Black Ops 2 Future Setting Lawsuit

Fans of the original Call of Duty: Black Ops game are still trying to adjust to the new setting of 2025/WWIII for Black Ops 2. But according to an agreement forged between Infinity Ward and Activision years ago, the near-future backdrop was only ever supposed to appear in games bearing the Modern Warfare name. Could Infinity Ward, or its former studio heads Jason West and Vince Zampella have a case against publisher Activision?

Since there’s a good chance that most lost interest in the never-ending legal battle between the abruptly-dismissed West and Zampella and publisher Activision, a little context here is needed. When Infinity Ward (under West and Zampella) released the groundbreaking success titled Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, it wasn’t long before the developers sought more creative control over their place within the Call of Duty family. It made sense at the time, since the jump to present-day was such an enormous departure from the WWII-era games that had defined the series to that point. What better timing for new contracts for the two creators?

Since both IW and Treyarch were on hand to craft annual CoD releases, West and Zampella came to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Activision, securing certain rights for the developer moving forward. One of which was the exclusive rights to any Call of Duty game set post-Vietnam War. Modern Warfare 2 went on to delve even deeper into new military technologies and global-war scenarios, and Treyarch released its own unique property in the Cold War-era Black Ops. All seemed well.

Enter Black Ops 2. From the first announcement trailer, it was clear that Treyarch was no longer resigning themselves to old wars, but jumping into the future to create a brand new one. Rather than being a completely absurd or ridiculous move, we made predictions that IW and Treyarch may actually be sharing a single narrative. But thanks to some digging that GameInformer has done as to the exact wording of the MOU, even this is potentially a violation.

In the exact wording of the MOU:

“Activision will retain authority and responsibility over all titles within the Call of Duty franchise {specifically excluding any Call of Duty titles set in modern day (post Vietnam), the near future or distant future, which shall be under the authority of IW… including all creative, development and publishing decisions”

There’s no question that the new plot of Black Ops 2 is in violation of this exact wording, at least at the time it was written. Much has transpired since then, with the mass exodus of IW employees to Respawn Entertainment, the new studio founded by West and Zampella. But the lack of any specific names in the MOU grants these rights to the studio itself, not any past or present heads. It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the game wouldn’t be published as is, but the court proceedings between West, Zampella and Activision (oh, and EA) may examine this particular agreement more closely.

So far Activision has offered a response to the story, claiming that “There is no basis for the plaintiffs in the Infinity Ward suit to block the release of Call of Duty: Black Ops II.”

Considering Activision’s own sizable legal team, it’s safe to assume that this isn’t a massive oversight on their part. Whether Activision believes that the nefarious activities West and Zampella stand accused of negate the MOU, or Infinity Ward was consulted and approved the new setting of Black Ops, we simply won’t know until some of this is made public.

Those who have placed their pre-orders need not worry, since the most likely outcome, if Activision is found to be in violation, is a sizable payday for those at Respawn Entertainment. Considering the amount of content the studio has produced to date, that wouldn’t hurt.

Even if Treyarch is legally allowed to mine the same territory as MW, that doesn’t mean it isn’t somewhat confusing. We’re not sure exactly what Black Ops 2 will do to differentiate its modern warfare from…Modern Warfare, but so far the trailers could be for the same game. Hopefully the strong tone and themes of the original Black Ops won’t be cast aside for fancy gadgets or falling skyscrapers, but we wouldn’t recommend anyone hold their breath.

Do you think it’s a wise decision for Black Ops to set the series so close to Modern Warfare, or will this be a move that Activision will come to regret?

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 releases November 13, 2012 for the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.

Follow on Twitter @andrew_dyce.

Source: GameInformer