Who Controls Star Control?

There is a bit of a feud underway between Stardock Entertainment and Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III, the development team also known as Toys for Bob and apparently Dogar and Kazon (thanks Rollory). The two entities are currently arguing over the rights to sell prior games in the Star Control space action/strategy series and to make new ones. Stardock is the undisputed owner of the Star Control name, but that seems to be the only aspect of all this that is not in dispute. Last year Stardock announced plans for a new installment called Star Control: Origins. Meanwhile, a few weeks ago (almost exactly a year after Stardock's news) Ford and Reiche announced their own a new game in the series called Ghosts of the Precursors. We initially called this an unofficial sequel, and they quickly wrote to correct us that this was very much an official to Star Control II -- The Ur-Quan Masters, except that they could not use the Star Control name. This seemed a little confusing, and the new dispute helps explain why. A post on the Dogar And Kazon questions what aspects of the IP besides the name actually belong to Stardock and whether they are allowed to sell the previous games in the series. A Stardock response calls the post "disturbing and unanticipated," says Stardock does have rights to sell the older games, and denies allegations they are using characters from Star Control II. Here are the posts reflecting the conflicting viewpoints. First up are Fred and Paul:
Unfortunately there appears to be a growing legal conflict between us and Stardock. We started out confused at what Stardock said and did. We tried to be reasonable and settle the problem quietly, but now after months of debate we are flat out mad! First, a little background information on just our side of the story:

  • In 2013, Stardock bought a limited set of Atari’s assets at a bankruptcy auction -- primarily the name and trademark Star Control® and certain original aspects of Star Control III, like the space cows. It’s our opinion that Atari’s rights to publish our earlier games terminated over a decade before the auction and we contend that Stardock has zero rights to our games, including any code and other IP we created.
  • As far as we can currently tell, we have no relationship with Stardock that lets them sell the three earlier Star Control games without our permission, either bundled with their other products or separately. That permission has not been given.
  • Despite what Stardock's Brad Wardell has recently said, including in this Ars Technica article, our games’ universe has absolutely no connection, hyper-dimensional or otherwise, with Star Control®: Origins. (Note: We really don’t like other people putting our names in their diagrams without asking us first.)

Stardock now seems to think that not only can they use our aliens, ships and narrative without our permission, but thinks that we cannot make a sequel to The Ur-Quan Masters without their permission -- this is where we got really, really angry.

When we started Ghosts of the Precursors™ we were looking forward to spending our time on fun, creative work, not fighting a legal battle to protect ourselves and our work. We have nothing but respect for the talented, passionate developers working on Star Control: Origins, but we apparently have a BIG problem right now with Stardock’s management. We’ve been waiting 25 years to make Ghosts of the Precursors for our fans and we certainly won’t let this stop us. Go! Go! Go!

Here's the response from Stardock's Brad Wardell:
We are disappointed that Paul and Fred, two people we have a great deal of respect and admiration for, have chosen to imply that we are somehow preventing them from working on their new game.

Stardock has been nothing but supportive of their new project and wish them the best. I personally made the post here on StarControl.com in support of it.

With regards to their contentions:

First, as many people know, the classic Star Control games have been available for sale long before Stardock acquired the rights from Atari four years ago. For the entirety of the time we have held the rights, they have been getting paid for those sales. If they had an objection to the games being sold this is something that could and should have been addressed before we were ever involved.

Second, we have stated, repeatedly and consistently for over four years that we are not using any of the aliens from the classic series. As we have stated, our position is that, to the best of our knowledge, the classic alien IP is owned by them.

We have also discussed, at length, why it wasn't commercially viable for us to attempt to continue or retell the Ur-Quan story. 25 years is just too long of a gap. This is one of the reasons why we have been so excited about Paul and Fred's project. Their game frees us to introduce new characters and a new story into the new Star Control while allowing fans of the classic series a way to continue the classic story. This strikes us as a win-win situation.

Lastly, when we acquired Star Control from Atari in 2013, many assets were transferred to us including the various publishing agreements to the Star Control franchise. The short version is that the classic IP is messy. We understand that this makes them "really really angry" but we weren't a party to that agreement. All we can do is try to put something together that releases them from the restrictions placed on their IP that they agreed to and transfer any and all rights and responsibilities to them. We want them to make Ghosts but we don't want any liability or association with it.

Given the disturbing and unanticipated post by Paul and Fred, we are persuaded more than ever that a clear and irrefutable document that makes it clear that we are not associated or involved with their new game is needed.

We have nothing but respect and admiration for Paul and Fred and wish them well in their new project.