The original designers of Descent and Descent 2 are considering pursuing legal action against publisher Interplay for failing to pay royalties, they tell Kotaku. Descent's creators say Interplay owes them at least "tens of thousands of dollars" in royalties from sales of the two games. Because of this dispute, the online marketplace GOG.com has removed both Descents from their store, and the developers are looking to yank them from Steam as well.
In an email interview, Descent co-creator Matt Toschlog explained that he and his partner Mike Kulas still own the copyright to their first-person shooter games. Although their company Parallax doesn't own the Descent trademark — that belongs to Interplay — they should be getting royalties for sales of the games they created, Toschlog said.
"The deal that Parallax signed with Interplay in 1994 was pretty typical," Toschlog told me. "We developed the game and we own the copyright to it (except for certain elements Interplay created, such as some music and sound effects). We granted Interplay the right to publish the game, and they paid us a royalty on each copy sold."
But Interplay hasn't paid Toschlog and crew since 2007, he says. And this isn't the first time he's squabbled with the once-iconic publisher.
"Back in 2002 or so Interplay fell on hard times and stopped paying us," Toschlog said. "Subsequently we were involved in a lawsuit over that non-payment and some other issues. That lawsuit was settled in 2007 after Interplay sold the Fallout franchise and used the money to pay off their debts."
(The Fallout franchise now belongs to Bethesda, of course, although that sale came with its own massive drama involving Interplay and their vision for a Fallout MMO.)
"Since 2007, however, we have received no additional royalties from Interplay even though they have continued to sell the game," Toschlog said. "On two occasions they have given us statements showing that royalties were due but they didn't actually pay the royalties. (They're actually supposed to provide quarterly statements, but they haven't.)"
Exacerbating this drama is Toschlog's desire to make a new Descent game of his own. He said he and Kulas have tried several times over the past few years to come to a deal with Interplay over the licence, but things never quite came together. Early last year, Toschlog said they'd almost made a deal but Interplay wouldn't settle their debts.
"We made some good progress negotiating a deal, but we also made it clear to Interplay that before we signed a new agreement with them they would have to pay us all the money they owed," he said. "When Interplay failed to do so, we served them formal notification that they were in breach of our contract; this gave them 30 days to cure the breach. When they did not cure, we terminated the contract."
Toschlog and Kulas are not involved with Descent: Underground, the Kickstarted successor that's been on Steam Early Access since October. Interplay did not respond to a request for comment.