It seems that not all is happy in the world of the Call of Duty game series. A little over a week ago, it came to light that Jason West and Vince Zampella, the heads of game development house Infinity Ward, the designers behind the two Modern Warfare installments of the series, had not only been let go, but that Activision had filed a lawsuit against them. Now a tale of intrigue, subterfuge and unpaid bonuses is being weaved both sides that reads like a soap opera more than a video game.
Apparently Infinity Ward went to Activision some years ago with a story of how they were in deep financial trouble. The game publisher originally bought a 30 percent stake in the company, and then later went on to purchase the remaining shares, folding the developers into the company as a whole. Part of the agreement was that Jason West and Vince Zampella would stay on with the company through 2011, and they also were not allowed to hire away any of the talent should they ever leave the company.
According to Activisions 23-page lawsuit filed against the two men on April 9th, they were let go due to insubordination, taking more of the bonus pools than they were allowed, talking with rival game publishers about possible deals, telling falsehoods to employees about Activision to spread disharmony and other nefarious acts. The lawyer for both men say that the accusations leveled against them are all false and will be proven in court.
The counter-suit from the Infinity Ward founders seeks $36 million in damages as well as the rights to Modern Warfare, meaning any Call of Duty games set in the post-Vietnam era.
So, while all of this is scandalous, and akin to watching a train wreck, what does it mean to the average gamer? Sure it’s sad to hear people aren’t getting money they are owed, or that possibly the designers acted like children (depends on which side you believe), but your average gamer wants to get down to the nitty gritty of will we ever see a third Modern Warfare.
Reports that Kotaku have received say that several designers have now left Infinity Ward for Jason West and Vince Zampella new design house, Respawn Entertainment. Activision is apparently bringing in designers from other firms to fill those slots, but will they be up to the task of designing a sequel to one of the most popular games ever? Only an actual release will answer that question, but I think the bigger problem is the lawsuit asking for the rights to the intellectual property.
It is feasible that a judge could grant an injunction against Activision and Infinity Ward working on or releasing a third Modern Warfare installment until such time as the lawsuits are settled. With the speed with which these types of cases take, that could be years, if not a decade.
However, there is a significant motivation here for an out of court settlement to be reached. As someone with absolutely no training in the law, I could see Activision giving Jason West and Vince Zampella just enough to make them go away. It wouldn’t be an admission of guilt on the publisher’s part, but more of a way jsut to avoid the headache of what could be a very long and ugly battle. It isn’t the optimal course of action, but it may be the cheaper one in the long run.
For now, we suggest you enjoy Modern Warfare 2, because it might be a very long time until we see another one, or it could possibly be the last time we see a good one.