In most entertainment industries, the distributors of content reap a much larger share of the profit than the creators of said content. There are some very good reasons for this (see generally the galactically stupid writers strike) and some bad reasons for this (as evidenced by Geoffrey Fletcher’s clear inability to afford the public speaking coach he desperately needs).
In the video game industry, distributors get bank, while creators … well, they get to play with video games all day. Do they even need money?
But a lawsuit pits the creators of the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare franchise against Activision, and the results could well have serious fallout across the entire gaming industry. The Guardian puts the issue plainly:
[W]hen studio heads Jason West and Vince Zampella filed that astoundingly vitriolic 16-page lawsuit against their former publisher, they slammed a question mark down over the nature of IP ownership in the modern videogame era. If, as West and Zampella allege, Activision granted them ‘contractual rights’ over the Modern Warfare brand, could they really defect and take a Modern Warfare-like title to another publisher, as news sources are indicating? And step back a little; would a multinational corporation really sign off a massively profitable franchise extension merely to appease its workers?
West and Zampella truly went nuclear on Activision. Let’s check their mission parameters …
The complaint was written by lawyers at O’Melveny & Myers. But there is a lot of COD’s trademark storytelling flair that makes this better than your average first person lawsuit:
Oh hells yeah! Honey, can we just order pizza? I’m sorta in the middle of something …
Point 5 is really crucial. Activision owns West and Zampella’s Infinity Ward studio. While working on COD: Modern Warfare 2, West and Zampella claim they entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Activision. According to the two Infinity Ward guys, the MOU was designed to induce them to work on Modern Warfare 2:
West and Zampella could have gone about this complaint on strictly legal grounds, but that’s not what we’ve come to expect from the franchise they created. No, we want a body count:
I freaking hate it when I get holed up in a windowless office, enemies closing in from all sides, and I’m out of ammunition. Of course, that’s when I whip out my knife:
Either West and Zampella can have Modern Warfare, or nobody can?
You can read the full complaint here.
Remember, these are the guys who helped put together Modern Warfare 2′s controversial airport massacre level. They know a thing or two about shock value. But this isn’t a video game.
In the real world, the big boys at Activision know how to shoot straight. And they take head shots. In the extremely unlikely event that this goes to trial, expect it to be better than fiction.
Leading analyst says Infinity Ward lawsuit will “shape the developer/publisher relationship forever” [The Guardian]
West and Zampella v. Activision [Kotaku]
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare-What the Lawsuit Means for Gamers [Speakeasy/WSJ]