Stardock and the original Star Control developers are brawling over the series rights

starcontrol

Up until this month, it was easy to get excited about the future of Star Control. After 20 years of false starts, we were getting not one but two successors to the classic space romp. The original designers, Fred Ford and Paul Reiche, were working on a direct sequel to Star Control 2, Ghosts of the Precursors, while Stardock was working on a prequel, Star Control: Origins, set in a different universe. Now the two games are lamentably part of an increasingly public dispute between Ford, Reiche and Stardock CEO Brad Wardell. It’s getting ugly.

It all kicked off — at least in public — on December 1 with a blog post from Ford and Reiche. “Unfortunately there appears to be a growing legal conflict between us and Stardock,” it began. The issues largely surround the sale of the original Star Control games. In 2013, Atari sold the name, trademark and certain elements from the Star Control series at auction, which Stardock purchased. The pair contend that Stardock has no rights to the first three games, nor should it be able to sell them.

Stardock currently sells all three of them on Steam.

One of the things that sticks out is this line: “It’s our opinion that Atari’s rights to publish our earlier games terminated over a decade before the auction.” On the surface, it looks like Atari agreed, at least at one point. In 2011, Atari started selling the series through GOG without permission, prompting Ford and Reiche to get in touch. According to them, Atari conferred with its lawyers, confirmed that a mistake had been made and apologised. This led to GOG making a deal with the original creators for the game license and Atari for the trademark so they could continue to feature in the store.

The implication from this is that Atari knew that it didn’t have permission to sell the games, and Stardock could not have purchased those rights when they bought the trademark in 2013.

The next day, Stardock’s Brad Wardell hit back with a blog post of his own.

First, as many people know, the classic Star Control games have been available for sale long before Stardock acquired the rights from Atari four years ago. For the entirety of the time we have held the rights, they have been getting paid for those sales. If they had an objection to the games being sold this is something that could and should have been addressed before we were ever involved.

Wardell also noted that, when Stardock acquired Star Control from Atari, they also got publishing agreements to the franchise. “The short version is that the classic IP is messy,” he added. Wardell also responded to Ford and Reiche’s claim that Stardock was using their “aliens, ships and narrative” without permission, as Star Control: Origins is set in a different universe before the first game.

The dispute carried on yesterday, when Ford and Reiche published a second blog post regarding the unexpected decision to remove the original games from GOG. It was in this post where they relayed the story of how the Star Control games ended up on GOG and their deal with Atari. The pair seem to now want Star Control to be expunged from all stores.

In October of this year, history repeated itself when Stardock began selling our games on Steam and elsewhere (even bundled with theirs), again without getting our permission. This time we couldn’t come to an agreement, so we asked that Stardock stop bundling and selling the games. They refused, so we’ve decided to end our 2011 distribution agreement with GOG as a first step to having the games pulled down.

Wardell then updated his original post with another response and a challenge.

Paul and Fred continue to make unsubstantiated claims regarding the DOS-based Star Control games. If they have any documentation to provide evidence to their assertions, we have yet to see them.

He went on to allege that Stardock has “perpetual, exclusive, worldwide licensing and sales agreement” that came from Atari, and before that Accolade, and includes the signature of Paul Reiche. He also criticised their tone in earlier correspondence from when they first announced Ghosts of the Precursors, claiming that they were vague and full of demands.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like anything is going to be settled amicably.

“With all due respect to Paul and Fred, they really should talk to competent legal counsel instead of making blog posts,” Wardell wrote in his blog post.

46 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Aerothorn says:

    With all due respect to Wardell, he really should talk to competent legal counsel before making blog posts. (Seriously, every lawyer will tell you to shut up, stop having internet arguments, and stay silent until legal proceedings have ended, barring generic PR statements).

    • rustybroomhandle says:

      I have a hard time seeing this man’s name anywhere after he showed what an utter bag of festering filth he is during the goobergarble debacle a few years ago. A pity since it affects my purchasing decisions too, even though I’m sure there are plenty of lovely people who work on games published by him.

      • killias2 says:

        Brad Wardell is the only person to have ever blocked me on Twitter. He was ranting about how websites were purposefully not covering Stardock’s games (which was utter hogwash), and giving insanely bad faith interpretations to milquetoast observations from critics.
        To be fair, I don’t personally know him, so maybe I shouldn’t have engaged. But.. I basically just questioned his analysis a bit. BLOCKED

        Before that, I was a big fan, bought all of their stuff. You can find comments on RPS of me defending Wardell himself. Since.. I bought Offworld Trading Company basically because it was a distinct developer, and I love Soren Johnson. If GalCiv 3 was good enough, I probably could’ve been swayed.

