Game Marketing Tips, Analysis, and News

Monday, June 20, 2011

Lawsuit Against Activision Moves Forward

Lawyers in action.
A judge has ruled that there's enough of a factual basis to move forward with the lawsuit against Activision by Infinity Ward co-founders Jason West and Vince Zampella. Not good news for Activision, though of course they have their countersuit against West and Zampella to keep hope alive. If you remember, this case rests on the claim by West and Zampella that Activision fired them in order to avoid paying them big royalties due from Call of Duty... really big royalties (as in $36 million worth). Activision argues that the duo were in collusion with Electronic Arts to sneak away and form a new studio, so they were fired. After their firing, most of Infinity Ward's employees (including all of the key creatives) left, which is certainly evidence of a less than healthy relationship with Activision.

Discovery will go on for several months, and we can expect Activision CEO Bobby Kotick to have to answer questions about his role in the whole affair.

Meanwhile, Activision and EA are gearing up for full-scale marketing warfare over Call of Duty and Battlefield 3 this fall. They'll be battling in court, in the marketplace, and on the virtual battlefield. It's not all playing games at that level... be glad you don't have big-company problems.

Who's going to win? What are the facts really? I have no idea, but I can see the scenarios being realistic on either side. My guess is that both sides need to go through discovery in all the associated lawsuits in order to get a look at everyone's hand. Once that lengthy and expensive process winds up (which will take several months and chew up many billable hours, you can bet), the real strategizing will occur. Each side will look at the cases and decide what their chances are at trial. You can never really be sure how a judge and a jury will decide, so you're taking a big chance when you decide to go into court with your case. Thus, both sides will have a reason to sit down at a conference table and see if some sort of settlement can be hammered out. I expect that will happen, although the process will doubtless be difficult, and the case will be settled out of court. No doubt the details we'll be sealed and we'll never learn exactly how much was paid to whom. The whole affair will be quietly buried with a press release, so that both sides can move forward with selling software to pay the legal bills.

There's only one sure winner in this situation: The legal firms, who will no doubt make millions. The lesson: Avoid lawsuits and actions that will tend to generate lawsuits, because it's a huge distraction from the business of making games.

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