Former Infinity Ward (Call of Duty, Modern Warfare) founders Jason West and Vince Zampella, now founders of Respawn Entertainment, are calling foul over their foe Activision/Blizzard’s latest legal tactic.
The pair were fired from Infinity Ward because – according to A/B – they were illegally colluding with EA to sell the company… which wasn’t theirs to sell. You doubtless remember the crazy news flood that followed. West and Zampella sued Activision for unpaid royalties, wrongful termination, etc etc etc.
Just last month, Activision countersued, using the allegations about contract breach and attempts at marketing sabotage. W&Z are moving to block the expansion of the suit, arguing the delay could, break them: they’re paying for the litigation out of their own pockets and since Activision still owes both men billions in Modern Warfare 2 royalties, those pockets may not be as deep as you think.
Of course West and Zampella are already outrageously rich, but this is a shrewd move on Activision’s part. West and Zampella are claiming it’s suspicious that Activision/Blizzard waited six months to file this countersuit, but there’s probably not much there there. A/B’s lawyers understand about timing things to your advantage. Not only will the countersuit likely delay the start of trial until after this year’s E3 (it was scheduled to start a week before, and A/B doesn’t want to go into the biggest show of the year with that publicity), it will also hurt their opponents financially. West and Zampella, naturally, do want Activision to go into E3 under a cloud… and they want this over with.
I’ve said before and I say again: West and Zampella are probably guilty of the stuff Activision says they are. The success of their case hinges on how Activision/Blizzard handled the build-up to D-Day, when the pair got fired and Infinity Ward imploded. Stories of locked room interrogations lengthy and harsh enough to drive employees to tears, threats, file stealing, thugs stationed in the office… on these things, if proven, a case may hinge.
I’d be fascinated to sit through this trial, but the trial will never happen. Even this latest move is the wrangling leading up to a quiet out of court settlement.
More than West and Zampella, I feel badly for the other Infinity Ward employees who earned but never received their Modern Warfare 2 royalties. Of course, a group of them are suing as well, so they might yet see some satisfaction.
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Activision’s lawyers know what they are doing.
The counter-suit is a Litigation 101 move. So long as there is some merit to the claim, it’s worth doing, especially in a case like this. Activision has the much deeper pockets here. The counter-suit will not only push back the trial date, but will likely involve additional discovery (documents to be reviewed, depositions, written responses, etc.) that will pile up even more legal fees (fat loots!). The counter-suit also gives them another chip in the game during settlement discussions, since any meaningful settlement would have to involve the dismissal of the counter-suit.
It’s very unlikely that West and Zampella will be able to show enough prejudice by the delayed filing to get it kicked for that. While judges don’t always like these types of games, unless the other side is breaking some established procedural rule, which Activision doesn’t appear to be here, they don’t tend to want to kick claims on their face.