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Controller Freak

Chad Sapieha leads you deep into the world of games, covering gaming trends

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A screenshot from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. (Activision)
A screenshot from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. (Activision)

Activision countersues former Infinity Ward heads Add to ...

First Activision fires Vince Zampella and Jason West, the heads of Infinity Ward, the subsidiary that made the billion-dollar blockbuster Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (and plenty of other highly profitable games in the Call of Duty franchise).

Then Zampella and West sue Activision for wrongful termination, unpaid bonuses, and reneging on a deal that would give them the right to create new Modern Warfare and Call of Duty games.

And now, perhaps predictably, Activision countersues, claiming that Zampella and West "morphed from valued, responsible executives into insubordinate and self-serving schemers who attempted to hijack Activision's assets for their own personal gain."

This latest piece of legal action was first reported by the L.A. Times on Friday, with several game blogs procuring the legal filings and posting the pages later in the day.

Within these documents Activision sets forth the argument that Zampella and West were covertly meeting with a "direct competitor" (which one might assume to be Electronic Arts) during their employment with Activision, that they "engaged in a campaign to paint Activision and its management in a negative light in an attempt to convince employees to remain loyal to West and Zampella in the event they would spin off" (perhaps not coincidentally, a pair of high profile Infinity Ward staffers-Francesco Gigliotti and Todd Alderman-resigned last month), and that they threatened "to halt production of Modern Warfare 2 in a bad faith effort to gain further leverage in their contractual relations with Activision."

Activision also states plainly that it "owns and/or controls the rights to Call of Duty and Modern Warfare and continues to oversee the development and production of games under the Call of Duty and Modern Warfare brands."

The documents make clear, too, that Activision is worried that Zampella and West have retained "Activision confidential information" and that they have "refused to certify that they would not use such confidential information."

However, perhaps the ugliest claim in the filing is that Zampella and West acted to keep other Infinity Ward staffers from potential additional earnings. Activision states that "in 2009 West and Zampella were asked by Activision to provide the names of the IW employees that should receive RSU (restricted stock unit) grants in connection with the Wii SKU. West and Zampella refused. In fact, they suggested that Activision should give the grant to the two of them rather than to the IW team." Hopefully we'll eventually be supplied with further context.

What's Activision asking for? They're leaving it up to the legal system, saying simply that "Activision has suffered and will continue to suffer damages in an amount to be proven at trial."

Like a bad divorce, it seems likely that none of the parties involved in the dispute are completely innocent. Perhaps Activision started the animosity by demanding too much of Infinity Ward and ignoring good faith agreements, but if Zampella and West did indeed meet with competitors and try to damage Activision's reputation among studio employees, well, as my mom used to say, two wrongs don't make a right.

Now it's up to the courts to decide who was least in the wrong-or most in the right, depending on your point of view. A likely outcome: Activision will win the right to keep pumping out Call of Duty games while West and Zampella start up a new studio and make some pretty good games of their own.

As for who gets paid what? That's up to the judge.

Follow me on Twitter: @ chadsapieha

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