The ownership of the Spintires games is really stuck in the mud
“He bought a house, two yachts, over 10 cars including multiple AMGs, Land Rovers and Dodge SRTs. He also bought a fairground ride and a haulage firm. He had no interest [in reinvesting] to make more games.” – former Oovee Games employee Reece Bolton, referring to CEO Zane Saxton
IGN reporter Rebekah Valentine has one hell of a follow-up to a report our former colleague Alex Wawro first dug into in 2016. Valentine’s report centers on the saga of Spintires, a modestly successful off-roading game from 2014 that is now at the center of a legal dispute between Oovee Games, Saber Interactive, and maybe also IMGN.pro. (Eurogamer did its own investigation into this legal mess back in June.)
After Spintires found its audience in 2014, all the parties locked up in business deals around the game began to behave what one might call irresponsibly. According to one former employee, CEO Zane Saxton’s spending habits may have railroaded the studio into a muddy legal battle it couldn’t force its way out of.
When we last checked in on this story, fans were speculating that a series of crippling bugs left in the original Spintires were left by game creator Pavel Zagrebelnyy as sabotage for delayed and unfulfilled payments from Oovee. Both he and Oovee ultimately denied that any sabotage took place, but each blamed the other for the bugs.
Did the public conflict lead to a healthy resolution and a continued success for Oovee? No.
Mudrunners let loose some mud
As Valentine documents, the British developer soon found itself in a legal battle with Saber Interactive, who may have had plenty of reason to get into a legal tussle over the rights to Spintires. At the outset of Valentine’s reporting, Oovee representatives seem to have cast themselves as victims of a corporation abusing legal contracts to cash in on their success.
The reality is far, far messier. Zagrebelnyy did indeed start work on Spintires while working as an employee at Saber Interactive, but when he struck a deal to turn a game demo into a full game with Oovee, more than his original ideas may have gone into the final product. Valentine’s investigation dug up accusations that the version of Spintires released by Oovee may have included proprietary code owned by Saber Interactive.
If you follow the trail of documents as Valentine did, it seems like Saber approached Oovee with the intent to let the UK company off the hook for the shady code sourcing, as long as it signed away console publishing rights for the series and let it develop “enhancements” to the original game. In return, Oovee would receive royalty payments.
This led to the release of Mudrunner, and then the legal fights resumed—partly because IMGN.pro apparently slid into the fray, claiming it had already signed the rights to publish Spintires on consoles. From there, the legal brawling (and entanglements) have grown and grown. Saber Interactive (or the corporate entity formerly known as Saber Interactive because Saber Interactive is now owned by Embracer) is now suing Oovee for defamation.
Valentines’ reporting ends with few satisfying conclusions about what took place. Zagrebelnyy, the games’ creator, apparently went back to work for Saber in 2018, and did not provide any comment. Oovee is apparently in dire financial straits that stretch beyond the success or failure of the Spintires series.
What lessons are there to be learned from Valentine’s reporting? Nothing grand, unfortunately. Have your lawyers check all your paperwork, behave ethically, and don’t blow all your cash on Landrovers and Dodge SRTs.
We’ve reached out to Saber Interactive, Oovee’s lawyers, and IMGN.pro to ask for comment on this story, and will update it when any of them respond. While we wait, you should take an hour to read IGN’s full story on Spintires‘ legal spinning wheels.