After Zynga hired away several EA executives, including John Schappert, who became Zynga's chief operating officer, EA CEO John Riccitiello was "incensed" and determined to block any future hires, Zynga charged in a group of legal filings. Riccitiello threatened to file a suit he knew to be meritless against Zynga unless the San Francisco company signed a no-hire agreement with EA, Zynga said.
"Mr. Riccitiello lamented the fact that Zynga was able to attract his talent with better compensation packages that EA just can't match and feared losing additional executives and looking bad to his board and shareholders," Zynga charged in its filing. "For more than a year, EA has acted unlawfully to fulfill its illicit goals of restricting competition."
Zynga is seeking an unspecified amount of monetary damages and an injunction against EA that would bar it from threatening to sue Zynga or EA employees who pursue jobs at the social gaming company.
Jeff Brown, an EA spokesman, declined to comment on whether EA sought a no-hire agreement. Instead, the company hit back
"This is a predictable subterfuge aimed at diverting attention from Zynga's persistent plagiarism of other artists and studios," said John Reseburg, an EA spokesman. "Zynga would be better served trying to hold on to the shrinking number of employees they've got, rather than suing to acquire more."
Zynga's filing comes little more than a month after EA filed suit against the company, accusing it of violating EA's copyrights. Zynga's "The Ville" game copies elements EA pioneered in "The Sims Social," EA said in its suit.
In its filings on Friday, Zynga denied EA's charges.
"Today we responded to EA's claims which we believe have no merit," said Reggie Davis, Zynga's general counsel. "We look forward to getting back to focusing all our efforts on delighting our players."
In its counterclaim against EA, Zynga portrayed the Redwood City video game maker as a company that was failing to compete in the hot new area of social games and paying the price by losing talented employees. Zynga had received 3,000 unsolicited job applications from EA employees by 2011, the company said in the filing.
The lawsuit comes as Zynga itself is struggling. In July, the company posted disappointing quarterly results and warned investors that results for the rest of the year would be worse than analysts were expecting. The company's stock plunged on the news and has traded at about $3 a share -- or less -- ever since.
Additionally the company has seen its own employee and executive exodus. In recent months, Schappert and Jeff Karp, two of the three executives mentioned its dispute with EA, have left the company. So too has chief creative officer Mike Verdu.
Contact Troy Wolverton at 408-840-4285. Follow him at Twitter.com/troywolv.