This battle of disc jockeys is playing out in court.
The publishers of Scratch: the Ultimate DJ, an upcoming video game, have sued Activision Blizzard Inc. They accuse the Santa Monica game company of embarking on a "sinister strategy of intentional interference and unfair competition."
In the suit, filed this week in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Genius Products Inc. and Numark Industries lay out a tale of alleged corporate intrigue and backstabbing. They allege that Activision tried to thwart their "disc jockey-style" game from hitting the market before Activision's own hotly anticipated title, DJ Hero, scheduled for release this fall.
Activision declined to comment.
DJ Hero is an offshoot of Activision's hit Guitar Hero franchise, which has generated an estimated $2 billion in sales in the last three years. Due out this fall, it's seen as Activision's best bet for keeping the series from growing stale.
The lawsuit highlights the hazards facing game developers and publishers as they stake their claims in a business that's rife with me-too products. It also offers a rare peek at the tooth-and-nail nature of the industry when it comes to protecting a development lead, no matter how slim.
"The most interesting thing about the allegations relate to the lengths that Activision would go to to be first to market," said Suann MacIsaac, an entertainment attorney at Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger. "If the allegations are proven . . . they would appear to support an intentional interference and unfair competition claim against Activision."
Only a few months ago, Activision and Genius were considering a deal to collaborate on a music rhythm game that would let players pretend to be DJs. Instead, Activision bought the firm Genius had hired to turn its vision for such a game into reality. So what happened?
Genius is a distributor of home movies and television-show DVDS such as "Animal Planet" and "Sesame Street." In February 2008, the Santa Monica company enlisted a small game-development firm in West Los Angeles called California 7 Studios Inc. to develop a new title, Scratch: The Ultimate DJ.
By October, the suit alleges, 7 Studios started to fall behind on its work and was having trouble making payroll. That same month, 7 Studios filed a lawsuit against a Hollywood game studio called Brash Entertainment, contending that Brash owed it $581,000 for developing several games. Brash subsequently shut down, and Genius said it pumped more than half a million dollars into 7 Studios to keep it afloat.
Meanwhile, Activision approached Genius and 7 Studios in late January to talk about buying the game known as Scratch DJ, the lawsuit says, but the two were unable to agree on a price. So instead, in March, Activision snapped up 7 Studios.
Trouble was, 7 Studios was still under contract to develop Scratch DJ for Genius, which owns the rights to the game, along with Numark, a maker of commercial DJ equipment.
Now owned by Activision, 7 Studios this month proposed what Genius called "toxic" amendments to its contract. Genius countered by canceling the agreement, according to the lawsuit. The company alleged that its attempts to recover development assets, such as artwork and game code, were thwarted by security guards at 7 Studios.
Genius said its efforts to recover nine custom turntables made by Numark were similarly foiled.
"Activision is attempting to sabotage the release of our much-anticipated game and prevent it from getting to market," Genius President Trevor Drinkwater said in a statement.
Genius said Wednesday that a judge had ordered Activision to return the development assets and custom turntables, which would enable Genius to "complete our game in a timely manner."