Former heads of Infinity Ward Vince Zampella and Jason West have added two counts of fraud to their complaint against Activision which, if successful, could see them regain partial control of the Modern Warfare franchise.
Gamespot reports that the fresh charges pertain to a 2008 memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the pair and Activision, as the publisher sought to shore up the highly prized duo’s future to smooth its merger with Vivendi.
The court filing claims that the contract was drawn up 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.”
In addition to ensuring their creative control over the franchise, the MOU guaranteed West and Zampella bonus payouts based on operating income from games including Modern Warfare 2 – the same bonuses that went unpaid and eventually prompted the pair’s departure from Infinity Ward.
According to the complaint, the duo were sceptical of Activision throughout negotiations, given the publisher’s prior failure to follow through on promises of greater autonomy and control over the franchise. That scepticism only intensified when Activision included a clause in the final MOU stating that the duo would only be eligible for creative control and bonus payments provided they remained employed by Activision.
When the pair queried this clause – worried that Activision could avoid their contractual obligations by firing them – they claim they were told by Activision CEO Bobby Kotick: “Don’t worry about it. It’s impossible for you guys to get fired.”
West and Zampella duly accepted the terms of the MOU, and agreed to another three years with Activision, believing they would largely be left to their own devices like Blizzard Entertainment. The pair now claim, however, that Activision never intended to honour the contract.
The complaint continues: “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.
“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.”
As such, an anonymous member of Zampella and West’s legal team told Gamespot, the pair are seeking for the MOU to be declared void which, in addition to the award of actual and punitive damages, would mean the two share the rights to the Modern Warfare franchise with Activision.
This is West and Zampella’s first strike back at Activision after several months in which the publisher has been very much on the attack. It has named EA in a cross-complaint, alleging that its rival publisher was actively courting West and Zampella while they were still employed by Activision. Last April the duo set up a new studio, Respawn Entertainment, and immediately signed a publishing deal with EA.