The situation involving Activision, Infinity Ward, and former Infinity Ward studio heads Jason West and Vince Zampella continues to escalate.
On Thursday, game blog Kotaku published a 16-page complaint filed with the Superior Court of California on behalf of Zampella and West that alleges Activision wrongfully terminated their employment, is withholding bonuses and royalties, and is reneging on an agreement they claim states that they would retain creative control of the Modern Warfare brand as well as any Call of Duty games set in the post-Vietnam War era.
I've read through the filing, and while it at first has the smell of sour grapes (initial statements complain about how Activision bought Infinity Ward for a song half a decade ago-something that, to my untrained legal eye, seems to have little to do with the current dispute), it goes on to outline what seems to be some legitimate wrongdoings.
The case will likely revolve around a two-year old "memorandum of understanding" apparently signed by both plaintiffs and the defendant. It is referenced throughout the complaint but will be shown only to the court. West and Zampella claim the memorandum states that no post-Vietnam era game "can be commercially released without the written consent of West and Zampella," that they have "the right to operate Infinity Ward independently and choose to develop new intellectual property after they completed Modern Warfare 2," and that "in addition to the standard and bonus compensation...Activision agreed to pay Plaintiffs and the Infinity Ward studio additional compensation, including a pool of Restricted Stock Units, stock options, a royalty for any Call of Duty game, a technology royalty for any Activision game that makes significant use of Infinity Ward technology, and a royalty for Modern Warfare 2 and future titles."
The document goes on to state that West and Zampella seek relief for damages in excess of $36 million.
Of course, the question no one knows the answer to yet is whether Activision had legitimate grounds to terminate West and Zampella. The only details about the reasons they were let go can be found in Activision's Annual Report, filed Monday, which states that the company was considering removing a pair of senior Infinity Ward executives for "breaches of contract and insubordination."
The complaint filed by West and Zampella states that even they have not been provided specific details regarding the reasons for their termination, and they believe it ultimately comes down to a matter of "greed," with Activision allegedly plotting to dismiss the pair before a March 31st deadline that would have seen the publisher obligated to pay out bonuses.
If what West and Zampella claim is true, it would seem remarkably petty and short-sighted. Though $36 million is a considerable sum, it's a drop in what is the Call of Duty brand's $3 billion bucket. One would think that the cost of the substantial negative publicity generated by the pair's dismissal-not to mention potential future repercussions in consumer loyalty-might be worth $36 million alone.
Follow me on Twitter: @ chadsapieha