The wheels of justice continue to turn (sort of) this week, with the conclusion of two big wrangles that games industry watchers have been, ah, watching.
The biggest news is the settlement between goliath publisher Activision/Blizzard and former Infinity Ward heads Jason West and Vince Zampella, both of whom were abruptly fired in March of 2010. West and Zampella sued, claiming A/B owed them monstrous royalties for Modern Warfare 2. Activision/Blizzard countersued, claiming that West and Zampella were stupid-heads, and the whole sordid affair dragged on for a while.
Today, on the eve of the jury trial, the combatants acknowledged that they’d reached a settlement. Details are undisclosed, but I’m guessing it involves a number preceded by dollar signs; A/B likely will retain the Modern Warfare IP, though if West and Zampella were clever they may have wrangled permission to call themselves “the creators of Modern Warfare” in advertisements for future games.
Activision/Blizzard is a pretty nasty company run by pretty nasty people; as the day of the trial grew near we learned more and more about just how nasty: documents indicate that the highest levels of A/B leadership engaged in a clandestine attempt to spy on Infinity Ward emails, and during the 2010 shakedown that led to West and Zampella’s ouster, stories of locked-room interrogations, bullying, thug-hiring, terrorizing of employees, threats and worse were pretty common. Plus of course there’s the fact that West, Zampella, and a number of other Infinity Ward employees really were never paid the royalties they were owed (and we’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars here).
Meanwhile West and Zampella are probably not blameless in this, though I think it could be argued that their behavior was a direct result of Activision’s efforts to cheat them and drive them out of the company they founded. 40 other Infinity Ward employees who left in the wake of the firing and also sued the megapublisher were named as recipients of the settlement as well.
There’s little doubt that Activision didn’t want to be in the middle of a high-profile jury trial just moments before E3; for them the settlement may be a win of sorts, since juries don’t generally react well to the kind of corporate bullying that Bobby Kotick, Thomas Tippl, and others at A/B engaged in. Meanwhile it’s also a win for West, Zampella, and the Infinity Ward 40 because they’ll get at least some of the money they’re owed and can now move on with their lives. So for all appearances, this story is over.
The other big case is a bit weirder. On Wednesday, a jury found in favor of defendant Epic Games in a case brought by Canadian developer Silicon Knights. Basically Silicon Knights claimed that Epic’s Unreal Engine was poo and that because it was poo all the money they spent to license it for their bomb Too Human was wasted. Silicon Knights’ case had been coming apart for some time, not least because claims that Unreal technology is poo are kind of rendered insubstantial when you stop to consider that it’s one of the most popular, powerful licensed engines in the world, and that Epic is famous for supporting its licensees. Silicon Knights founder Denis Dyack has stated that he will appeal the verdict, but it might be better to just put his tail between his legs and go home.
I can’t say whether Silicon Knights’ case or argument had any merit, but one thing’s certain: Too Human failed because it was a bad game, not because of its underlying technology. This case has already cost Dyack’s company a lot and if they want to stay in business they might be wiser to just suck it up and get that Eternal Darkness sequel out rather than bogging themselves down in this stuff.
And now you know all the news! Thank god for blind justice!
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