This week it was revealed that there was an ongoing battle between Trendy Entertainment, creators of Dungeon Defenders, and one of its former employees, Jeremy Stieglitz. An issue has arisen between the terms of Stieglitz’s contract and any involvement that he may or may not have with Studio Wildcard, developers of ARK: Survival Evolved. Stieglitz left Trendy back in 2014 but Trendy claims that he has broken various parts of his non-compete and non-interference agreements. Kotaku was the first to report on this case but we have done all our own research into the court documents and responses.
Trendy Entertainment has filed an injunction against Stieglitz and Wildcard alleging that as well as violating contractual agreement the involvement that Stieglitz has had with Wildcard has had “a devastating impact on Trendy’s business.” On top of Trendy’s claim of breaking the non-compete and non-interference agreement they are also alleging that Stieglitz is the reason why Instinct Games, who helped them with Dungeon Defenders, is no longer working with Trendy but instead working with Studio Wildcard. If these claims are found to be true then this injunction could lead to the halting of development of ARK: Survival Evolved until the lawsuit has been settles.
The story between Trendy and Stieglitz doesn’t just start here though, it began back when Stieglitz was working on Dungeon Defenders 1.5 in 2014. In a story from Kotaku published in 2014, Jason Schreier detailed the working conditions of Trendy Entertainment, where Stieglitz was the then President. In these reports from those with connection to Trendy there seemed to be issues between Stieglitz and the employees. Shortly after this article was published Stieglitz was moved to a different project and gained the new position of President of NomNom Games, makers of Monster Madness.
On the 4th of April 2014 Stieglitz emailed members of Insight stating that since the restructure he hasn’t felt comfortable working with some employees and that he was planning on leaving depending on the outcomes of situations. The options he gave were firing those employees, staying for the completion of the game to get a reduced non-compete and the ability to work as a consultant, or that he would leave immediately while remaining available to the company as a consultant. Of these choices a modified second option was picked meaning Stieglitz would leave Trendy after two months, his non-compete period was reduced from three years to one but that his non-interference was increased from three years to an indefinite period of time. Stieglitz’s non-compete means that until one year after the termination of his contract he shouldn’t be working on any game software, and his non-interference means that he is not allowed to poach any members of the Trendy team for an indefinite period of time.
After this agreement though Stieglitz is alleged to have spoken to Trendy employees about moving on to a different venture. On August 18th, 2014 a letter was sent to Stieglitz letting him know that they are aware of the conversations he has been having with employees and after expressing disappointment tells Stieglitz that if he does not stop at once that he will “enforce all rights necessary.”
Jesse Rapczak, co-founder at Studio Wildcard had the following to say on Stieglitz’s involvement in the creation of ARK:
Jeremy [Stieglitz] and I have worked together for a long time, I went to college with him. He has consulted on the game a little bit. He’s joining us, if not already, then soon. We don’t have a title of lead developer, though, because of the time of game this is. We are kind of flat with our structure. The team itself makes a lot of decisions about the game in concert with the community.
Rapczak isn’t the only connection that Stieglitz has with Studio Wildcard though, as his wife, Susan Stieglitz, is the other co-founder of Studio Wildcard.
Since the injunction was filed by Trendy Entertainment Studio Wildcard has responded with a motion to dismiss all claims, if that doesn’t happen then there is an alternate motion to strike much of the text and get a more definitive claim. In their document they bring up points such as vague and ambiguous wording, a failure to state a cause of action, and that the allegations are “Improper, immaterial, impertinent, and scandalous.” The response also goes on to point out various points in the injunction claim that included disparaging claims stating:
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.”
Both companies have requested information out of the other in an effort to bolster their own cases. There is expedited discovery ongoing in the case, and while the two sides are often arguing over what counts as allowable for discovery, video dispositions on several pertinent figures to the case has begun and will continue next week. It’s particularly worth noting that while Trendy has presented a lot of scenarios and hearsay on what happened between them and Stieglitz, they have still yet to present any actual evidence.
At the moment no more light has been shed on the situation. We have reached out to Trendy Entertainment and Studio Wildcard for a greater understanding of the situation and while Trendy has told us they are not making any comments at this time, we have yet to hear back from Studio Wildcard. The current court date for the injunction is set for the 27th of April but Studio Wildcard has since filed an objection to move the hearing date, whether that objection goes through will be decided late March. If Trendy’s injunction passes then development on ARK: Survival Evolved will halt indefinitely.
If you wish to read Kotaku’s original article then you can here or if you wish to view the legal documents yourself then you can go to the official Clerk of Circuit Court website and enter in the case id #94075840.
What do you think of the situation? What do you expect the outcome to be? Let us know in the comments below.