June 15, 2011 2:25pm PT by Eriq Gardner
'Call of Duty' Lawsuit Heads to Trial After Judge Rules Against Activision
The multimillion dollar fight over Activision's successful "Call of Duty" video game franchise is on a path towards a trial after a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday there are facts to support allegations that the game publisher defrauded two developers, Jason West and Vincent Zampella, by firing them shortly before significant royalty payments were due.
The lawsuit was first filed in March 2010 and highlights how some video game developers had ascended to A-List status.
West and Zampella are credited with producing the first-person fighting game, one of the most successful franchises in video game history with more than $1 billion in sales. The two former heads of Activision subsidiary Infinity Ward were terminated by Activision after the company conducted an investigation that supposedly turned up breaches of contract, insubordination, and violations of company policy.
The duo then took legal action, claiming that Activision's allegedly wrongful termination cost them more than $125 million in royalties. West and Zampella said that Activision had promised them the right to creative authority and autonomy and escalating royalty payments on future games.
Activision then struck back with its own countersuit, accusing the pair of being "self-serving schemers who attempted to hijack Activision's assets for their own personal gain."
Activision also detailed some of its findings from the internal investigation. Allegedly, top executives at video game rival Electronic Arts had called the two and urged them to leave, even though they were under contract. Activision said this was a "hijack" and brought EA in as a co-defendent in a countersuit that claimed tortious interference, unfair competition, and breaches of fiduciary duty. Activision sought $400 million in damages.
In March, Superior Court judge Elihu Berle ruled that Activision had sufficient claims against Electronic Arts. On Tuesday, the judge ruled that West and Zampella had sufficient claims against Activision.
Together, the decisions make it highly likely that the dispute will survive the preliminary stage, and barring any settlement, reach trial later this year or early next year.