The long-standing legal feud between Epic Games and Silicon Knights may finally be headed for a courtroom following a ruling that the case has sufficient merit to be taken before a jury.
Way, way back in July of 2007, Too Human developer Silicon Knights filed a lawsuit against Unreal Engine maker Epic Games. The suit alleged that Epic misrepresented the capabilities of the engine, failed to properly support it and effectively sabotaged Silicon Knights and other studios by sticking them with dated versions of the Unreal Engine 3 while holding back the latest and greatest technology for Gears of War. Because of that, Silicon Knights now wants a slice of the Gears pie, which is to say profits, as compensation.
We're still a long way from that point but a court has found some merit in Silicon Knight's claims. According to legal documents obtained by Kotaku, the court found "evidence regarding the basic nature of the parties' businesses and the relationship between them establishes that Epic had a possible motive to deceive SK into entering into the License Agreement in order to fund the development costs of its own games and delay the work of SK and other competing licensees on their video games. There is also Epic's admission in its counterclaim that it developed the [Unreal Engine 3] in conjunction with the development of its own game as part of its 'synergistic model' and not separately as it had led SK to believe."
The court also found that despite "alleged representations by Epic," it never had any employees dedicated to supporting Unreal Engine 3 licensees and instead split its programmers' duties between engine support and working on Gears of War. But internal Epic emails instructed employees that "Gears comes first" and that anything not focused on that game was of secondary importance.
Silicon Knights' case is bolstered somewhat by similar complaints from other companies. Shortly after the lawsuit was originally filed, Microsoft made similar claims that the development of Lost Odyssey was plagued by "poor support and communication issues," and the court also took note of a 2006 letter from Disney-owned Buena Vista Games, saying it "demonstrated that other [Unreal Engine] licensees expressed many of the very same frustrations that [Silicon Knights] did about representations made by Epic that were unfulfilled and perceived to be misleading."
The court dismissed some of Silicon Knights' claims but the studio nonetheless called the ruling a victory. "When Epic first went public about our case to the press, they said that our claims were without merit. Two separate federal court judges have now disagreed with Epic, and have ruled that the case does have merit," Silicon Knights President Denis Dyack said in a statement. "Silicon Knights has always wanted to have our focus be on making great games, not litigation. This ruling will allow us to have our day in court, before a jury, and to shine the light publicly on Epic's conduct. We are very confident the jury will see the truth behind Epic's actions."