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Over the last year or so Studio Wildcard, developers of the Steam hit ARK: Survival Evolved, has been part of a perpetual feud over the integrity of their dinosaur survival title. Studio Wildcard was taken to court by a rival company known as Trendy Entertainment, over a breach in contract by a former Trendy employee turned Wildcard co-founder named Jeremy Stieglitz.

According to news site Kotakuthings seem to have calmed down since an agreement was settled upon last April, 2016. However, recent information in the form of published legal documents has now provided us insight into both the lawsuit terms of agreement and a mysterious company merger. It seems ARK: Survival Evolved almost fell in on itself.

Jeremy Stieglitz

Jeremy Stieglitz is Lead Designer, Lead Programmer & Co-Creative Director of ARK: Survival Evolved, co-founder of Studio Wildcard and creator of Dungeon Defenders 1. Before establishing Studio Wildcard, Jeremy Stieglitz worked as both Creative Director and Game Designer for Trendy Entertainment; the company behind the Dungeon Defenders series.

Stieglitz resigned from his position in 2014 due to “creative disagreements” with other employees. However, months prior to his resignation “Trendy employees reached out to Kotaku to complain about the working conditions at their studio. They said they were forced to work excessive overtime, to the tune of seven days a week, and they claimed they were too scared to complain. They were worried about retribution from their creative director, Stieglitz. In June 2013, Kotaku published an article about these claims.”

Trendy Entertainment took action immediately, moving Stieglitz off the team he had been leading. In a letter later that year, addressed to his employer, Stieglitz suggested that Trendy either fire several of their staff (whose names he listed) or find a way for him to leave the company quickly and quietly. Stieglitz resigned.

As part of his resignation he asked if Trendy could lift the non-compete agreement he had signed as part of his original contract, which prohibits him from engaging in “competitive activities” for three years after the termination of his employment. With persuasion and luck, Stieglitz managed to reduce the non-compete agreement from three years to one, making it valid till August 2015.

Studio Wildcard and Their Lawsuit

But only days after his withdrawal, Stieglitz breached his contract. He approached a handful of Trendy employees in an attempt to poach them for a new project. In October 2014, Studio Wildcard was formed, with Stieglitz taking the backseat and electing Jesse Rapczak as manager. In doing so, he was not only in violation of the non-compete agreement, but also the non-interference act as well.

In June 2015 ARK: Survival Evolved was released on Steam, selling millions of copies and taking the site by storm. In the weeks following the release, rumours spread of Stieglitz’s involvement in the project, and in July he received his final warning from the lawyers at Trendy Entertainment.

Flying through the charts.

Skip forward to December 18th 2015. An official lawsuit was created against Stieglitz and Studio Wildcard for his violation of the non-compete agreement. In March, Insight Venture Management, owners of Trendy Entertainment, joined the lawsuit; and finally on April 13, 2016, an out-of-court agreement was reached. According to a Reddit post, Studio Wildcard ended up paying a sum of $40 million to resolve the lawsuits against Stieglitz. Even with the popularity of ARK, this amount would have been catastrophic for a small time company like Studio Wildcard. So how did they manage to pay it?

China to the Rescue

Snail Games is an offshoot of the enormous Chinese game company Suzhou Snail Digital Technology. Its president, Jim S. Tsai, founded another small offshoot company called “Snail Ark Inc” in September 2015, whilst the lawsuit against Studio Wildcard raged on. Three months after its birth Snail ARK Inc integrated into Studio Wildcard, appointing three new managers in charge of Wildcard on the same day. It seems that this overnight merger meant Studio Wildcard were thrown a lifeline at the cost of their company’s management.

With their newly appointed “partner” Studio Wildcard were able to pay the $40 million and were saved from a possible shut down of their title, ARK: Survival Evolved.

ARK Park & Dark and Light

So it seems that Studio Wildcard was saved from imminent disaster. But at what cost? The company now has two managers and the former vice president of Snail Games registered as its superiors. How will this affect the future of ARK: Survival Evolved and Studio Wildcard?

Six months after the merger, Snail Games announced the production of their new title, Dark and Light. A fantasy survival MMO that coincidentally resembles ARK: Survival Evolved in it’s content, features and art style. Snail Games are also in the process of developing an VR ARK spin-off called ARK Park.

Although both the lawsuit and merger documents have been released to the public, Studio Wildcard and Snail Games have yet to comment. They still claim that it is merely “cooperation” between the two companies; so it seems Wildcard is unlikely to come forward and talk about who is actually running the show.

All we can say is thank goodness Snail Games stepped in to put out the fire set by Stieglitz. It looks like ARK still stands a chance.

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