The makers behind the successor to 27-year-old space game Star Control have become embroiled in a very public dispute with developer Stardock.
Original Star Control designers Fred Ford and Paul Reiche are currently working on a successor to their game, while Stardock – which believes it owns the rights – is working on a prequel called Star Control: Origins.
The disagreement revolves around Stardock’s purchase of some Atari assets in 2013, including the name and trademark for Star Control. However, Ford and Reiche believe that Atari’s ownership of this code was invalid, having terminated some decade prior.
“We contend that Stardock has zero rights to our games, including any code and other IP we created,” Ford and Reiche wrote last week. “As far as we can currently tell, we have no relationship with Stardock that lets them sell the three earlier Star Control games without our permission, either bundled with their other products or separately.
“Stardock now seems to think that not only can they use our aliens, ships and narrative without our permission, but thinks that we cannot make a sequel to The Ur-Quan Masters without their permission – this is where we got really, really angry.
Stardock CEO Brad Wardell then responded.
“We are disappointed that Paul and Fred, two people we have a great deal of respect and admiration for, have chosen to imply that we are somehow preventing them from working on their new game,” he argued.
“Stardock has been nothing but supportive of their new project and wish them the best. 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.
“We have stated, repeatedly and consistently for over four years that we are not using any of the aliens from the classic series. When we acquired Star Control from Atari in 2013, many assets were transferred to us including the various publishing agreements to the Star Control franchise.”
Ford and Reiche then revealed that they were surprised when the first three Star Control games turned up on GOG. Upon investigation it was discovered they were included as part of an Atari deal.
“We then contacted Atari to let them know that we were the original authors and owners of the copyright to the games and that we had not given permission for them to republish our work. Atari checked with its lawyers and wrote back confirming our claims, apologizing to everyone for the mistake and informing GOG to remove the games from sale and pay any royalties earned to us,” the pair continued.
“Instead we suggested a way that GOG could continue to sell our games. GOG signed separate, independent contracts with: Atari to license the Star Control trademark, and us to license the rights to the games themselves. GOG has been selling the games and paying us directly ever since.
“In October of this year, history repeated itself when Stardock began selling our games on Steam and elsewhere, 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.”
The saga rumbles on, however, with Wardell biting back.
“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 added in an update to his first post.
“Stardock, by contrast, possesses a perpetual, exclusive, worldwide licensing and sales agreement that was explicitly transferred to us by Atari who in turn acquired it from Accolade that has Paul Reiche's signature along with a signed distribution agreement between Atari and GOG for the DOS Accolade Star Control games.
“The tone of their blog posts is similar to the kind of correspondence they had with us since the announcement of their Ur-Quan Masters successor, vague, full of demands and without any documentation.
“With all due respect to Paul and Fred, they really should talk to competent legal counsel instead of making blog posts.”