The lawsuit against ARK: Survival Evolved developer Studio Wildcard appears to have come to a close. Documents filed in the Eighth Judicial Circuit of Florida show the case has been settled between the studio and plaintiffs Trendy Entertainment and investment firm Insight Venture Management, but the ugly nature of the lawsuit appears as if it will not have any immediate impact to the Xbox One and PC game.
Officially, Studio Wildcard is not discussing the lawsuit against it or the settlement at this time. I spoke briefly with co-founder Susan Stieglitz late Friday evening via Twitter direct message, where she told me the $40 million settlement figure reported on by Kotaku and other outlets came from a discussion with a fan who didn’t realize the conversation was not meant to be shared publicly. This echoed similar comments she made publicly on Twitter, including one post claiming Trendy was asking for $600 million.
Documents posted in Florida’s Alachua County Circuit Court tell much of the story in lieu of an official statement from the Studio Wildcard or the Stieglitz couple. Trendy Entertainment and Insight Venture Management have been equally quiet. The lawyers for Studio Wildcard and Jeremy Stieglitz submitted the defense’s 39-page opposition document Monday morning due to the case not officially being closed and a hearing still scheduled for April 27.
It’s a huge game of he said/she said without the likelihood of any sort of official resolution of who was wronged if the settlement goes through. Trendy Entertainment and Insight claim Jeremy Stieglitz violated a non-interference contract by recruiting Trendy developers. Stieglitz’s lawyers counter in Monday’s filings that he never solicited any developers and they either followed him to Studio Wildcard or were recruited by co-founder Jesse Rapczak. Stieglitz’s lawyers also contend Trendy and Insight have provided no proof of solicitation.
Trendy and Insight’s lawyers also accuse Stieglitz of developing a game called Primal Earth while at Trendy Entertainment that would eventually become ARK: Survival Evolved. The objection from Stieglitz’s team is Primal Earth was a pure shooter featuring dinosaurs developed on Unreal Engine 3 and work was done for it after he left Trendy. Meanwhile, ARK: Survival Evolved is an open-world survival game developed on Unreal Engine 4 that shares no commonality aside from the dinosaur theme and a “small portion” of artwork that had to be substantially changed to be compatible with ARK.
Stieglitz and his lawyers main thrust against the competing product argument is ARK: Survival Evolved is completely different from Dungeon Defenders. They belong in different game genres, have different payment models, and are targeted towards different audiences.
It is also pointed out by Stieglitz’s side that Trendy Entertainment and Insight waited until well after his non-compete contract expired, after ARK: Survival Evolved had launched, and after Studio Wildcard was sold to a firm called SDC, Inc before attempting to file the lawsuit in January of this year.
The accusations become even more salacious when it comes to who actually helped co-found Studio Wildcard. Trendy and Insight claim Jeremy originally signed the business documents to formally start the studio, which Stieglitz claimed was an “erroneous and hastily drafted document” with others “flying around at the time.” Co-ownership was later to transferred to Susan Stieglitz under her maiden name, which Trendy points to as a sign of trying to hide Jeremy’s involvement. Jeremy’s signature was also on various business documents, which his lawyers contend he signed for when Susan was not available and he was the one investing money in the studio. Stieglitz and his lawyers argue Jeremy did no development work on ARK: Survival Evolved outside of consulting and funding through his Journey Ventures investment company.
Jeremy Stieglitz had his own accusations against Trendy Entertainment and Insight as part of the defense documents. He argues both companies wronged him when accusations of over-working employees resulted in him being asked to operate a separate development studio, Nom-Nom, with the understanding he would receive a percentage of the profits. The developer created a game called Monster Madness, which was then canceled by Insight before release in order to bring Stieglitz back to work on Dungeon Defenders. This move ultimately led to the split between Jeremy and Trendy along with the existing lawsuit.
As for the evidence, both sides submitted hundreds of pages to defend their positions. All evidentiary documents have been completely redacted, though, preventing anyone from seeing how it holds up for either Studio Wildcard and the Stieglitz couple or Trendy Entertainment and Insight.
The lawsuit from Trendy Entertainment and Insight included seeking an injunction against ARK: Survival Evolved. This would have prevented the game from being sold on Steam and Xbox LIVE if it had been approved by the judge. The settlement means the injunction won’t happen, but the lawsuit had to affect the game’s development.
A new patch to PC version of ARK was delayed from last week to this week. Studio Wildcard is also readying for a PAX East appearance, which compounded the work interruptions. How and if the settlement affects the long-term development of ARK: Survival Evolved and Survival of the Fittest remains to be seen.
[Image via Studio Wildcard]