        But.. buying anything from Stardock leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

        Edit: Just to be clear, here’s a comment from over 4 years ago where I argued strongly on Wardell’s behalf: link to rockpapershotgun.com
        It’s hilarious to think he would block me a couple years later because of his own support of a far-right, misogynistic faux-consumer crusader against games criticism, lol.

        • killias2 says:

          I found the thread where he blocked me!

          First, here’s the context. Arthur Gies suggested that indie developers should listen to their PR and to sometimes shut up. (Funnily enough, this is the same advice Brad Wardell supplies in the story above). Brad Wardell somehow interprets this as a threat.

          Here’s that twitter thread: link to twitter.com

          I ended up in thread that was about this broad topic as killington00:
          link to twitter.com

          I basically just say, “Hey now, this is ridiculous. Don’t add to this toxic situation. Try to give a bit of benefit of the doubt.” In retrospect, this is also the tone of my defense of Brad Wardell, in the RPS comment I linked above.

          He tells me I’m ridiculous.. of course it was a threat.. and then blocks me forever. To this day, I can only actually see this thread while logged out of Twitter, LOL.

          I know nobody cares, but it’s amazing what a huge asshole this guy is.

          • draginol says:

            Yea, I can’t imagine why I might have blocked you…

          • oyog says:

            God, I hope this isn’t just a troll. ^

          • Hans says:

            I don’t agree with his interpretation either, but looking at you go on about this here and talking about your one innocent little comment, that looking into it is actually 9 comments…might be time to let it go already…

          • Smaug says:

            Truth be said I would have blocked you at that point.

      • RedViv says:

        Can only agree here. Thank goodness we have nice and creative 4X people now, like Amplitude, and even Paradox can into space now.

        • killias2 says:

          Paradox could get some criticism for its DLC policies, and some of their newer titles feel a bit flawed for my taste.

          But.. they’re a wonderful company that I’m proud to support. I mean, I remember when Rowan Kaiser wrote that scathing Stellaris review: link to ign.com
          He faced a huge backlash from it, with lots of fans screaming that he didn’t know what he was talking about.

          Paradox responded by.. defending him: link to kotaku.com – “Contrary to a lot of opinions we’ve seen posted, Rowan is a very logical choice by IGN. Although, yes, we would disagree with the lower-than-liked score that he eventually awarded us, he does have experience of our previous titles and has over the years provided his professional opinion on those, too. It would make sense that IGN would make use of his experience to review Stellaris.”

          That’s a class act. That’s a company that deserves the success it has found, even if they’re not perfect.

          • morganjah says:

            Johann of Paradox is a flaming jerk himself.

          • killias2 says:

            I really like Johan, but I understand that he’s had some bad flare-ups with the community. It’s noteworthy that he doesn’t act as the face/voice of PDS nearly as much as he did a few years ago. It’s probably for the best, as he doesn’t seem to have the talent for it, especially given Paradox’s growth.

          • morganjah says:

            Yeah. I supported Paradox from the beginning of EU 1. There were always so many bugs and issues with the games but we persevered and bought stuff just to support them. Then Johann was such a complete jerk right around the publication of HOI 3 that I just stopped.
            He throws his tantrums and seemingly deliberately misinterprets stuff exactly like outlined about Brad Wardell in this article.

            I don’t know anything about Brad Wardell and that whole gamergate thingy, I have deliberately avoided that nonsense, but when Elemental came out, and it was a huge disappointment, Stardock manned up, admitted it, and fixed it, providing expansions for free until it was in at least an acceptable state.
            Contrast that with Paradox and HOI 3. Same situation, but Johann seemed to spend all day screaming at everybody on the forums that it was all working as designed, and the people who bought the game were idiots for not loving it rather than him actually spending time fixing it. And of course, Paradox’s fix was forcing us to purchase DLC’s to fix that pile of poo.
            Getting him away from the public is the best thing they could have done. That dreadful DLC practice combined with him raging at people who bought their games was not a good combination.
            He might be a great guy in person, but his online personae is a combination of fragile ego and massive arrogance.

          • Someoldguy says:

            It’s the perennial problem of debate by internet. You can’t judge tone or nuance so you interpret it and react according to your bias. If you are feeling defensive, perhaps because you know you’re not entirely in the right, it can lead to all sorts of hostile bile spewing out. It takes a lot of willpower to rein in your emotions, consider things from an alternative perspective and continue talking in a reasoned manner rather than walking away or venting.

          • Baines says:

            Some people forget that Stardock’s history with Elemental isn’t entirely a rosy “publisher makes good” story.

