Friday, March 25, 2016

Non-Compete Brings Legal Case Against Studio Wildcard

Trouble is brewing for Studio Wildcard. The developer behind the surprise Steam hit Ark:Survival Evolved, a game where you are dropped off on an island full of dinosaurs and you have to hunt, build, and tame said dinosaurs in order to survive, was sued in December of 2015 by Dungeon Defenders developer Trendy Entertainment. In the lawsuit, Trendy claims that one of their former employees, creative designer Jeremy Stieglitz, is in a breach of contract. The legal documents state that Stieglitz signed a non-compete with Trendy and a no-solicitation clause.

Trendy also argues that Wildcard was being aggressive in interfering with the contracts, have impacted Trendy's business, and is directly competing with them for players and employees.

This is the point where I point out that Dungeon Defenders is an RPG Tower Defense game while Ark: Survivial Evolved is an action-adventure RPG. I don't imagine many people would go from the toonish-world of Defenders to the gritty, rabid landscape of Ark with ease. I'm not convinced on the "direct competition" stance.

The reason this is coming to light now is that a court date has been set for April 27. Wildcard claims that Stieglitz's knowledge of their studio was being used against them in the development of Ark. Trendy argues that was not that case, and Stieglitz did not have a major role on the project.

Non-compete contracts are tricky. Most retailers, such as Wal-Mart, Target, GameStop, will have one in place to prevent you from work for their competitor while you currently work with aforementioned business. When I worked for GameStop, I had to sign one of those contracts. And I understood why: they didn't want to have me represent GameStop at other places of business, or vice-versa. But when I left, I was allowed to work wherever I pleased as long as I didn't give away any company knowledge (which is a different contract entirely).

My more recent job that I left after 3 months (worse, employer, ever), had me sign the other kind of non-compete. This was the multi-year one that can royally screw you over when seeking new work. Basically you sign away your right to every work for that business type for a set amount of time. It could be 6 months (standard minimum) or up to 5 years. If you work for a plumbing business, for example, and they have you sign this type of non-compete, it can prevent you from working for another plumbing business in your city/state for up to 5 years.

That. Sucks. A lot.

And for a company to do that is all kinds of balls. If you have studied to be a plumber, work hard, do decently, but if you quit or you're let go, then that's it. You have to wait until that contract expires before you can work for another plumbing business. Now imagine that's your only career skill. You haven't done office work before. You haven't been in a call center - you're a plumber. That's your work. And now you've had that taken away from you for the next 6 months to 5 years.

Those type of non-competes are jerk moves. Companies claim that it's to protect their trademarks and business practices from being shared with competitors. Well then...have them sign a non-disclosure agreement. Don't take away that person's only means of obtaining work. Yeash!

When it comes to video games, having this type of non-compete seems extreme. But that's up to the courts to decide.

Wildcard is asking the court to dismiss the allegations; that this is an extension of the bad blood between Stieglitz and Trendy and should not involve the Ark developer. If the lawsuit is allowed to take the next step, it's very possible that Ark will be removed from Steam and XBox Live throughout the court proceedings.

Now, Stieglitz is not the golden child in this story. He's done some crap in the past that is questionable. While at Trendy, his leadership borderlined on insane with the work demands he had on his team, and allegations of sexual harassment. A number of people at the studio complained about him and after an investigation, Stieglitz was removed. According to Wildcard he acted as a consultant for Ark, not long after leaving Trendy, and did not have direct influence on the game.

It'll be interesting to see how this plays out.

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