Former Aeon Must Die developers claim legal dispute unresolved, but publisher says accusations were unconfirmed
Focus Home Interactive maintains that it and Limestone Games co-own the IP, denies claims of crunch
The dispute between Aeon Must Die developer Limestone Games and a group of former employees appears to be ongoing, despite publisher Focus Home Interactive revealing the game is due for release this year.
The conflict was brought back to the fore by an announcement post on the publisher's website, plus the reappearance of its reveal trailer on the company's YouTube channel, stating the indie action game would launch on PS4, Xbox One, PC and Switch by the end of 2021.
The team at Mishura Games, the new studio founded by a group of former Limestone developers, stated via Twitter they were "confused and baffled" by the announcement as they claim "no legal matters pertaining to the situation were solved and even more arose in the aftermath."
The studio went on to claim that IP ownership is still in dispute, that the trademark for the game does not exist, that Focus Home Interactive did not investigate the situation as it suggested it would last year, and that work for both the trailer and many in-game animations remains unpaid.
Focus Home Interactive has told GamesIndustry.biz in a statement that it carried out a social and legal audit with two independent law firms: one international, one based in Limestone and Mishura's home market of Estonia.
"[This] did not confirm any of the accusations leveled against the management of Limestone," the publisher told us.
"In addition, the Estonian branch of the International Association of Video Game Developers (IGDA) conducted an independent investigation on the basis of all available information, which also did not confirm the charges against management of Limestone, and calls into question their basis."
GamesIndustry.biz has reached out to IGDA Estonia for confirmation.
The dispute began last year around the showing of a trailer for Aeon Must Die during a PlayStation showcase.
The group of former developers claimed they had been forced to leave due to "unbearable work conditions with endless crunch, harassment, abuse, corruption, and manipulation."
It also claimed Limestone Games and the Aeon Must Die IP was stolen by the company's co-founder Aleksei Nehoroshkin, and that the group requested support from Focus when they handed in their resignation.
Focus Home Interactive tells us this is when work on the audit began.
The publisher also said the IP has been co-owned by Focus and Limestone since the partnership was first signed in early 2019, adding: "No party, legal, or natural person could appropriate, steal or exploit the IP by its own will."
"In addition, all Limestone employees, Focus employees, as well as their service providers have duly transferred all necessary rights such as every assets created for the game belong [sic] to the owners of the IP -- a very common case in the industry."
On the accusations of crunch, Focus said that it would "under no circumstances... push for crunch," adding that it agreed with Limestone to extend development time for the game -- originally due for release in early 2020 -- and increased the budget.
GamesIndustry.biz reached out to Mishura Games, which maintains its claim that the matter remains unresolved.
In a document the studio shared with us, it details ongoing efforts to reach an agreement with both Focus and Limestone, but claims not to have heard from the publisher since August 2020 or from its former employers since around May this year.
Mishura also claims an inquiry made by the Estonian Labor Committee ruled that Limestone Games' own accusations against its former staff were unfounded.
The document details several accusations between the two groups that goes beyond the original allegations, with other claims including slander and unpaid debts.
Speaking to our sister site Eurogamer, Nehoroshkin claims he still owns 17% of Limestone Games.