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Publisher Ragnarok has returned to the courtroom, this time with accusations of fraud and breach of contract levied at shuttered Rune 2 developer Human Head as well as at Bethesda and ZeniMax, the owners of the studio that sprung up over night after Human Head’s closure.
Last year’s sudden closure of Human Head is at the center of the lawsuit’s complaints. Human Head was suddenly shuttered last November, an announcement made a single day after Rune 2’s release and paired with news that the former Human Head staff were starting a new dev house, Roundhouse Studios, under Bethesda.
It quickly came to light that the closure and revival both blindsided Ragnarok, who had signed on to publish Rune 2 and had expected to see the game supported through post-launch updates, bug fixes, and content. Shortly after, Ragnarok (successfully) took to the legal system to get Rune 2’s source code and assets in an effort to keep Rune 2 afloat after the dev abandonment.
Now this latest legal filing takes aim at Human Head’s leadership as well as at Bethesda and parent company ZeniMax for what Ragnarok (and another former Human Head partner ESDFOS) call “fraud and the intentional sabotage of two video games.
Ragnarok alleges that Human Head and Bethesda/ZeniMax conspired for months to undermine the release of Rune 2, pointing to the conflict surrounding its source code and the fact that the game’s launch was overshadowed by the Roundhouse news as evidence of this fact. Throughout the legal complaint, Ragnarok says that Bethesda and ZeniMax nudged that effort along out of fear that Rune 2 would compete in some way with its own game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
According to the lawsuit, the staff and equipment of Human Head was acquired by ZeniMax nearly a week before the closure was announced or before Rune 2 would release. It also argues that ZeniMax played a key part in Human Head’s plans to dodge agreements with the wronged publishers behind this lawsuit, going so far as to say ZeniMax helped pen announcements and emails surrounding the shift.
“Bent on snuffing out potential competition, the conglomerate instructed its new employees to keep the merger secret and breach their contractual obligations. After the merger became public, the co-conspirators refused to turn over the games’ source code. This made a rescue of Rune 2 all but impossible. Through these actions, the co-conspirators undermined the release of Rune 2 and attempted to destroy any chance that Rune 2 or Oblivion Song might gain market share.”
Oblivion Song, the game Human Head and ESDFOS had in the works, was also left out in the cold by the studio’s closure. Ragnarok estimates that, between its and ESDFOS’s milestone payments for both projects, Human Head received payments of over $4.5 million to develop games it alleges the studio had no plans to see through to their contractual finish lines.
The publishers’ lawsuit ultimately accuses the trio of Human Head, Bethesda, and ZeniMax of breach of contract, fraudulent concealment and misrepresentation, conversion, negligent misrepresentation, unfair business practices, tortious interference with contract and with prospective economic relationship, and receipt of stolen property.
On those counts, Rangarok is seeking compensatory damages no less than $100 million (in addition to other damages) and injunctive relief prohibiting future unfair business practices and fraudulent or deceitful conduct down the line.