern Warfare 3 by November of 2011, something not in the studio’s contract and something the studio very explicitly did not want to do.
The ex-Infinity Warders are claiming that Activision/Blizzard spent several months manufacturing a situation in which it would be possible to fire West and Zampella, then attempted to intimidate remaining studio employees with guards and hostage money. CEO Bobby Kotick and CFO Thomas Tippl have both been explicitly named as responsible for denying the employees their bonuses and creating the situation that, the suit alleges, put West and Zampella into a position where shopping their studio to other publishers (a breach of their contract) was preferable to remaining with A/B.
It’s there that things get dicey. The fact is, I personally believe both sides in this case. I absolutely believe Infinity Ward when it says that it was threatened, intimidated, and denied money it rightfully deserved; that’s essentially the way Kotick and Tippl get their breakfasts. They are bad people interested only in profit, and they don’t believe that any one studio is superior to another. In their eyes it would have been cheaper long term to get rid of Infinity Ward and hand Modern Warfare to some other studio, as they did with Guitar Hero and Neversoft. Meanwhile, I absolutely believe that West and Zampella were secretly negotiating with EA, and possibly others, to find a safe refuge from Activision. But Activision owns Infinity Ward, so in a way West and Zampella were trying to sell something that wasn’t theirs. The real question is whether Activision’s denial of royalties and other thuggish behavior is enough to convince a judge that it breached its contract with them more egregiously.
West and Zampella are also suing Activision for unpaid royalties and various other things, including a crapton of Modern Warfare and Call of Duty IP, official ownership of all wars since Vietnam, and a bunch of other stuff. The trial starts on May 23 (that’s my birthday!), with a hearing set for August 5 to determine whether W&Z’s suit and 40FIWE’s suit should be merged into one megasuit.
Of course, the trial will never happen. May 23 is like an inch before E3 2011 on the calendar. Both Activision and Blizzard – officially part of the same entity but also officially somewhat independent of one another – have both suffered from a LOT of bad press recently, and stuff like this never goes to trial. One of the sides will settle, monetary details kept secret. Respawn Entertainment, West and Zampella’s new studio, is already under contract with EA and has hired a good portion of the Infinity Ward staff. Of those who remain with the original studio, a large number will probably still leave, but are holding out for royalties that, at this point, are likely to never come. And so it goes.
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