Call of Duty: Black Ops has eclipsed $1 billion in sales. That isn’t enough for Activision, however. The video game publisher is suing the co-founders of Infinity Ward, the developer of last year’s hit Modern Warfare 2, and now want to add EA to the mix for an additional $400 million in damages, reports WSJ. Activision accuses EA of ‘interfering’ with the contracts of its employees, engaging in unfair activity, and aiding and abetting breaches of fiduciary duty by Infinity Ward’s executives. But it gets more personal than that.
Activision’s complaint accuses Electronic Arts of trying to undermine Activision because its own video games haven’t sold well in recent years. “To find Electronic Arts’s desperate motive to conspire to break these legal contracts ahead of their expiration dates, all one has to do is to look at the company’s precipitous decline in stature with investors and, most importantly, in the eyes of game players who demand innovation and excitement,” wrote Activision.
EA responded to the lawsuit. “[It's a] PR play filled with pettiness and deliberate misdirection,” said Jeff Brown, of EA. “Activision wants to hide the fact that they have no credible response to the claim of two artists who were fired and now just want to get paid for their work.”
This all started back in March. Activision abruptly stormed the offices of Infinity Ward and fired its founders Jason West and Vincent Zampella under accusations of insubordination. Infinity Ward is one of Activision’s most prized developers, responsible for creating the Call of Duty franchise and spin-off Modern Warfare. Activision accused the duo of conspiring to use their royalties to start a new independent developer. Zempella and West denied the allegations and sued Activision for $36 million, claiming that they had been ousted to avoid paying royalties and that Activision had been looking for a way to fire them for weeks leading up to the actual termination. Activision counter-sued, leading us to today and the addition of EA to the lawsuit.
In April, the duo announced that they were opening a new studio named Respawn Entertainment under EA. It is unknown whether this company was already planned or was formed as a result of the firings. Then things got worse for Activision. A number of high profile executives quit Infinity Ward, leading a mass exodus from the developer. 28 staff members quit (an entire development game team can consist of about 30-50 people) and promptly sued Activision for failing to pay bonuses after the $1 billion success of Modern Warfare 2. There were rumors that the entire studio would be shut down. Activision decided to keep it going and has been hiring new management and completely re-staffing since.
Overall, this is a hot mess for Activision, but it can wipe away those tears with the billion its made from the Treyarch developed Black Ops. Let’s hope it pays out bonuses on time.