As we enter a new year of exciting games, Law of the Game likes to look forward to the game stories on the horizon. One of the biggest has to be the upcoming battle over the rights to the blockbuster Modern Warfare. You may recall Mark provided some initial commentary shortly after the case was filed. Jason West and Vince Zampella were fired from Activision in March of 2010. They promptly sued, claiming they had been defrauded out of royalties owed and ownership of the Modern Warfare property. The firing precipitated a strong reaction from the remaining Infinity Ward staff, as almost half followed their old bosses out the door.
But the intrigue did not stop there. In January 2011, Activision was allowed to add EA as a cross defendant. Why? Because Activision believes that Electronic Arts intended to “derail Activision’s Call of Duty franchise, disrupt its Infinity ward development studio, and inflict serious harm on the company.” While both sides have prepared for an intense battle, the incredible splash of Modern Warffare 3 has highlighted just how much is at stake. It only took sixteen days for the game to reach $1 billion in sales. If the sides can’t settle their differences before the May court date, we could never see another game in the series that got to $1 billion quicker than Avatar.
This case touches on many legal issues that have been bubbling within the game industry. As games have become more and more expensive to produce, more developers have been acquired by large publishers. The people who code the game are going to want the biggest return on their work possible. The publishers who finance the operation want the lion’s share too, as they make the investment and take on the risks involved with marketing and selling the game worldwide. Added to this already volatile mix is the turf war between developers like EA and Activision. Their ability to continue has everything to do with attracting great development talent and holding properties people will buy again and again.
As always, Law of the Game will have its ears wide open when the case begins in May, and will share what we learn as soon as possible.
Zack Bastian is an official contributor to Law of the Game. A third year student at George Washington University Law, Zack works at the Woodrow Wilson Center's Science and Technology Innovation Program and is a member of the American Intellectual Property Law Association. The opinions expressed in his columns are his own. Reach him at: zack[dawt]bastian[aat]gmail[dawt]com.