Star Citizen’s development process has been fraught, with marked disagreement among both developers and the gaming community over whether Cloud Imperium Games (CIG) can actually bring its incredibly ambitious product to market. One rare point of agreement among the various parties is Chris Roberts’ decision to use the Crytek engine for a space sim as complex as Star Citizen is didn’t pan out well, and the CIG team had to spend a great deal of time rewriting the game engine. Now, Crytek is suing CIG and RSI (Roberts Space Industries is the parent company of CIG) for breach of contract and unauthorized use of Crytek assets.
In its complaint, Crytek lays out several arguments. First, it alleges CIG’s decision to split Star Citizen into two separate titles, Star Citizen (multi-player) and Squadron 42 (single-player), meant Crytek was now owed a licensing fee on the second title, as the agreement as written only covered one game. Crytek informed CIG it was in breach of its own agreement in February 2016, but it’s not clear if CIG or RSI ever came to the negotiating table.
Second, Crytek alleges CIG broke the terms of its licensing agreement by removing required trademarks and copyright notices. One of the terms of the license was that Crytek branding and trademarks would be prominently displayed. At first, RSI followed these rules, but by September 24, 2016, Crytek notes Chris Roberts was referring to CryEngine as “Star Engine.” Shortly after this, Crytek trademarks and copyright notices were removed from the game.
Third, Crytek alleges that Section 2.1.2 of its Game License Agreement (GLA), CIG was explicitly forbidden to use another game engine besides CryEngine to develop Star Citizen. Star Citizen’s decision to use Lumberyard was, according to Crytek, a breach of the previous agreement.
Fourth, Crytek alleges that CIG broke its written agreement to periodically contribute all bug fixes and optimizations it developed to Crytek itself. Crytek notified CIG it was in breach of this aspect of its agreement on three separate occasions in 2015, 2016, and 2017. CIG, while claiming to be ready and willing to provide relevant optimizations and bug fixes, supposedly never did so.
Fifth, Crytek alleges CIG shared source code with third-party developers without seeking license-mandated prior approval from Crytek, or even informing Crytek it had done so. This breached multiple sections of the license agreement, including an agreement that third-party developers could be brought in to work on the project, provided Crytek acquiesced first.
Crytek has requested a jury trial in this matter and claims overall damages in excess of $ 75,000.
Does Crytek Have a Case?
I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t exactly render a verdict on this point, but if the language of the license is as clear as Crytek makes it sound, the company very well may. Our GameWorks investigations several years ago illustrated just how important source code access can be to game developers, and how carefully companies guard their code. Crytek claims to have given CIG a license fee well below the market rate in exchange for prominent trademark and logo placement, and an exclusivity agreement. We don’t know if the situation is as airtight as Crytek makes it sound, but the underlying concept seems reasonable. When Roberts announced the switch to the Lumberyard engine, he talked about it as a matter of adopting more robust netcode. That may well be true, but it doesn’t automatically mean CIG was free of its obligations to use CryEngine or that any agreement Crytek struck with Amazon would cover Cloud Imperium Games’ decision to switch to Amazon’s game engine.
In short? It’s complicated. CIG has weighed in on the topic, telling Polygon:
We are aware of the Crytek complaint having been filed in the US District Court. 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.
One thing that leaps out in that quote is the line about not using CryEngine for “quite some time.” According to Crytek, CIG’s license agreement required them to use CryEngine, and only CryEngine. If Crytek’s summary of the license requirements is accurate, CIG just admitted its in violation of a key part of the GLA.
We’re not saying that’s the case, to be clear. That’ll be for courts to decide. It’s just another interesting chapter in the development of a game that’ll make for interesting reading one day, regardless of how well Star Citizen succeeds — or doesn’t.