Leder Games Cancels Deep: Enemy Frontier, Questions of IP Theft Raised

On Wednesday evening, February 21st, the Operations Director of Leder Games announced that it would no longer be publishing the game Deep, an asymmetrical space-themed game intended to be the "spiritual successor" to Vast: The Crystal Caverns. Intended for 2 to 4 players, Deep: Enemy Frontier was going to put each player in a separate role, during a period of conflict. In the announcement, Leder Game stated that the design would go to the designer, but the art, story, and other assets would stay with Leder Games. In the online thread, the designer also chimed in.

What Is Deep: Enemy Frontier?

Deep: Enemy Frontier is a highly asymmetric sci-fi strategy game for 2-4 players. Each player takes a unique role during a period of intense conflict in our quadrant of the galaxy. The Empire seeks to shore up its weaknesses and once more establish itself as the dominant force in the galaxy. The Usurper threatens to bring the Empire down from within and establish a free and open society ruled by the people rather than a dictator. The Rival sweeps in from the remote edges of the galaxy, a coalition of aliens burning with revenge against an Empire that conquered and harried them over the past hundreds of years. The Captain throws himself out into the stars, to explore and have grand adventures, his exploits broadcast to the entire Empire; perhaps his fame will lead him one day to sit upon the throne of all humanity...

The Official Status of Deep from Leder Games

The statement made by the Operations Director of Leder Games stated:

As a potential property, we will retain both title, theme, and art assets, and hope to revisit the subject of an asymmetric space game later. In the meantime, however, we have decided to release Sam's game design to him and wish him the best of luck in finding a new publisher.

However, the developer, Samuel Bailey, chimed in only a few hours later with his own recounting of events, alleging that a contract signed by him would give him full rights to all of the game's materials. Further, Samuel Bailey alleged that he popular game Root had taken its core mechanics from Deep following a playtest in 2017. Bailey noted that he was hired on to work on Deep in 2016, and that Cole Wehrle, the designer of Root, was hired in 2017. Cole Wehrle countered with a sequence of design diaries throughout 2017. 

A Question of Design and Theme

At its core, from an outsider, the dispute between Samuel Bailey, Cole Wehrle, and Leder Games appears to be one of theme. Samuel Bailey alleges that he created a game with mechanics, art, concept, and theme at Leder Games. Leder Games later used this same theme and concept with Cole Wehrle, but not, they say, the design and mechanics, which is considered to be Samuel Bailey's.

Thus, Bailey argues that the theme and design are inexorably linked and part of his IP, whereas Leder Games and Cole Wehrle argue that the themes and concepts of the games were always the property of Leder Games, and it is only the mechanics that he owns. Leder Games was, essentially, recruiting for a spiritual successor to Vast, and it is Root, rather than Deep, that acquired it.

Where the mechanics and concept, design and theme, begin and end in a game can be a gray area, and it's not clear whether there was any actual wrongdoing. But fans still hope that both games can find their place on shelves.