Business of Gaming - Lawsuit Special

By Dog of Thunder, 6 years ago
In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police, who investigate crime, and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. These are not their stories.

The stories you will be reading today instead are all from civil court cases, three of which have been settled and one that was filed this week. Each of these cases involves individuals that feel they were wronged or mistreated and are seeking financial damages from a significantly larger company. First, we have the largest lawsuit in the gaming world: West vs. Activision.

West and Zampella vs. Activision

This is the infamous case of fired Infinity Ward head honchos, Jason West and Vince Zampella, who decided to sue Activision over the gross mishandling of their firing in 2010. Activision, anticipating the payment of damages, set aside $1 billion in advance of the 2013 fiscal year. Yesterday, the two parties settled outside of court at the 11th hour before the trial was set to begin, with Activision claiming that "The company does not believe that the incremental one-time charges related to the settlement will result in a material impact on its GAAP or non-GAAP earnings per share outlook for the current quarter or the calendar year, due to stronger-than-expected operating performance in the current quarter."

Why was Activision anticipating a large payout to West and Zampella? Perhaps it is because of the details regarding "Project Icebreaker", which were personally delivered to Giant Bomb's Patrick Klepek by the attorneys representing West and Zampella. "Project Icebreaker" is an organized act of corporate espionage that is so unbelievable it would have been laughed out of Hollywood.

Thomas Fenady, the Head of IT for Activision back in 2010, was asked by George Rose, who was Activision's head legal counsel, to hack into the computers used by West and Zampella. The goal was to secure 'dirt' on West and Zampella prior to the release of Modern Warfare 2, which would allow Activision to fire the pair. Speaking of fire, there is official documentation regarding the plans to stage a mock fire drill in order to gain physical access to West and Zampella's offices.

With the details of "Project Icebreaker" part of the official court filing, it is no wonder that Activision backed down and brokered a settlement. Sadly for one of the largest publishers in the world, another lawsuit is going to trial.

No Doubt vs. Activision


No Doubt certainly does as the band is still pursuing their 2009 lawsuit against Activision regarding the improper use of their in-game avatars. No Doubt believed that their likeness would only be used to perform No Doubt songs and not any song in the game. Activision's legal team attempted to get the suit dismissed, but on May 31st, Superior Court Judge Ramona See rejected Activision's claims and the case will be heading to trial.

Activision claims to have a recording of the exact specifics of No Doubt's in-game avatar usage being explained directly to the band. On the other hand, attorneys representing one of my wife's favorite bands have a series of judges that have upheld their claim as valid. It is interesting to note that Courtney Love pursued a similar case regarding the use of Kurt Cobain's in-game avatar to perform non-Nirvana songs. Also, Jon Bon Jovi has publicly stated that he denied the use of his in-game likeness because he read that, in the contract, his avatar could be used to perform non-Bon Jovi songs.

Thankfully for Activision, the next two lawsuits do not involve them.

Silicon Knights vs. Epic Games

Too Human developer Silicon Knights filed a lawsuit way back in 2007 against Epic Games. Silicon Knights was seeking damages related to their need to design their own game engine for the long delayed Too Human, due to Epic Games failure to support their use of the Unreal 3 engine.

Silicon Knights alleged that Epic Games took the license fees and funded their own game (Gears of War) while sabotaging the development of Too Human. The jury decided in favor of Epic Games on every single count and also awarded $4.45 million in damages to Epic Games.

X-Men: Destiny, the second game utilizing the Silicon Knights self-developed engine, was published by Activision and was a complete commercial failure. As far as we know, Silicion Knights has no current projects in development.

John L. Beiswenger vs. Ubisoft

Finally, we come to the most ludicrous of all these lawsuits, the case of an author suing Ubisoft over the Assassin's Creed franchise. John L. Beiswenger is allegedly an author who wrote a novel titled Link in 2002, which prominently featured "characters reliving memories through the eyes of their ancestors".

John L. Beiswenger settled earlier this year with Gametrailers, who he sued for showing Assassin's Creed footage. Mr. Beiswenger believes that authors should vigorously defend their intellectual rights, except earlier this week he dropped his suit against Ubisoft. He left the complaint open so that he may sue them again for the same violation.

Ubisoft in turn, has turned around and sued Mr. Beiswenger for what they call a "frivolous suit." Ubisoft is taking the offense in order to defend their own creative team and to free the Assassin's Creed brand from any allegations of intellectual property theft. It is likely that the courts will find in favor of Ubisoft, as such cases of science fiction authors seeking copyright violations regarding aspects of their stories typically end in failure.

That wraps up our hopefully very infrequent Lawsuit Round-up, which I don't think will become a regular feature like our weekly DLC Round-up.