Earlier this month, the sandbox strategy game Myth of Empires was removed from Steam following a DMCA takedown request filed by Studio Wildcard and Snail Games, the developer and publisher of Ark: Survival Evolved. They claimed that the source code for Myth of Empires was actually based on the source for Ark, which a former Snail Games employee had stolen before leaving to found his own studio.
Angela Game, the developer of Myth of Empires, strenuously denied any wrongdoing, and predictably the matter ended up in court. On December 9, Angela Game filed a complaint against Snail Games and Studio Wildcard, again denying any wrongdoing and requesting an injunction against the DMCA takedown request—essentially, a court order that it be lifted.
The filing says evidence presented by Snail Games to bolster its claim—a preliminary analysis found hundreds of class, variable, and function names shared by both games—is incomplete and misleading, and in any event such names “are not copyrightable and are not subject to copyright control.”
The filing also denies that Myth of Empires was built on stolen source code, and says the allegations that it was, and its subsequent removal from Steam, have “caused and threatens to cause irreparable harm” to Angela Game.
Earlier this week, Snail Games and Studio Wildcard filed a detailed response saying that Angela Game “has come nowhere close to justifying any relief, in any form,” and re-alleging—in much greater detail—what it describes as the “brazen theft of Snail USA and Wildcard’s intellectual property.”
“Angela’s misconduct began in November 2018, when Yang Li Ping, an employee of Snail USA’s parent in China (Snail Game), requested and received access to Ark’s source code—for seemingly legitimate reasons,” the filing states. “But he secretly copied the source code, and a few months later, left to work at Angela.”
Yang was not alone in this endeavor, according to the suit: “Of the 82 persons whose names appear in the screen credits for Angela’s game, 60 are Snail Game ex-employees.” The filing also claims that, since the DMCA takedown request was made, Angela Game has been “frantically modifying the code” of Myth of Empires to remove evidence of copying.
Snail’s response also includes declarations from Studio Wildcard cofounder Jeremy Stieglitz, Snail Games USA CEO Jim Shun Tsai, and BattlEye CEO Bastian Suter, further detailing the process by which Snail Games and Studio Wildcard became aware of, and then analyzed, the similarities between the games. Stieglitz described the initial similarities between Myth of Empire’s executable, acquired via Steam, and that of Ark: Survival Evolved as “shocking,” and said that since its initial analysis, “We have found hundreds more such reflected header matches. Every day we spend analyzing MoE’s ‘table of contents,’ we find more such matches.”
In his statement, Tsai noted that Studio Wildcard took great pains to ensure that Ark: Survival Evolved’s source code was kept secret, presumably to imply that theft is the only way Angela Game could have acquired it.
“All employees of Wildcard, Snail USA, and Snail Games signed nondisclosure agreements promising to maintain technical secrets, like software, in confidence, and not to provide that material to third party,” Tsai said. “The source code was also stored on a server that could be accessed by only those employees who were given login credentials to that server.”
The most interesting statement, though, comes from Suter, the CEO of BattlEye Innovations, whose BattlEye anti-cheat technology sees use in such games as PUBG, Destiny 2, Rainbow Six Siege, Fortnite, and others—including Ark: Survival Evolved. Suter, who said he became aware of the issue “independently” after reading about it on PC Gamer, decided to take a quick look into it and “immediately found convincing evidence in Myth of Empires that copying of source code from Ark (or related Wildcard games) must have taken place.
“Myth of Empires’ executable contained several unique strings used by BattlEye integration code, which are also present in Ark,” Suter explained. “There are some slight changes to some of those strings, but those mostly consist of changing ‘BattlEye’ to ‘BatEye’ in almost all BattlEye references through the game.”
This is significant, because BattlEye integration code is created by the developers of individual games, not BattlEye itself, and so that code is unique for each game.
“The fact that some of the strings used by BattlEye integration code that we located in Myth of Empires are extremely unique and use the same format, capitalization, and even typos (‘recieve’ instead of ‘receive’) that were included in the BattlEye integration code for Ark left no doubt for me that the BattlEye integration code from Ark must have been copied and taken as a base for Myth of Empires,” Suter said.
Suter said his conclusion was confirmed when he revealed his findings to Stieglitz, who then shared Studio Wildcard’s own findings of identical BattlEye-related code in Myth of Empires.
Snail and Wildcard’s filing includes a multitude of other documents, including a demand that all versions of Myth of Empires’ source code and other documentation be maintained, and an offer to have an independent third party compare the Myth of Empires and Ark: Survival Evolved source code. It’s a heavily front-loaded argument: The actual point of the filing, which is available in full via Dropbox, is simply to request that Angela Game’s application for an injunction be denied, but Snail and Wildcard are putting the meat and bones of their complaint on very clear display, too.
For now, Myth of Empires remains off of Steam, but development is continuing: Angela Game said on December 21 that it’s preparing to launch an “auto-ban program” that will hopefully help reduce cheating in the game. The studio has also been struggling with “hacking attacks” on the game, and is now working on tracking down the source of the hacks.