May 16, 2022

Bethesda Facing $100m Suit for Sabotaging Rune 2

Rune 2

Sony take note. Acquisitions come with both benefits, and pitfalls. In taking control ZeniMax Media, Microsoft got its mitts on the incredible, innumerable IP found in the sprawling toy-box of this inimitable publisher. This of course includes Bethesda Softworks. Once beloved creator of the popular Fallout series, but crucially the sculptors of the incredible Elder Scrolls Universe. Sounds pretty good right? Well, following an amendment to a suit filed by Ragnarok Games, the $7.5b price tag might not tell the whole picture.

Ok, so it’s not the most straightforward story, so buckle in. Rune 2 is a Viking action-RGP developed by the now defunct Human Head Studios. It was published by the claimant, Ragnarok Games. The game came out on the Epic Store on November 12th, 2019. Bizarrely, this was exactly 1 day before Human Head publicly announced they were closing shop. Then, on the very same day, the developed announced it would be re-opening it’s doors. This time as Roundhouse Studios, owned in its entirety by Bethesda.

The Plot Thickens

It seems that the Rune 2 publisher had no idea this was afoot. It released a statement claiming “we found out about this news when you did.” So far, so business as usual. Bad luck for Ragnarok, right?. But it seems that events took a more nefarious turn here on in. On the 4th of December 2019, Ragnarok posted a message on the Rune 2 webpage. This accusing now Roundhouse Studios of withholding, among other things the game’s source code, effectively inhibiting any further development on Rune 2.

This is inevitably what led to the publisher pursuing legal action, claiming the studio became “uncommunicative and unavailable” two weeks prior to Rune 2’s launch. Additionally it claims that November 7, just three days before the scheduled release, Human Head’s then-COO Ben Gokey told Ragnarok that the studio was closing but omitted any information pertaining to the presumably done deal with Bethesda.

A Viking looks broodingly over a misty skyline in the Elder Scrolls…oh wait no it’s Rune 2

In an interview with PC Gamer back in June 2020, executive producer at Ragnarok Matt Candler said,

“We could’ve transitioned the game if they weren’t able to participate anymore, we could’ve transitioned naturally—here’s the source code, we’ll help you find somebody. But they didn’t do that. They actually did everything they could to prevent us from supporting the product.”

Matt Candler, executive producer at Ragnarok

Bethesda Pulls a Sneaky

The lawsuit has now been amended to include both Bethesda Softworks and parent company ZeniMax. According to Ragnarok’s updated complaint, Bethesda were behind the whole operation, puppet masters in a play to undermine Rune 2 entirely, and protect the individuality of their unquestionably similar IP. In the words of the amendment,

“In an act of utter bad faith and contractual breach of confidentiality requirements, Human Head secretly provided Bethesda and Zenimax with ‘keys’ that permitted it to play a confidential, pre-release version of Rune 2. This enabled Bethesda and Zenimax to see for themselves the threat that Rune 2 posed to their hit franchise, Skyrim/Elder Scrolls. Plaintiffs were never informed of this betrayal,”

Another entrancing still from either Rune 2 or Skyrim, we forget which

The claim goes on to accuse ZeniMax of orchestrating the whole operation. This included the scheduled foreclosure of Human Head Studios and the pursuant rebirth of Roundhouse. That, on the day of release ZeniMax sent the Rune 2 project lead, Christopher Rhinehart, on a two day business trip to Texas, and that they themselves constructed the press-release following the studios closure and the release of Rune 2.

The claim of course implies that ZeniMax constructed this elaborate take over to protect one of their greatest assets, the Elder Scrolls Series. One early review of Rune 2 described it as ‘Skyrim on steroids‘,” the suit says. “The hit videogame Skyrim is part of Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls franchise and was developed and published by Bethesda and its affiliates. This review signalled to Bethesda and ZeniMax that one of their biggest cash cows was under threat.”

Welcome to Microsoft. Now meet your legal team…

Despite the added plaintiffs and accusatory updates, the terms of the claim remain broadly the same. Ragnarok’s lawsuit demands the return of the game property, restitution of financing for the development they supported, and a minimum of $100 million in compensation. Quite the golden handshake for recent acquirer Microsoft.

Fortunately, Rune 2’s development has continued despite the furore. Under new management, developer Studio 369 created by the disgruntled publisher earlier in 2020. Rune2: Decapitation Edition boasts an updated combat system and a host of new content and mechanics is set to launch on Steam on November 13th. We have a sneaking suspicion the name just might have been a not-so subtle nod to the untimely severance from their prior studio. That, or a literal depiction of what might happen should any prior employees show up at Ragnarok HQ.

Source; PC Gamer


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