            Elemental had a lousy reception at launch. If the company wanted to salvage the game, which was Wardell’s baby, then it had to do something.

            Wardell attempted to defend the launch state of the game, claiming that they didn’t realize it had any issues. This was quickly countered by some beta testers, who claimed that they had for months reported the same issues that would later sink Elemental’s launch, and that Stardock simply chose to ignore them.

            And please do not forget that years after release, after Wardell had publicly accepted that Elemental’s failure was his fault, he out of nowhere filed a $1 million lawsuit against a former employee, claiming that she sabotaged the title and was the one responsible for its failure. Wardell did not mention that the former manager had previously filed a sexual harassment suit against him, nor that his amazing two year late deduction happened to come within months of a judge refusing his request to dismiss her suit.

          • morganjah says:

            I am aware that Brad Wardell has a toxic reputation, though I have not immersed myself in that mess. I speak only to the bottom line of what he did in supporting the game for free after it was published.
            I am surprised that Johann enjoys such a cozy relationship with those in the game review industry, who seem to bend over backwards to explain away his actions, and statements on his forums and beyond.
            I can only assume that he is a great guy in person to engender the otherwise inexplicable support he is given by reviewers.
            It’s a shame because Paradox is offered a lot of constructive criticism, much of which would go a long way to improving their products, but their sometimes over their top virulent reactions to those that offer it is reminiscent of what little I know about Brad Wardell’s modus operandi, for which he is apparently justly condemned.

      • rochrist says:

        Wardell is pretty much an epic shitheel, always has been.

      • Crafter says:

        What did he do that was so vile ?

        I have just googled for 20 minutes. I could not really find anything that damning (oh but I did find out that according to his twitter feed he just read this article link to twitter.com )

  2. mitrovarr says:

    Whether Stardock is right or wrong here, they need to end it amicably, and quickly. A prolong, ugly fight with the creators will quickly gain hostility from fans of the original, and destroy any hope they have of selling anything related to Star Control.

    • Megatron says:

      Yep. When push comes to shove the internet isn’t going to side with Stardock over this. PaulFred for the win!

    • BobbyDylan says:

      This. The marginal gains they can make selling 30 year old games is nothing compared to pissing off your customers and spoiling the sales of the next game.

    • Crafter says:

      To be fair I don’t know the original but it looks like a childish spat for everybody concerned.

  3. ScubaMonster says:

    Not sure what to make of all this. All I know is that it will suck if the original Star Control games disappear from all storefronts permanently over this dispute.

    • mitrovarr says:

      The Ur-Quan Masters is still available, right? So what’s the big loss, the one everyone hates (SC3) or the one nobody cares about (SC1)?

  4. Sin Vega says:

    That last line was beautiful work.

  5. wombat191 says:

    Reads article, picks up a copy of The Ur-Quan Masters on Steam just in case :)

  6. jamhov says:

    Count me among the people that used to support Wardell/Stardock but have found his antics unpalatable.

    Picking a fight with the creators of one of the most revered computer games of all time is ill-advised regardless of his legal rights.

    Seriously how much money is being made off the old star control titles? Is that really worth poisoning the well of fans of the franchise?

  7. Spinkick says:

    Please be careful pre judging stardock on this one, guys. After 25 years, there is a new star control game, and then out of nowhere the original designers come out and announce that they are making a new game and all this other legal/blog stuff? Where have they been? What perfect timing to try and undermine stardock right when they are about to release a new star control game.

    So far stardock has been the only ones explaining their stance and legal situation, and the original guys are just making rants and blog posts (without allowing comments as well).

    I respect the original creators here, and stardock has done some crap in the past, but this new situation needs to be judged on its own.

    • Glip says:

      Paul and Fred have wanted to do a sequel to Star Control 2 since it’s release. They were never able to get a publisher to publish it. They got close when they were under Crystal Dynamics, then went independent and struggled for years with licensed game projects.

      They hit paydirt with Skylanders and made hundreds of millions for Activision. Now that Skylanders is taking a break, they finally have personal capital from their Skylanders bonuses to finally make the sequel.

    • Megatron says:

      “What perfect timing to try and undermine stardock right when they are about to release a new star control game.”

      Did you read the article above where they have been stepping in to protect their interests since 2011? Let’s not try and make this about them ‘suddenly’ stepping on Stardock’s publishing toes in 2017.

  8. peterako1989 says:

    Oh no, my Juffo-wups!

  9. Robin says:

    So either Atari have misunderstood or misrepresented the rights they had to sell, or Wardell has, or both. Considering both have well-deserved toxic reputations, I’m guessing this wasn’t an innocent mistake.

