Activision Drags EA Into Respawn Entertainment/ Modern Warfare 2 Lawsuit

The lawsuit between Call of Duty’s publisher Activision and ex-Infinity Ward employees just got messier. Activision is claiming that the president of rival EA was instrumental in trying to steal the lead Call of Duty developers from Activision while they still had two years left in their contracts. Furthermore, they claim that the ex-Infinity Ward employees sabotaged Treyarch.

In case you missed it, Jason West and Vince Zampella, the founders of Infinity Ward, were fired in March for alleged acts of insubordination, only months after Modern Warfare 2 launched to huge success. West and Zampella sued Activision and then Activision counter-sued. Activision is now suing EA, wants $400 million and also laid out acts that West and Zampella allegedly did to hurt Treyarch.

From Activision’s legal filing:

“Unable to compete with Activision and Infinity Ward, and, upon information and belief, enraged by the recent defection of two Electronic Arts executives to Activision (unlike West and Zampella, the executives who left Electronic Arts were not under employment contracts), Electronic Arts was determined to retaliate. Electronic Arts set out to destabilize, disrupt and to attempt to destroy Infinity Ward. Although the precise dates the scheme was conceived and initiated remain somewhat unknown to Activision it was clearly underway no later than July 30, 2009.”

Activision then claims that EA sent emails to Zampella and West and flew them out on a private jet for a meeting. The two Infinity Ward founders then supposedly sent out emails throughout the company to start a spin-off company to compete with Call of Duty and Activision.

“Activision is informed and believes that the negotiations between Electronic Arts and West and Zampella were structured with the design and the expectation that West and Zampella would “spin out” from Activision and would take significant numbers of key Infinity Ward employees with them to set up their own independent company so that Electronic Arts could make another run at competing with Activision. Electronic Arts would finance the illicitly-created start-up in exchange for an ownership interest or exclusive distribution rights to the content created by their new company, which would produce video games for Electronic Arts instead of Activision.”

It should be noted that after West and Zampella were fired, they formed Respawn Entertainment, which signed a deal with EA and took many Infinity Ward employees with them. Activision then went on in the legal filing to describe how West and Zampella attempted to sabotage Treyarch.

“Although West and Zampella preferred to portray themselves – both to the public and within Activision – as game developers often forced to battle with corporate “suits,” the reality was and is much different. They were small-minded executives almost obsessed by jealousy of other developers and the thought that another Activision game or studio might share their spotlight. Motivated by envy and personal greed, West and Zampella went so far as to deliberately undermine the efforts of other developers within the Activision family and then lied about their conduct. On the same day that Treyarch released a video trailer promoting a follow-on product – a “map” pack or “downloadable content” – designed for players of Treyarch’s game Call of Duty: World at War, West and Zampella released a marketing video for Modern Warfare 2 with the purpose of hurting Treyarch’s and Activision’s marketing efforts. Far from being remorseful, West attempted to justify his actions on the ground that Treyarch had insufficiently coordinated with Infinity Ward by stating: “We released on the same day as you because we had no clue you were releasing anything. We are not happy about it.” The real truth, however, was revealed by a series of text messages between West and an Infinity Ward employee contemporaneous with the video trailers’ release. The employee texted West that “treyarch released their mp dlc video.” West responded: “Super nice? We release our video? Crush and destroy with our video.” The employee answered: “We already did. And . . . we already did.” West’s following comment: “Nice.” Thus, West’s own words reveal his intentional strategy to “crush and destroy” his fellow developers at Treyarch.”

While of course we don’t know how accurate this side of the story is, Activision hopes to get EA added to its counter-suit in January. The case is expected to proceed in mid 2011.