Legal Bullets Fly Over Call of Duty

Open warfare has broken out between Activision Blizzard and the two studio heads it fired this week  responsible for its biggest hit -Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 .

Activision responded on Thursday to a lawsuit filed in a Los Angeles court by lawyers representing Jason West and Vince Zampella, president and chief executive respectively of the Infinity Ward studio, over their dismissal.

In the suit, the studio co-founders allege Activision found a pretext to dismiss them in order to avoid paying them substantial royalties in the coming weeks, due to them for the success of Modern Warfare 2.

Activision said last month the game had generated more than $1bn in revenues since its launch in November, suggesting millions of dollars was at stake. The LA Times reported that the suit alleged that the world’s biggest publisher owes the two unpaid royalties and damages in excess of $36m.

More important, the co-founders are arguing that the court should rule they have creative control over all Modern Warfare games and that Activision may not release any Call of Duty games set after the Vietnam War without their approval.

Activision owns the Call of Duty brand but a court decision against it could limit its options for sequels to the game.

“We were shocked by Activision’s decision to terminate our contract,” said Mr West in a statement.

“We poured our heart and soul into that company, building not only a world class development studio, but assembling a team we’ve been proud to work with for nearly a decade.  We think the work we’ve done speaks for itself.”

Their lawyer Robert Schwartz said: “Instead of thanking, lauding, or just plain paying Jason and Vince for giving Activision the most successful entertainment product ever offered to the public, last month Activision hired lawyers to conduct a pretextual ‘investigation’ into unstated and unsubstantiated charges of ‘insubordination’ and ‘breach of fiduciary duty,’ which then became the grounds for their termination on Monday, March 1st.”

Activision said in its statement it was disappointed that its ex-employees had chosen to file a lawsuit and believed their claims were without merit.

“Over eight years, Activision shareholders provided these executives with the capital they needed to start Infinity Ward, as well as the financial support, resources and creative independence that helped them flourish and achieve enormous professional success and personal wealth,” it said.