An independent developer is accusing Russia's largest weapons manufacturer of stealing the design for a shotgun from its upcoming game -- and then licensing that design to another game developer.
An investigation by IGN reveals that Ward B -- a studio made of former Call of Duty, Halo and Overwatch developers -- was approached by Maxim Kuzin, a contractor for Kalashnikov Concern (better known as Kalashnikov), regarding the design of the EPM28 Mastodon shotgun from its upcoming first-person shooter Oceanic.
Ward B has been sharing images of its weapons designs, including individual components, via social media to generate interest in the game and attract potential investors.
In early 2020, Kuzin reached out to the studio's CEO, Marcellino Sauceda, asking for permission to turn the Mastodon into a real-life shotgun -- or, more specifically, a gun kit that would change the look of its MP-155 shotgun.
The design would potentially be licensed for airsoft and toy versions of the weapon, and Ward B would give the in-game gun Kalashnikov's branding.
Kuzin confirmed the offer to IGN, but said the discussions with Ward B were "preliminary." Sauceda claims the team was happy with the idea and asked for contracts to formalise the deal, but the contracts ever arrived.
In August 2020, Kalashnikov announced the MP-155 Ultima, a new version of the shotgun with a different external chassis that, according to the description on the weapons firm's Facebook post, is inspired by video game gun designs.
Sauceda claims it is based directly on the Mastodon. While the overall appearance of the guns are somewhat different, the Ward B team point to various specific design elements around the handguard, receiver and other parts of the Ultima that are highly similar. These elements serve no functional purpose but were aesthetic choices when creating the look of Oceanic's weapons.
The CEO claims he reached out to Kuzin but received no reply.
Kuzin tells IGN that his own investigation into Ward B "found that the company does not have enough of its own funds to complete the development, there are no investors, [and] the release date is unknown."
He suggests it was too risky for Kalashnikov to work with the company, which is why the discussions never went further, and that the Ultima was designed "from scratch" by "another designer from Russia."
Kuzin also claimed Ward B had not paid the concept artist who designed the Mastodon, meaning there was no clear ownership of the design, which would have complicated licensing negotiations.
Ward B reports the artist was on a deferred payment plan from the beginning and has since been fully paid. The studio also adds that the renders for the weapon all had Oceanic branding, and IGN has even seen messages between Kuzin and the artist, in which the former attempted to buy the design for the Mastodon.
Ward B reportedly issued a cease-and-desist to Kalashnikov around September 2020, but told IGN it received no reply. It later issued DMCA takedowns against online posts for the MP-155 Ultima. Kalashnikov's intellectual property department requested these be removed and asked for proof the design had been used illegally.
Ward B said it withdrew the takedown requests and sent its proof, but again received no reply.
Kalashnikov is currently taking pre-orders for the Ultima, and also appears to have licensed the weapon's design to Battlestate Games for use in its popular multiplayer game Escape From Tarkov.
Neither Ward B nor IGN received a response from Battlestate Games when queried about this.
Ward B has since given up on the idea of legal action, with Sauceda telling IGN: "We came to the point of realisation that, due to Kalashnikov Concern being out of the country, filing any official legal action would require us to be present in Russia, which our funding would unfortunately not cover."
He added: "We've dropped the goal of reclaiming our property legally."
The studio has since ceased sharing weapon designs and other development updates while work continues on Oceanic.