Today Genius Products, the Weinstein Co.-owned DVD distributor that has started getting into the videogame biz, sued Activision Blizzard, along with developer 7 Studios, for allegedly trying to interfere with a contract and misappropriate trade secrets from "Scratch: the Ultimate DJ" in order to benefit their own competiting title, "DJ Hero," which comes out in the fall.
In plain English, here's what Genius and its partner Numark industries, the DJ hardare manufacturer that helped to develop the game's controller, are alleging:
-Activision then acquired 7 Studios, the developer of "Scratch."
-Now joined as one, the two companies have been witholding code, controllers, and other products from Genius in order to delay the release of "Scratch" and benefit "DJ Hero."
A source at L.A.-based 7 Studios confirmed to the Cut Scene that the development studio has indeed been acquired by Activision. To what exact end, the rank-and-file at 7 don't know. But let's use common sense: Activision obviously wants to avoid a "Guitar Hero" – "Rock Band" situation on the DJ gaming front. So if it couldn't buy the competing title outright, it did the next best thing: Buy the competitors' development talent to make sure that, going forward at least, they won't be a threat.
And perhaps, even better, get them to work on your franchise. Freestyle Games, which Activision acquired after it picked up the "DJ Hero" franchise when it merged with Vivendi Games, is of course working on the first game. But if it becomes a big hit, the publisher will surely need more developers to work on spin-offs and sequels. Which means it could keep 7 Studios very busy.
This doesn't mean Genius's suit has any merit, however. That depends on whether 7 Studios, under Activision's direction, has been violating its contract with Genius by witholding its work in order to delay the game's release, as well as sharing proprietary technology with its new corporate owner.
That's a matter of what the contract says. But Genius CEO Trevor Drinkwater seems pretty confident in his position. "We believe that Activision is attempting to sabotage the release of our much anticipated game and prevent it from getting to market prior to the release of 'DJ Hero,'" he said in a recently issued press release.
Genius and Numark are picking a very public fight with Activision by issuing a press releae (and even calling this reporter to make sure I was aware of it). That only happens when all attempts at private discussions have failed and the plaintiff wants to embarass the defendant in public. Which, of course, is often a good strategy with a corporate behometh like Activision Blizzard that, for better or worse, isn't particularly beloved by gamers (even though they love its studios like Infinity Wars and Blizzard — figure that one out).
Activision Blizzard reps haven't yet responded to a request for comment.
Meanwhile, the 7 Studios source confirmed that work continues on "Scratch," even if the developers have no idea who, if anyone, will release their game.