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Friends' deception, not strippers, sank Ant Simulator, developer says (update)

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Both sides of a failed partnership accuse the other of bad faith

An independent game that captured a lot of attention back in 2014 is likely dead after a falling-out between the developer building it and the business partners managing the fledgling studio.

Eric Tereshinski, 25, said farewell to Ant Simulator and to ETeeski, the venture he cofounded with two childhood friends, in a YouTube message that accused them of misusing development funding. In an interview with Polygon, Tereshinski also charged that ETeeski's business manager pressured him into selling an early-access beta of the game, and was deceptive about efforts to get a PlayStation 4 software development kit.

"It's not a problem of being out of money," Tereshinski told Polygon, though other reports have fixated on his allegation that partners Tyler Monce and Devon Staley "secretly spent the overwhelming majority of both our Kickstarter money and the Ant Simulator investment money on liquor ... and even strippers."

If those two did misuse ETeeski's funding, Tereshinski said the most that could have been lost was in the low thousands. ETeeski was begun with seed money from a Kickstarter that raised $4,459, and that was for Tereshinski to produce a series of YouTube tutorials on game development.

Ant Simulator had been a 48-hour game jam idea that rose out of a video promoting the video series, and when it drew a lot of attention in 2014, Tereshinski had to divide his efforts between delivering the tutorial videos and now building out a full game.

ETeeski took a small private investment from another friend, and opened a donation portal on the studio's website that accepted contributions toward Ant Simulator's development. But, Tereshinski says, "I think seven people preordered it."

An unusual indie game is caught up in a falling out among childhood friends

More troubling to Tereshinski is the loss of about 10,000 hours worth of development, all of it uncompensated. Tereshinski supported himself off savings and a part-time job as he worked on Ant Simulator, with contractors lending support on some portions of development.

Ant Simulator is owned by ETeeski, not Tereshinski, and as such, that work is on ice unless his former partners relinquish it.

Tereshinski said his decision to leave the studio goes back to October, and that since then he has been in discussions about getting Ant Simulator back, but these seem at an impasse. Whatever the case, Monce and Staley have no development experience, so unless they hire someone to finish Ant Simulator or give it back to Tereshinski, the game is gone.

Polygon reached out to Monce and Staley but did not receive a reply to Tereshinski's allegations as of publication time. This story will be updated with any reply received later. Update: The two gave an interview Monday evening to Game Informer. See our update at bottom.

Tereshinski accused Staley specifically of being deceptive about his efforts as ETeeski's director of operations. After a trip to Game Developers Conference 2015 turned up a promising lead with Sony, Tereshinksi says Monce did not follow through on plans to submit the game to the console maker in order to receive a software development kit. Tereshinski said Staley even lied about conversations with Sony, saying the company wanted to see more polish on the game and using that to hustle Tereshinski's work.

He said Monce and Staley also overspent on setting up an office in the basement of Staley's mother's home. The three had worked out of their homes in the 18 or so months ETeeski had been active. Tereshinski said that Staley also pressured him into the early-access release, saying the firm needed to show sales in order to keep its status as a limited liability corporation, for tax-filing purposes.

Tereshinski suggested in the video he would try to find ways to refund money to the few who did back Ant Simulator. But he's through with his two former friends, whom he has known since middle school.

"The problem is these guys clearly demonstrated to me I should have no part of them" Tereshinski said. "The clearest thing was I should get as far from these guys as possible."

Update: Monce and Staley responded to Game Informer yesterday evening to categorically deny Tereshinski's allegations and, in turn, accuse him of bad faith dealings as well.

Monce alleged that in late fall, Tereshinski "took control of everything" at the studio, including the company's bank accounts, and began closing them down or mothballing them. Monce accused Tereshinski of "want[ing] to take it all for himself and cut us out of it," timing his actions right after Ant Simulator grew in popularity. Monce also alleged Tereshinski transfered studio funds to his personal account.

As for Tereshinski's allegation about Sony and the software development kit, Monce said the game was unready to be shown and that Tereshinski failed to deliver a working demo suitable enough to impress their Sony contact.

Game Informer has more; Monce and Staley say they are considering legal action against Tereshinski.

You can listen to this story — and many more — in the episode of Polygon's daily news podcast, Minimap, below.