The scandal between the two largest videogame publishers over former Infinity Ward executives will be determined by a jury.
It's hard to believe, but we're only 3 months away from the two year anniversary of the day security guards went to the Infinity Ward offices and shut the place down. Bobby Kotick, the Activision CEO, believed his rival Electronic Arts were trying to lure the top two creative executives at Infinity Ward - Jason West and Vince Zampella - to work for EA, while West and Zampella demanded their bonuses for work on the blockbuster hit Modern Warfare 2. The pair have since formed a new company - Respawn Entertainment - and EA has agreed to distribute its games. Activision alleges that EA orchestrated the whole thing, and that it was unlawful for EA to approach the two while they were under contract. Lawyers from EA attempted to dismiss the company's involvement in the case, but California Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle said in a hearing today that Activision showed enough evidence for the case to be heard before a jury.
EA tried to say that it is perfectly lawful for two videogame executives to speak to other companies to pursue other employment, even while under contract. Judge Berle might have agreed, but she said it was "a whole different scenario" if EA approached West and Zampella first. Now, it's up to a jury to decide.
"We're pleased with the ruling and look forward to proving our case at trial," said Steven Marenberg, one of Activision's lawyers.
Some of Activision's legal documents were pretty harsh, but the argument is supported by EA's public posture of trying to dethrone Activision's shooter franchise. "EA dangled before West and Zampella a lucrative deal that incentivized them to terminate their Activision contracts prematurely, either by quitting or by behaving so badly that Activision had no choice but to fire them, which, of course, is exactly what happened," read the court filings.
This is all preliminary legal wranglings. As long as no more motions to dismiss are filed, the actual trial won't start until May 2012.
I personally don't care what happens to EA or Activision at this point. Their bickering has begun to bore me, honestly, but I am concerned with the bonuses that are due West and Zampella and their staff. Activision refusing to pay performance bonuses for the best-selling game of 2009 - you know the one that made more than a billion dollars - to the guys who spent 16 hours a day making it is just really bad form.
West and Zampella were the ones who filed this lawsuit to get those bonuses in the first place, and the lawsuits by 40 former Infinity Ward staffers who were similarly stiffed by Activision were lumped into it. Now, the case is being muddied by an EA/Activision pissing match. Just be the bigger man, Bobby, and pay the people who make the games that make you rich. It's not that hard.