At the beginning of the year, Star Control: Origins mysteriously vanished from Steam. It was the result of a copyright lawsuit between developers Stardock and the original makers of Star Control, Paul Reiche and Fred Ford. The latter argued that Stardock had violated their intellectual property, which they'd bought from Atari. Stardock, in response, said the suit would force them to layoff staff.
It seemed like the case would roll on for years. But remarkably, the two parties have settled in the most amicable way possible — and part of the settlement includes a clause about bees, honey, and some homemade mead.
The suit between Stardock, Ford and Reiche first began on December 8, 2017, although trouble was brewing between the two parties years beforehand. After a back and forth in late 2017 over who owned the original IP for Star Control, and discussions between the two parties, Stardock launched a beta for Star Control: Fleet Battles on Steam.
"In October of this year, history repeated itself when Stardock began selling our games on Steam and elsewhere (even bundled with theirs), again without getting our permission. This time we couldn't come to an agreement, so we asked that Stardock stop bundling and selling the games," Ford and Reiche wrote in a blog post, which has since been taken down. Shortly thereafter, the pair issued DMCA notices to Valve and CD Projekt RED, the owner-operator of GOG.
The space fighter series Star Control is at the centre of a new dispute over who owns the franchise, and what that means for the future of the series. In a recent series of posts, Star Control creators Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III have called on the publisher Stardock, which purchased some of the rights to the series from Atari back in 2013, to stop selling the games.
A counter-suit was filed by Stardock less than a week later in a Californian District Court, and the two parties lodged competing trademark claims on "Ur Quan Masters" within weeks.
By the end of March, all parties had reached a settlement, although the terms were confidential at that point. It's since been revealed by the original Star Control makers that a deal was reached after they called Stardock CEO Brad Wardell directly, whereby they ended up chatting about bees.
"So when we called Brad Wardell my first sentence was something like, 'Before I start talking about settling our legal conflict, I'd like to talk about bees.'," Reiche wrote. "The conversation about bees, honey, mead, and bee stings went on for quite a while before we moved on to the talking about the case."
He added that while they were appreciative of their lawyers, it was only when Wardell, Reiche and Ford began talking directly that any progress was made.
It's actually staggering how amicable things are, given that Stardock was openly talking about laying off staff at one point. Instead of a protracted dispute about who gets to sell what game, both parties are now helping each other out — and Reiche and Ford will continue working on their spiritual successor to the Star Control series, while Star Control: Origins is in the free and clear.
Reiche and Ford's new games will be set in the Ur-Quan Masters franchise, while Stardock's games will be named after Star Control. All sides are even helping the existing UQM team, supporting the extension of a "free perpetual right" for the Ur-Quan Masters trademark to be used in a fan remake of the original Star Control.
Plus, there's a paragraph in the settlement about bees. Literally. As part of the deal, the Stardock CEO will be giving some homemade honey to Reiche and Ford, along with tips on how not to get stung.
There is a weird paragraph in the agreement that involves bees. Seriously — no kidding. Brad Wardell is giving Fred and Paul honey from his hives and Paul is giving Brad some bottles of his homemade mead.
Brad will also be giving Paul advice in how not to be stung. The lawyers thought this was pretty dang crazy. This goes to show you can find common ground in the strangest (and most delicious) of places.
All existing suits and counter-claims have been dropped, and Stardock — or Stardock's CEO, at least — will be helping the Star Control 2 makers on the technology side. The original Star Control 1, 2 and 3 games will also be up for sale again, with royalties split equally between Stardock and the original makers.
"We are honestly very, very happy with the way everything has settled," Reiche and Ford wrote." No Dnyarri mental compulsion was needed."
It's an astonishing conclusion to a suit that has, for far longer than needed, taken some very enjoyable games out of the reach of gamers. But thanks to some bees and mead, the original Star Control games and Star Control: Origins are coming back. You can read some more about the terms of the settlement, and how it was achieved, on Ford and Reiche's website. A site that, at the very bottom, has a new line: "Star Control is a registered trademark of Stardock Systems, Inc."