Court of Duty: Activision Sues EA Over Departure of Infinity Ward Studio Heads

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Rock Band vs. Guitar Hero. Battlefield vs.Call of Duty. Skate vs. Tony Hawk. Over the last few years, the two biggest video game companies in the world have had a roiling history of name-calling and oneupsmanship. The rivalry between Electronic Arts and Activision has gone beyond mere competitive words, though. One example: Respected game designer Tim Schafer brought his heavy metal adventure Brutal Legend to EA after Activision deigned not to release it. The Santa Monica-based publisher then issued lawsuits to block Brutal Legend from ever coming out.

Now, the legal warfare between the two game giants reaches a new level of enmity as Activision’s alleging that EA wooed away the heads of the studio that developed the best-selling Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. After an ugly break with Activision, Jason West and Vince Zampella formed Respawn Entertainment in partnership with EA. There are already suits and counter-suits between the two game designers and their former employers, but this new development points the finger directly at EA as an agent provocateur. Via Kotaku, the documents in the filing detail e-mail communications between CAA agents, EA execs and the former Infinity Ward execs. The paperwork also claims that secret meetings followed which led West and Zampella to break their contract with Activision.

The consequences of the lawsuit will likely have little bearing on games that are already in development. Activision will doubtless have a new Call of Duty next year and it’s just as likely that EA will debut whatever Respawn is working on during E3 2011, if not before. But, what’s most telling about this latest legal development is the amount of rancor between EA and Activision. Ultimately, for most gamers, the battle for #1 happens on consoles and not in courtrooms.