Star Control Creators and Copyright Owners Ask Court to Order Stardock to Stop Unlawfully Selling Their Games, and Unlawfully Using Their Creative Materials, and The Ur-Quan Masters Trademark
Widely Considered “One of the Best Computer Games Ever,” Star Control II Recently Celebrated its 25th Anniversary
SAN FRANCISCO—Computer game developers Paul Reiche and Fred Ford are defending their ownership and rights over two iconic games they designed and developed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Star Control I and Star Control II, after game publisher Stardock Systems, Inc. sued Mr. Reiche and Mr. Ford in an apparent attempt to take control of the games and profit from their popularity.
Stardock and its chief executive, Brad Wardell, initiated the lawsuit against Mr. Reiche and Mr. Ford on Dec. 8, 2017.
Today, Mr. Reiche and Mr. Ford filed a counterclaim against Stardock in U.S. District Court in Oakland to take back control of their rights to the Star Control I and Star Control II computer games.
“Star Control is a pair of games we created at the start of the computer gaming revolution,” said Mr. Reiche. “Now, largely as a labor of love, we are returning to the universe we created to update it with new adventures, characters, and worlds. Stardock seems to think not only are we not the creators of Star Control, but they claim to have the exclusive rights to sell our games and otherwise use our alien races, ships, narrative, and other creative materials without our permission. This is why we felt compelled to file our counterclaim today to stop Stardock’s theft of our games, copyrights, and the universe we created for ourselves and our fans.”
The game creators are asking the court for an injunction to stop Stardock from illegally selling their games and otherwise using their creative materials, which is infringing on their copyrights, to stop Stardock from engaging in other forms of unfair competition, and to order Stardock to pay the developers all revenues and profits the company has gained from selling the games, as well as to force Stardock and Wardell to stop using their “The Ur-Quan Masters” trademark.
Mr. Reiche and Mr. Ford created and developed the Star Control I and II games between 1988 and 1992, and they were published and sold by Accolade. The space adventure games and their unusual characters and storytelling quickly gained popularity at the time of their release. Over the years, the games have developed a cult-like status as classics and are widely considered to be among the best computer games ever made.
Computer Gaming World ranked Star Control II as the 29th best game of all time (1996), and IGN named Star Control II the 17th best game of all time (2005). A few years ago, Star Control II emerged as the consistent favorite in a crowd-sourced list of the best PC games of all time.
In 2002, after Accolade (which later became Atari) stopped selling the games and the agreement between it and Reiche and Ford expired, Reiche and Ford released an open-source version of the source code and creative material for Star Control II to the public and encouraged other developers to rework the game with updated sound and graphics. This new version of the game was called The Ur-Quan Masters, and has been available to fans ever since.
Now, Mr. Reiche and Mr. Ford plan to make a sequel to The Ur-Quan Masters, to be called Ghosts of the Precursors. But Stardock is using its lawsuit to try to block the developers from doing so, while also using Mr. Reiche’s and Mr. Ford’s ideas and past successful games for Stardock’s own profit.
Stardock claims that in 2013, it purchased items from Atari during that company’s bankruptcy sale that allegedly included the Star Control trademark registration and partial copyrights to Star Control 3, a sequel game that Mr. Reiche and Mr. Ford did not develop, and which was not as popular as their earlier Star Control games.
Stardock claims that its purchase from Atari gave the company exclusive rights to Mr. Reiche’s and Mr. Ford’s Star Control games, even though Atari did not own those rights. In fact, as both Mr. Wardell and Atari repeatedly admitted in private, Mr. Reiche and Mr. Ford own the copyrights to Star Control I and II.
Now, Stardock is asking a federal court to block Mr. Reiche and Mr. Ford from working on a new Ur-Quan Masters game.
The original Star Control I and II have been available for purchase from a publishing company called Good Old Games since 2011, pursuant to agreements made separately with Mr. Reiche and Mr. Ford and Atari.
In 2013, after Atari filed for bankruptcy and allegedly sold the Star Control trademark registration and partial copyrights to Star Control 3 to Stardock, Stardock CEO Brad Wardell approached Mr. Reiche and Mr. Ford and asked if they would license the Star Control characters, ships, and other materials they created to Stardock for use in a new Star Control game Stardock wanted to develop. He also asked them to work on the game.
Mr. Reiche and Mr. Ford declined the offer, as they had always planned to develop their own continuation of The Ur-Quan Masters game. They declined similar requests from Mr. Wardell in 2015-17.
In October 2017, Mr. Reiche and Mr. Ford learned that Stardock was selling the Classic Star Control Games through Steam, a digital distribution platform, and that it was using various elements from the games in Stardock’s new Star Control game without permission and in violation of the developers’ copyrights. Stardock has refused to stop selling the games and collecting revenues from the sales.
Mr. Reiche and Mr. Ford are now asking the federal court to stop Stardock’s conduct, and to recover Stardock’s revenues and profits from the sale of the developers’ games, as well as the developers’ costs and attorneys’ fees, among other things.