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Report: Legal battle casts a shadow over one of PC gaming's most popular titles

Court to decide if a game designer broke his contract in order to create a multimillion-dollar hit

Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Trendy Entertainment, makers of Dungeon Defenders, alleged in a lawsuit against Ark: Survival Evolved developer Studio Wildcard that former Trendy employee Jeremy Stieglitz committed a breach of contract by working on Ark after leaving Trendy but before he was legally allowed to do so, according to a report from Kotaku.

Kotaku, which has been covering Stieglitz and Trendy long before Ark was released, claims to have had a role in pushing the game designer out of his previous employer with an investigation into reports of "dictatorial" and sexist behavior from Stieglitz. However, on his way out of the company Stieglitz was bound by a noncompete clause. It's during this noncompete period, Trendy alleges, that Stieglitz had a deep personal involvement in the creation of Ark.

Kotaku goes so far as to claim it was tipped by sources about Stieglitz's involvement in the game nearly a year ago.

"One anonymous tipster claimed in an e-mail that Stieglitz was Ark’s lead designer," writes Kotaku's Jason Schreier. "Not long afterwards, a source who had worked with Stieglitz told me they’d heard the same thing, and that the game showed signs of Stieglitz’s handiwork. When I reached out to Wildcard in August of last year, months before Trendy’s lawsuit, the studio’s CEO Doug Kennedy brushed me off. I’d asked him if Stieglitz was involved with the game, but he wouldn’t answer. (Stieglitz has not returned requests for comment.)"

Lawyers involved in the case have recently deposed Susan Stieglitz, wife of Jeremy Stieglitz, who appears on the registration forms for Studio Wildcard under her maiden name, Susan Browning.

Polygon has reached out to both companies for comment.

Ark: Survival Evolved recently launched on consoles through the Xbox One early access program. Steam Spy reports that the title is owned by nearly 3 million Steam users, and Steam Charts has listed the game among the top 10 most-played PC titles essentially since its debut on Steam Early Access.

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