A lawsuit filed late last year by publisher Ragnarok Games against former developer Human Head Studios has been recently amended to include Roundhouse Games, Bethesda Softworks, and ZeniMax Media.
The suit was filed shortly after Human Head shut their doors, only a day after Rune II was released. Ragnarok claimed in the original filing that Human Head failed to deliver the "bug-free, cooperative multiplayer, fully localized and tested game" the development contract stipulated after Ragnarok had paid out some $3.5 million USD in milestone payments.
Two weeks after the shutdown, the entire studio seemed to have been reopened as Roundhouse Games, a subsidiary studio fully owned by Bethesda. Raganarok also claims that they were informed of the shutdown only five days before Rune II was launched on the Epic Games Store, despite regular conference calls and meetings between Ragnarok and Human Head regarding post-launch strategies.
The unusually short window between Human Head's closure and their reappearance as Roundhouse Games apparently motivated Raganarok to dig further. The amended suit claims that ZeniMax (as Bethesda's then-parent company) conspired with Human Head during the summer of 2019, stating ZeniMax formed Roundhouse two weeks before the Rune II launch and took over the developer's leases along with their computer systems, which contained source code and other materials for Rune II and another project, Oblivion Song (based off the Robert Kirkman comic series of the same name).
"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 II. This enabled Bethesda and ZeniMax to see for themselves the threat that Rune II posed to their hit franchise, Skyrim/Elder Scrolls," the suit reads in part. "ZeniMax and Bethesda knowingly and intentionally caused Human Head to breach its obligations with respect to Oblivion Song and Rune II, and at the active instructions of ZeniMax, Human Head timed the unveiling of its plan to cause maximum damage".
Ragnarok goes on to accuse Roundhouse Games of delivering source code and assets for Rune II which were unusable after refusing to turn over those materials for an extended period. "Indeed, it appears as if Defendants with malicious intent deliberately organized the assets in such a way as to ensure they were as indecipherable and unusable as possible," Ragnarok wrote.
The publisher is seeking compensatory and punitive damages of no less than $100 million USD. We've reached out to Bethesda and Microsoft for comment and we'll update this story with their response.
Food For Thought
While Microsoft was not specifically listed as a defendant in this case, it nevertheless raises questions about whether or not the suit came up during the due diligence portion of the acquisition process. It also raises questions about the abruptness of that acquisition, one which is still causing aftershocks in the industry. ZeniMax Media almost certainly didn't sell out to Microsoft just for a bit of cover in the courtroom, but one has to wonder if Phil Spencer and the larger Microsoft management team was fully aware of what was going on.