Modern Warfare Developers vs. Activision

Last week, staff writer JArruda covered the Infinity Ward/Activision crisis as of March 3rd.  An updated post found on Kotaku’s website gives us a little more insight on the situation at hand and provides readers with the court document outlining the law suit against Activision.  We have gathered the online copies of the document and provided it for reading below.  Upon my own reading of the document, I have formulated some personal thoughts and opinions regarding the matter.

Activision’s Accusations

This whole mess started when people showed up at the Infinity Ward offices on March 1st in search of Jason West and Vince Zampella.  They were apparently there to escort them off the premises when they had actually been missing since they met with Activision earlier that day.  It was soon confirmed that they had in fact been let-go during the meeting with Activision and had not returned to work.  West and Zampella were accused of “insubordination” and “breach of fiduciary duty” in a prior investigation but weren’t given clear and concrete examples of where they had failed and instead insisted, “that West and Zampella ‘already have a clear understanding of what they have or have not done.'”  A law suit was filed against Activision on March 3rd for “breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, wrong termination in violation of public policy, and declaratory relief.”  Following the suit, news reports were released on G4TV stating that Activision was in the process of digging-up documents that prove that West and Zampella were meeting with EA behind their backs.  If this proves to be true, then West and Zampella will have committed a breach of contract which will in turn make it void.

Activision only appears wrong.

People have to keep in mind that when they read this document they are reading the accounts of only one side of the issue.  Though many statements in the document refer to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) as a basis for the points they make, it does not mean that all the statements made are true.  That is not to say that West and Zampella are not in the right here, it simply means that we cannot make our own decisions without both sides of the story.  We can, in fact, only make speculations based on the material given to us.  While it may be easy to point fingers at Activision, we still haven’t heard their side of the story.

Memorandum of Understanding.

The Memorandum of Understanding is the contract set between Infinity Ward and Activision that gave Infinity Ward many privileges concerning the Modern Warfare franchise.  The Memorandum of Understanding gives West and Zampella creative authority over the Modern Warfare brand, or any game set in the post-Vietnam War era.  It also gives West and Zampella the right to accept or decline any game that is commercially released under that era, along with complete control of the Infinity Ward studio.  The MOU also gave West and Zampella the right to create other IPs after Modern Warfare 2, and promised to pay them compensation and royalties for Modern Warfare 2 and any such games, along with royalties for Activision’s use of  Infinity Ward technology.  Lastly, the MOU promised compensation to the Infinity Ward employees for their work on Modern Warfare 2.  The unfortunate and underlying problem here is that West and Zampella were fired shortly before they were to receive large royalties for the work they did on the series.  This makes Activision appear to be money-hungry, and the implications are that Activision may have had their termination planned for quite a long time.

An interesting news post on has Law of the Game’s Mark Methenitis discussing his take on the situation at hand.  In a statement below, taken from the link above, he states his thoughts on the matter.

“‘Readers shouldn’t place too much emphasis on the language in the facts’ and that the story told by the claims ‘sounds like a relatively common ‘business deal gone bad’ kind of suit.’ As for this particular case, though, he allowed, ‘Granted, based on the value of Call of Duty and Modern Warfare, the stakes are high both for the royalties and future creative control of the brand.'”

He also makes an interesting point that not many journalists haven’t seemed to take note of.  “‘That [receiving their royalties and retaining control of the Modern Warfare name] may be more problematic if the wording of the Memorandum of Understanding isn’t such that it can be enforced as a contract,’ he said, adding, ‘Given the context and description in the suit, it seems like the term ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ in this case is just a fancy title for a contract rather than a less-than-enforceable agreement similar to a Letter of Intent.'”

In my opinion, the implications here state that Activision may have been tricky and wrote out a “contract” that isn’t binding and in turn allows them to break the said contract with no repercussions.

Without the MOU in our own hands, we will have a hard time accusing either party of wrongdoing.  We have to remember that the court document below is simply one person’s interpretation of the MOU and that Activision’s lawyer will interpret it much differently, and probably present it in such a way as to diffuse West and Zampalla’s attacks.

My Opinion

After reviewing the material and reading over various viewpoints of other journalists, I have come to some sort of conclusion to the way I feel about the situation.  In paragraph 36 of the court document it makes a statement about Activision’s plans for the future of the Call of Duty franchise:

“According to Activision, its plans include: forming a ‘dedicated’ business unit that will bring together its various new brand initiatives, expanding the Call of Duty brand, releasing a new Call of Duty game through its Treyarch development studio this fall, and releasing two “map packs” developed by Infinity Ward for Modern Warfare 2 this year.”

Whether this is actually shady business by Activision or not, this seems like a a big step towards destroying the Call of Duty name.  Though many people didn’t recognize that someone other than Infinity Ward created Call of Duty: World at War, it was easy to tell that the game wasn’t nearly as good as the Modern Warfare series.  That is a testament to the great work that Infinity Ward does on its games.  If Activision does win the case and gains control of the franchise, then they will surely destroy the name of Call of Duty by creating sub-par experiences that detract from the sterling reputation that Modern Warfare gave the IP.  If Activision loses and has to give the rights over to West and Zampella, then they have lost the biggest money maker they have.  It is also very likely that we have seen the last of the Modern Warfare series, or at least as we know it.  It is fairly common knowledge now that West and Zampella weren’t thrilled about making a second Modern Warfare game, but seemed to fancy the idea of developing a new IP.  If West and Zampella keep creative authority over the brand then we may see Modern Warfare on hold or see it take a new direction all together.

The bottom line here is that regardless of what we may feel or think about either party we shouldn’t point any fingers until we have at least both sides of the story.  Hopefully some agreement can be reached to make sure that gamers are getting the respect they deserve, but I wouldn’t expect this fight to end well.  Either way, it will be interesting to see where Call of Duty goes after this.

What are your thoughts?  Do you think the series has reached the end of the road?  Or is there plenty of action still to come?

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