  10. DRoseDARs says:

    This fills me with such sadness. Wardell needs to be forced to wear the Mask of Ultimate Embarrassment and Shame for acting like such a knob.

  11. kuertee says:

    Blues News has summarised follow-ups from both parties: link to bluesnews.com

    What’s interesting is Paul’s and Reiche’s agreements with GOG and Atari on the game’s sale on GOG conflicts with Stardock’s sale of the game on Steam.

    Also, as suggested in the Blue’s News article, a version of The Urquan Masters is freely available outside of GOG and Steam: link to sc2.sourceforge.net. From their website: “The project started in August 2002, when Toys For Bob released the partially ported sources of Star Control 2 3DO version to the fan community. Our goal is to port this wonderful game to current personal computers and operating systems…”

    It’s a good version. I’ve been playing it for years on PC. And I played (and still have the physical copies of) both 1 and 2 on the Amiga 500.

  12. Red_Fox says:

    WW3 is about to start! REPENT! AND THOU SHALL BE SAVED!

  13. allison says:

    Just read Brad Wardell’s forum post. Guy’s a total Druuge

  14. Dr.Greenback says:

    Publishing rights and legalities are the work of Demonongers across the universe, yes. However, we live in a capitalist society – where people like Fred and Paul, Brad and his team conjure up the next great adventure for all of us to sink into and conquer, hopefully. There must exist a clear distinction about who owns what, or the world will indeed spin off its axis.

    After a gazillion hours in front of my old IBM PC, I can attest to the fact that anyone who knows anything about Star Control really wants 2 bad-ass titles to hit the ether sometime in the near future. The sad reality is, though, if Stardock has the rights they claim to, then Fred and Paul are out of luck. That’s business, that’s the law (potentially).

    We can want the ‘little guys’ to win here, but Stardock is a business that paid handsomely for the rights to the game beyond just the name it seems.Too, you don’t go into the public domain with accusations like P&F did if you have legs to stand on — you simple contact your contract attorney and have them contact Stardock’s attorney and you present your demands. They didn’t do that here. They went public to try and sway opinion in their favor. Ut uh fellas, that’s not copacetic — that’s manipulation. They are clearly trying to rally their troops behind what appears to be a rather flimsy argument.

    I haven’t seen the contracts, but grown men of such caliber needn’t throw stones. You launch a nuke if you have the legalities on your side. By starting a war of words, P&F clearly view their position as weak at best.

    • Premium User Badge

      Drib says:

      ” By starting a war of words, P&F clearly view their position as weak at best.”

      Well yeah. They’re two people pitting themselves in a legal situation with a large company. In America, the company nearly wins by default, just by having the money for better/more lawyers/bribes.

      • Dr.Greenback says:

        Says you.

        According to P&F, this is a cut-and-dry issue of Stardock & Co willfully wronging them. If it’s so blatant, then why not just cut to the attorneys, sue for damages and share a big chunk of cash w/ the with. Certainly they would take it on a contingency of a large settlement against the evil empire.
        Sorry chief, this isn’t the ‘little guys’ against the ‘big guys,’ it’s about a bunch of bad deals that are going to get resolved by the attorneys and/or the legal system at this point.

      • PancakeWizard says:

        How big do you actually imagine Stardock to be?

    • Coffeespoons says:

      “copacetic”: adjective, NORTH AMERICAN, informal
      in excellent order.
      “he said to tell you everything is copacetic”

  15. Zaxwerks says:

    I have to say not knowing the series so not looking through rose coloured glasses at the original creators, I am not impressed with the attitude of either side. Their online sparing is rather confrontational and childish, and just escalates the tensions between the two parties. A measured statement along the lines of “The original creators of the game have been in contact asserting xxxxx, we don’t believe this is correct because xxxxx, we are working with all parties involved to resolve what we believe to be a misunderstanding by P&F” would have been fair more professional.

  16. Coffeespoons says:

    It seems that Wardell has sufficient insight to describe himself as an “opinionated techie” in his Twitter bio but insufficient cojones to take the backlash that his sometimes offensive remarks precipitate. I bought every game until Enchantress (GC2 in particular is by any view still a very fine game) but I don’t care for his attitude or politics and won’t buy another on principle.

  17. Premium User Badge

    MOOncalF says:

    This makes me so sad! Having waited patiently so long for Fred and Paul to get back to SC, I want them to have smooth sailing so they can focus on making the best game they can. I had good things to say about Stardock when they bought the rights, since I had enjoyed some Stardock games and thought they’d have the right attitude. I don’t think they should fight, but if they must, I hope Fred and Paul win.

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