Rune 2 developer Human Head Studios is being sued by publisher Ragnarok after it abandoned the game one day after its release in order to join Bethesda.
Human Head, best known for the original 2006 version of Prey, launched its Viking-themed action-RPG Rune 2 as an Epic Games Store exclusive on 12th November. As such, it was something of a surprise when the developer announced it was closing its doors to be reborn as the Bethesda-owned Roundhouse Studios the very next day.
As you might imagine, those that purchased Rune 2 were somewhat nonplussed to discover there was no longer a studio to support the game a single day after launch. However, they evidently weren't as nonplussed as Rune 2's publisher, Ragnarok Game, which called Human Head's sudden closure to resurrect as Roundhouse "shocking news" in a message to customers, revealing it "found out about this news when you did".
Ragnarok explained that the now-defunct "Human Head had a longstanding agreement with [the publisher] to provide ongoing support for the game", but assured fans that it was "working quickly to resolve any current technical issues while we build the team that will execute the exciting planned future of Rune 2's post-launch content strategy".
Now, however, in a statement posted to the Rune 2 website, Ragnarok has claimed Human Head is yet to hand over the launch build source code and game assets for Rune 2, despite the publisher having "paid for the development of these assets and [being] the rightful owner".
As a result, it has opted to file a legal complaint against its former development partner. "This is not the step we wanted to take," the publisher wrote, "but it is necessary in order to fulfil our promises to our community."
A copy of those legal documents, which Ragnarok has shared with press, alleges that Human Head "secretly conspired to abandon Ragnarok and the Rune 2 community" and "fraudulently concealed its plans to join Bethesda". Ragnarok claims that, despite contractual obligations to support Rune 2 beyond its launch, Human Head told the publisher it would be shutting its doors and terminating all staff, five days before the game's release.
"When Raganarok [asked if it could] reach out to former Human Head employees, [COO Ben] Gokey said that 'would be a problem'", according to the lawsuit. "The problem Gokey knew (but didn't mention) was that those employees were or would soon be Bethesda employees."
Raganarok points out that Roundhouse Studios and Human Head have "the exact same business address" and the same "team of employees and principals" - something that Roundhouse's creative boss Chris Rhinehart previously confirmed to press, saying "Bethesda offered every employee of Human Head a position at the new company".
Additionally, Ragnarok alleges that development of Rune 2 was beset by "delays, errors, and mismanagement", resulting in the initially agreed 11 development milestones more than doubling to 23 in order to ready the game for launch.
Ragnarok claims that Human Head accepted approximately $3.5m USD in milestone payments, but "failed to perform its contractual obligation to deliver a bug-free, co-operative multiplayer, fully localised and tested game". It also says the developer is now deliberately withholding game code, and "refusing to transfer the property absent additional payments for work that had never been completed."
Perhaps strangest of all is Ragnarok's assertion that Human Head, at this point Roundhouse Studios, "not only continued to change the code, but even uploaded and attempted to launch an altered, unapproved Rune 2 build to the Epic Games Store Staging."
According to its lawsuit, Ragnarok is seeking compensatory damages of no less than $100 million USD, restitution of all money it paid to Human Head and its co-founders, punitive damages and legal fees, plus the return of its Rune 2 assets.