Law of the Game analyzes ex-IW bosses' suit against Activision

[Maveric2003]
When various legal fracases arise from time to time, we turn to Law of the Game's Mark Methenitis, an actual, real lawyer, for thorough analysis. So, Methenitis kindly looked over the full complaint filed against Activision by ex-Infinity Ward heads Jason West and VInce Zampella, and then described to us the importance of the little things: the wording of the contract between the two ex-heads and Activision, the financial implications of the possible loss of the Modern Warfare name (for either side), and the ... shall we say, flamboyant ... language used in the document itself. According to Methenitis, the complaint's colorful phrasing is "for dramatic effect and little more."

Methenitis pointed out in an email exchange with Joystiq that "readers shouldn't place too much emphasis on the language in the facts" and that the story told by the claims "sounds like a relatively common 'business deal gone bad' kind of suit." As for this particular case, though, he allowed, "Granted, based on the value of Call of Duty and Modern Warfare, the stakes are high both for the royalties and future creative control of the brand." (Methenitis here is referring to the ex-studio heads' allegation that Activision had handed over creative control of all Modern Warfare-branded games, part of the "Memorandum of Understanding" that was agreed upon between the two parties before the creation of Modern Warfare 2.)

The stumbling block for West and Zampella, Methenitis said, could be in the wording of the memorandum. "That [receiving their royalties and retaining control of the Modern Warfare name] may be more problematic if the wording of the Memorandum of Understanding isn't such that it can be enforced as a contract," he said, adding, "Given the context and description in the suit, it seems like the term 'Memorandum of Understanding' in this case is just a fancy title for a contract rather than a less-than-enforceable agreement similar to a Letter of Intent." (Head past the break for Methenitis' full analysis.)

While Methenitis wouldn't weigh in on the possible end result of this suit, Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter mentioned in his latest report that, "We think that West's and Zampella's claim for creative control over the Call of Duty and Modern Warfare brands has little merit, and we expect Activision to retain control over the brands." One thing's for sure, if a messy lawsuit does get underway (and isn't settled out of court like so many are), we'll assuredly catch wind of more dirty laundry.
Law of the Game author Mark Methenitis, regarding the recently-filed lawsuit against Activision by ex-Infinity Ward heads Vince Zampella and Jason West:


"Wow, that's quite the complaint.

"Let me start off by saying that readers shouldn't place too much emphasis on the language in the facts. It's a nicely written complaint (one of the more entertaining I've seen lately), but phrases like 'astonishing arrogance and unbridled greed' are for dramatic effect and little more. As for the substance of the complaint, taking all of the allegations with a grain of salt since they are from one side only, this sounds like a relatively common 'business deal gone bad' kind of suit.

"Granted, based on the value of Call of Duty and Modern Warfare, the stakes are high both for the royalties and future creative control of the brand. The beginning part of the story seems fairly typical as a business deal, but the latter part (with the allegations of this strange investigation and termination) just doesn't seem right, but it would be interesting to see what Activision alleges actually occurred that brought everything to this point.

"We'll likely have a clearer picture as more details come out, but certainly, if this is a case where the two were fired for no real reason, they should be entitled to their royalties and enforcement of the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding. Of course, that may be more problematic if the wording of the Memorandum of Understanding isn't such that it can be enforced as a contract, but given the context and description in the suit, it seems like the term 'Memorandum of Understanding' in this case is just a fancy title for a contract rather than a less-than-enforceable agreement similar to a Letter of Intent. However, the exact language of the document will make all the difference in this case as to that portion of the complaint."

In a follow up email, Methenitis clarifies a few points:

"'Memorandum of Understanding' could be one of two things: a binding contract or a non-binding agreement (like a Letter of Intent). The wording makes all the difference.

"Nothing in the petition stood out as baseless on its face (though 'good faith and fair dealing' claims are always a little questionable).

"The language, like I said, is for dramatic effect more than anything. It's not unusual, but it's really just a style choice by the attorney. And some of that may be calculated to grab the attention of the press."

This article was originally published on Joystiq.