A while back, on a slow news day, I wrote a spoof story about there being only one man left at Infinity Ward. I'm started to wonder if it was prophecy. The Modern Warfare developers are rapidly running out of employees as more leave, many to join Respawn Entertainment, the new studio started up by former Infinity Ward top dogs, Vince Zampella and Jason West. The total number of IW employees who have now jumped ship or been pushed, at the time of writing, is 28. That leaves 75 remaining. And now things are getting even more strange, with 38 Infinity Warders, calling themselves the Infinity Ward Employee Group, filing a lawsuit against Activision for up to $125 million.
G4 received a copy of the lawsuit, explaining that the group of IW employees are claiming they're owed a vast amount in unpaid bonuses after the phenomenal success of Modern Warfare 2. The group is fighting for these royalties, of anything from $75m to $125m. The game, of course, made an incredible $1.1bn in 2009 alone. According to their lawyer,
"Activision has withheld most of the money to force many of my people to stay, some against their will, so that they would finish the delivery of Modern Warfare 3. That is not what they wanted to do. Many of them. My clients' entitled to their money. Activision has no right to withhold their money -- our money."
The implications of such a claim seem enormous. The lawsuit goes on to use words like "keep the employees hostage". It's understood that so far $28m has been paid to Infinity Ward, but according to those suing, 2009 profits still leave another $54m owed to them. The full list of details about where the rest of the money comes from is on G4's story.
Activision has responded by email to G4, dismissing the lawsuit.
"Activision believes the action is without merit. Activision retains the discretion to determine the amount and the schedule of bonus payments for MW2 and has acted consistent with its rights and the law at all times. We look forward to getting judicial confirmation that our position is right."
Going through the list of the 38 plaintiffs is interesting. For instance, Jason West and Vince Zampella do not appear. And, of those that do, a surprising sixteen are not amongst those to have quit, and are still currently working at Infinity Ward.
Where this leaves Modern Warfare 3 remains a big question. All four design leads of MW2 are gone, along with two out of three art leads. Both animation leads have left, five out of six who created the story went, and of course the director and CEO. It's a significant dent out of the team. To keep up with this, be sure to follow Cynical Smirk's updated coverage.
Whatever the case, it sure is one of the most peculiar gaming stories to have happened, and keeps getting peculiarier.