Studio Wildcard has developed one of the surprise hits over the past year with ARK: Survival Evolved in a Steam Early Access release on PC and a similar early preview on the Xbox One. Unfortunately, the developer also finds itself in a potentially sticky situation thanks to a lawsuit from Dungeon Defenders studio, Trendy Entertainment.
In a lawsuit filed against Studio Wildcard in December, 2015, in the Eighth Judicial Circuit of Florida and discovered by Kotaku, Trendy Entertainment alleges that former game designer Jeremy Stieglitz breached his contract with the company to secretly work ARK: Survival Evolved. The contract originally locked the developer into a non-compete agreement with Trendy for three years. That was negotiated down to a single year, which ended in August, 2015, and also included language to prevent Stieglitz from recruiting Trendy employees to any new venture.
That’s where things get sticky for Stieglitz and Studio Wildcard. Trendy’s lawsuit alleges Stieglitz recruited employees for a new venture while he was in the final months of employment at the company. A cease and desist letter was sent to the game designer just days after he left. However, he is alleged to have continued to recruit Trendy developers afterward to work on ARK: Survival Evolved. The lawsuit includes a list of six former employees of Trendy Entertainment working on Studio Wildcard’s game.
Stieglitz’s wife, Susan, is one of the Studio Wildcard co-founders. Trendy alleges this is to keep Jeremy’s work hidden, but one of the other studio co-founders, Jesse Rapczack, claims Stieglitz has consulted on ARK: Survival Evolved and is not a lead developer on the game.
In addition to employees, Trendy’s lawsuit claims Stieglitz and Studio Wildcard “misappropriated Trendy’s proprietary information, intellectual property, and trade secrets for the development and launch of ARK: Survival Evolved.”
Dungeon Defenders and ARK: Survival Evolved could not be two more different games, as the former is a tower defense game with RPG elements, while the latter is an open-world survival game with dinosaurs. The only commonality is the use of the Unreal Engine in the development of both games. So, it is possible this is where the alleged proprietary information and trade secrets lie.
Naturally, Studio Wildcard disputes Trendy Entertainment’s allegations in the lawsuit. The developer has not rebutted the claims point for point, but its lawyers have issued the following statement calling for the lawsuit’s dismissal.
“Trendy’s Complaint reads more like a salacious tabloid story than a short and plain statement of the ultimate facts allegedly showing Trendy’s entitlement to relief, as required by the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure. Many of the allegations are disparaging and included simply to be provocative. They are irrelevant, immaterial, impertinent, and scandalous. As such, these allegations should be stricken.”
The danger for ARK: Survival Evolved comes from an upcoming April 27 hearing. Trendy Entertainment has filed a motion, which ask for a temporary injunction until the case is settled. Based on how the judge rules, the injunction could force Studio Wildcard to cease development on the game and potentially pull the game from Steam. Presumably, development on the Xbox One version of the game would be affected, as well, since its updates follow the PC version.
Obviously, this would be potentially devastating to ARK: Survival Evolved. The game is currently targeting a full release this summer to the PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. Additionally, Studio Wildcard just spun ARK: Survival of the Fittest into its own separate game, scheduled to be released by the end of 2016. The Hunger Games-like stand-alone game is completely free to play on Steam for now, but the studio does plan on finding ways to make money off of it without affecting gameplay.
[Image via Studio Wildcard]