Jason West and Vince Zampella haven't given up on the Modern Warfare franchise.
The spat between Activision and former Infinity Ward heads Jason West and Vince Zampella has been going on for more than a year, but new twists are still coming to the surface. West and Zampella – who have since formed Respawn Entertainment with help from EA – have added two counts of fraud to their complaint against Activision, and are hoping to reestablish their ownership stake in the Modern Warfare brand.
The latest allegations stem from the 2008 negotiations between Activision and Vivendi. At that time, Activision sought to secure West and Zampella’s services for another three-year period and went to the duo with a Memorandum of Understanding designed to “address issues of significant concern to West and Zampella, particularly in the area of creative authority over the Modern Warfare games and the creation of a look, feel, and brand for the Modern Warfare games.”
That MOU reportedly gave West and Zampella complete creative control of the Modern Warfare brand and laid out a bonus structure tied to the success of games like Modern Warfare 2. Under the terms of the MOU, Activision would have had to consult with West and Zampella on any and all projects related to the Modern Warfare license.
“To protect its interest in consummating its merger with Vivendi Games, Activision needed to do everything it could to keep West and Zampella content with their responsibilities and compensation at Infinity Ward,” reads the amended complaint. “This gave West and Zampella considerable bargaining power in their negotiations with Activision.”
Now, however, West and Zampella argue that Activision reneged on the contract and never intended to honor the MOU in the first place. Activision managed to sneak in a clause that tied the incentives and creative control to West and Zampella’s continued employment, and – given Activision’s spotty history with developers and creative autonomy – West and Zampella were worried they might be let go in order to void the contract. They only signed after Activision boss Bobby Kotick personally assured them that “It’s impossible for you guys to get fired.”
Of course, West and Zampella were fired in early 2010, and the team says that Activision had been violating the MOU long before things boiled over with Modern Warfare 2.
“While paying lip-service to West’s and Zampella’s creative authority, in 2008 and thereafter, Activision began secret development of Modern Warfare and Call of Duty games and related products, and undertook other conduct in relation to these two videogame franchises that, under the MOU, required prior approval from West and Zampella," reads the complaint. "Activision did not inform West or Zampella of such plans or seek their input or approval for them. Indeed, while breaching the creative authority provisions of the MOU, Activision continued to pay lip-service to them, in an attempt to mask its secret development efforts."
West and Zampella are seeking additional damages and – more importantly – a rescission of the MOU. If granted, West and Zampella would co-own the Modern Warfare brand with Activision and would be allowed to make new games using the license. They would also be permitted to release their own copies of the Modern Warfare games.
Needless to say, that could be a potentially lucrative judgment, although it’s impossible to make any kind of prediction without having seen the wording of the contract. Until we find out more, we’ll just have to sit back and enjoy the ongoing legal spectacle.