West, Zampella Accuse Activision of Fraud
The protracted legal battle between Call of Duty creators Jason West and Vince Zampella enters round eleven billion, with the jilted developers firing a hell of a warning shot over Activision’s bow. The pair, or rather the legal counsel for the pair, recently filed fraud charges against Activision resulting from something called a Memorandum of Understanding. Yeah, things are about to get complicated.
In 2008, Activision was about to merge with Vivendi Universal. By then the Call of Duty fanchise was serious business, and a major business player. As such, Activision needed to depend on West and Zampella’s stable employment. This led to the Memorandum of Understanding, which gave the developers a voice in the continued development of the Call of Duty franchise. The Memorandum, though vague, basically gave West and Zampella a contractual right to have a voice in Call of Duty’s development as a franchise, in addition to a bonus system related to game sales.
That is, so long as they were employed at Activision.
According to the complaint filed recently, both West and Zampella were concerned that they could simply be fired to nullify this clause. At the time, Activision CEO Bobby Kotick reportedly told the two “Don’t worry about it. It’s impossible for you guys to get fired.”
So even though they wanted a more legitimate and definite contract, they signed the Memorandum as was. This obligated them to three years’ more work at Activision, which thanks to some very difficult math, we can see did not happen.
However, West and Zampella are claiming that while Activision employed them — and thus was bound by the Memorandum — Activision started on several Call of Duty projects without the input or approval of West or Zampella. On top of this, Activision actively kept these projects a secret while promising the developers that everything was hunky dory.
The really interesting part (assuming you’re still awake) is that West and Zampella want to rescind this Memorandum as well as seek damages. That means that West and Zampella would suddenly have part ownership of the Call of Duty brand, and could even release Call of Duty products.
Proving fraud in this manner will be difficult, but it might be a claim substantial enough to sieze internal Activision correspondence and development documents. If they can find documentation around Call of Duty projects without any input from West and Zampella, they may have a real case, and then things will get really interesting.
On top of that, there’s been a definite trend of escalation when it comes to the charges being levied back and forth here. It feels a little bit like legal chicken, with each side raising the stakes until the other decides to settle. While Activision has yet to respond to these new charges, you can bet it will be in the form of an increasingly severe legal filing.