Saber Interactive files defamation claim, amid Spintires legal dispute
Years later, rights to the Steam hit remain stuck in the mud.
The rights to Steam hit Spintires - as well as the fate of millions of dollars in revenue for spin-off sequels Mudrunner and Snowrunner - are the focus of several major legal claims between Saber Interactive and the game's original publisher Oovee, Eurogamer can reveal.
The increasingly bitter fight between the two companies escalated significantly last week with the issuing of a press release by a legal firm associated with Oovee containing numerous claims directed at Saber, and the brief return of Spintires to Steam despite its previous delisting in the wake of another legal challenge.
Saber has subsequently filed a defamation claim in relation to Oovee's allegations, Eurogamer can also reveal, while Spintires' Steam page is now back offline pending various DMCA challenges.
It's been eight years since indie off-road driving sim Spintires originally rolled out on Steam. A rough-around-the-edges technical showcase, it was the pet project and brainchild of Pavel Zagrebelnyy, a talented Russian coder who worked at Saber, and who still works there to this day. During the making of Spintires, it was Pavel who entered into an agreement with Oovee, a company that wanted to start game publishing based in Norfolk, UK.
Spintires was a breakout success that netted Oovee millions in sales, though questions were subsequently raised around how much Pavel had been paid. Saber, meanwhile, worked on console versions of the game and, with Pavel's help, launched two well-received sequels - Mudrunner and Snowrunner - which helped grow the series' already-dedicated fanbase.
Some of this was discussed in Eurogamer's previous investigation into Spintires' background, which detailed the fractious relationship between Oovee and Pavel back in 2016. At the time, there were complaints from both sides which variously alleged a lack of pay and progress made on overdue work. For the sake of the game, and seemingly for the sake of everyone's sanity, the two sides appeared to make up and get on with things for some time - until 2018, when everything began to fall apart once more.
Since then, the key complaint between the two companies appears to revolve around an August 2016 agreement in which the rights to Spintires were settled as being owned by Oovee, with Saber able to make "improvements and enhancements" under licence. Speaking to Eurogamer, Oovee listed those improvements and enhancements as including the game's two full sequels, Mudrunner and Snowrunner, which Saber subsequently developed and released and which have now sold several million copies.
Because of that agreement, Oovee says it is now owed 25 percent of the royalties from both games - worth in the tens of millions of dollars. Saber, meanwhile, has claimed this agreement does not change the fact that Spintires was originally developed by Pavel, a Saber employee, using Saber's own code.
But the legal battles between the companies go much further, to disputes over which company owns the rights to individual Russian tractor designs included in the game, which company owns the Spintires theme music and which company owns all manner of trademarks for Spintires and various potential related spin-offs. And there still appears to be a question mark surrounding what Pavel was paid. Speaking to Eurogamer, Saber suggested the coder had only received under half of what he, Spintires' sole creator, was originally owed.
Of the four main employees at Oovee in 2016, who I spoke to for Eurogamer's previous report, only founder Zane Saxton remains. When approached for an interview last week, I spoke with the company's new CEO Devin Milsom, a close friend of Saxton. There was no mention made of the details surrounding his former associates' departures.
"We've lost millions on top of spending millions from Spintires being down," Milsom told me. "Zane's had to sell his house, his cars, I've had to invest assets to keep Oovee alive."
Milson's previous enterprises include the Crypto Investors Club and the Emerging Markets Investment Club, which are now listed as dissolved. Online, Milsom has other business interests, such as a YouTube channel where he advises on where to buy and sell gold and silver bullion. He's also the author of 21 Crypto Secrets: That Turned 4 Figures Into 6 Figures In Less Than 12 Months, which is available on Amazon.
Oovee is being aided with its legal dealings by Augusta Ventures, a business that "reduces financial risk by funding claimants and disputes around the world" and is "globally networked from three major offices in London, Sydney and Toronto", according to its website. It claims to have provided £585m of capital to claimants to date, funding 252 claims - suggesting an average of £2.3m per claim - with a 66 percent success rate and an interest in taking on "David and Goliath type cases".
In the years since the launch of Spintires, Saber has indeed grown significantly. The developer of TimeShift, Inversion, and a frequent partner with Microsoft on numerous Halo projects, it has subsequently worked on dozens more titles with a wide variety of partners, including CD Projekt, Crytek, Bethesda and 2K.
In 2020 it was scooped up by the enormous Embracer Group - now also the owner of Borderlands maker Gearbox, plus publishers THQ Nordic and Koch Media - and has since used that money to begin further rapid expansion, with a flood of new development teams founded across Europe and the US, plus the acquisition of Metro developer 4A Games, pinball game maker Zen Studios, and Duke Nukem owner 3D Realms.
In the meantime, Oovee has not published another game since Spintires, and the sim remains the company's only release other than a handful of Spintires DLC.
"While it is our position to refrain from commenting on details of ongoing matters subject to dispute, we will say this press release by Oovee is nothing more than an attempt to use public opinion to force a settlement," a spokesperson for Saber told Eurogamer, regarding Oovee's statement last week.
"Nearly every line in Oovee's press statement contains a falsehood or a misrepresentation. Eurogamer wrote an insightful and informed article in 2016 regarding the matter which accurately depicted how Oovee came to deprive Pavel of his life's work. This should provide you all the evidence you need to draw conclusions on the matter."
It remains to be seen what will happen with Saber's defamation claim, filed here in the UK, or the many lawsuits being traded between the two companies around the world, or how long Oovee's legal backers will continue their funding. In the meantime, Saber's Mudrunner and Snowrunners remain on sale, while Spintires - once again - does not.