December 14, 2017 // 11:39 a.m.
Financially troubled game studio Crytek has filed suit against stuffed-pocket developer Cloud Imperium Games and Roberts Space Industries over the crowdfunded and long-delayed sci-fi epic Star Citizen, alleging breach of contract over the game's use of the CryEngine game engine.
Announced back in 2012 by gaming veteran Chris Roberts, best known for the Wing Commander space opera franchise and its spiritual successor Freelancer, Star Citizen's crowdfunding campaign broke all the records. After raising $2.1 million on the Kickstarter platform and a further $2 million through its own site, Roberts' twin companies - Cloud Imperium Games and Roberts Space Industries - continued to pull in funding: $14 million, then $35 million, $50 million, and since introducing the ability to buy in-game ships and land the total funds raised sits at a ridiculous $173,529,412 - yet despite the release of various alpha builds, feature creep has hit hard with the game sailing past its original November 2014 launch date.
While some backers have been antsy about an apparent lack of progress towards actually finishing the title, rather than adding yet another shiny new half-finished feature or another in-unfinished-game commodity on which fans can spend real-world money, Crytek's concerns are rather more business-oriented. In a lawsuit first spotted by Polygon the company has alleged that Roberts' companies are in breach of contract by removing the logo of Crytek's CryEngine, the game engine on which the title is based, from the startup sequence and refusing to disclose modifications made to said engine in support of the game's planned massively multiplayer experience. The company also argues that its agreement with Roberts' companies covers the use of CryEngine in a single game, as per the original Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign pitch, and not the two games - the multiplayer Star Citizen and the now-distinct Squadron 42, a standalone title being built from what was originally to be Star Citizen's single-player mode - the company is planning to release. If that weren't enough, Crytek claims to have evidence that Roberts' companies shared confidential CryEngine technology with third parties, both as part of its 'Bugsmashers' public development diaries and during its partnership with Faceware Technologies to put webcam-powered live face mapping into the game - both breaches of copyright, the company argues.
For Crytek, the demand for damages and an injunction that could see Roberts forced to pay additional licensing fees if the game were to ever launch could be seen as a lifeline: The company has been in financial trouble for a number of years, culminating in the closure of the bulk of its studios in late 2016. A slice of Roberts' near-$180 million pie would be a major shot in the arm.
Roberts' companies, naturally, disagree with Crytek's claims. 'We are aware of the Crytek complaint having been filed in the US District Court,' a spokesperson told Polygon. 'CIG hasn’t used the CryEngine for quite some time since we switched to Amazon’s Lumberyard. This is a meritless lawsuit that we will defend vigorously against, including recovering from Crytek any costs incurred in this matter.'
While it's true that the game moved from CryEngine to Lumberyard in just one of a series of shifts that pushed the game's release date back still further, though that too is mentioned in the suit as a cause for concern given the agreement that Roberts' game would launch with CryEngine proper under the hood, that the game 'hasn't used the CryEngine for some time' is a little trickier: Launched in February 2016, the free Lumberyard engine is based on CryEngine and includes Crytek code, while it may be up to Cloud Imperium Games to prove in court that none of the work it carried out while on CryEngine proper still exists in the Lumberyard version of the game.
Neither Crytek nor Amazon have commented publicly on the case.