Evil Genius Games Sues Netflix Over 'Rebel Moon' Roleplaying Game

Evil Genius Games--creators of the d20 Modern-inspired Everyday Heroes RPG, with its licensed settings such as The Crow, KingL Skull Island, Pacific Rim, Highlander, and more--was all set to release a tabletop RPG based on Zack Snyder's upcoming movie Rebel Moon until the contract was cancelled by the streaming company over alleged confidentiality breaches. Evil Genius is suing Netflix for breach of contract.

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Rebel Moon, which comes out later this year, is a space opera movie featuring a peaceful moon defending itself against tyrannical invaders.

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The contract was cancelled back in May 2023, at which point Evil Genius had nearly completed the TTRPG design, with the Player's Guide and GM's Guide fully written and a 'world bible' for the setting created; the latter is an internal developer tool, which other franchises use also.

The termination is based on alleged confidentiality breaches. In addition, Netflix has asserted ownership of the world bible, which constitutes significant work undertaken by Evil Genius. The streaming company did offer to pay for that work--to the tune of $50,000--but Evil Genius did not accept that offer.

Snyder has also indicated that the contents of the world bible would be incorporated into future cinematic and video game properties.

Gizmodo spoke to Evil Genius and has more information. Additionally, Evil Genius has put up a web page about the situation.

I've since received an email from Evil Genius, and they have made a press release:


LOS ANGELES – (Sept. 28, 2023) – Evil Genius Games today sued Netflix for wrongfully terminating Evil Genius’ contract to create a tabletop role-playing game (TTRPG) for the widely anticipated Rebel Moon film franchise by Zack Snyder. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in the Central District of California.

Snyder, the acclaimed director of action and science fiction films, revealed in a podcast in March 2023 that a TTRPG based on Rebel Moon was in the works, lauding the work of Evil Genius’ team of creators.

Evil Genius began working with Netflix in early 2023 and signed an official agreement with Netflix on March 22, 2023, to develop the game and related materials, promising a delivery date to coincide with the film’s release on December 22, 2023. Evil Genius paid Netflix for a license, with an agreement to share profits.

Evil Genius stopped other projects to focus on the Rebel Moon TTRPG, the lawsuit states. By May, Evil Genius had produced a 228-page World Bible (which vastly expanded on the universe envisioned by Snyder), a 430-page Player’s Guide and a 337-page Game Master’s Guide. The initial script for Rebel Moon was “missing background information vital to the story as a whole and to the world,” the lawsuit states, with Evil Genius supplying “all the missing pieces” along with “a cohesive backstory for the entire Rebel Moon franchise.” According to the lawsuit, “the speed at which the project came to fruition astounded Netflix executives, and [Evil Genius] exceeded everyone’s expectations.”

Later that month, on May 25, Netflix suddenly terminated the agreement with Evil Genius, claiming the company had violated confidentiality provisions in its contract by sharing artwork at an industry trade show one month earlier. In the lawsuit, Evil Genius said the termination came as a surprise because it had sent the artwork to Netflix in advance of the event, the Game Manufacturers Association Exposition (GAMA), and Netflix had approved its use. Documents containing the artwork were handed out to retailers at GAMA by Evil Genius’ staff and two Netflix employees.

Two weeks later, Netflix notified Evil Genius that all of its work on the project “belongs solely and exclusively to Netflix,’’ the lawsuit states, with Netflix refusing to honor its agreement with Evil Genius to allow the release of the game and compensate the company for its work.

“It became clear’’ the lawsuit alleges, “that Netflix was simply using the alleged breach and termination to hijack [Evil Genius’] intellectual property and prevent [Evil Genius] from releasing the game.’’

David Scott, Evil Genius’ CEO said the decision to file a lawsuit was not made lightly.

“Our aim is to ensure our team is recognized for their fantastic work, and that we can release this game for millions of TTRPG enthusiasts to enjoy,’’ Scott said. “It’s disheartening to see Netflix backpedal on content that was jointly showcased and had received their prior consent. We urge our supporters to contact Netflix and Zack Snyder to push for the release of this game.’’

Evil Genius is encouraging supporters to visit Evil Genius Games, where they can sign a petition asking Netflix to acknowledge the creators of the Rebel Moon World Bible and allow Evil Genius to release the tabletop role-playing game.
 
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RareBreed

Adventurer
Disclaimer: I worked at Netflix on the engineering side 2018-2019

All I will say is this as a kind of "character witness": management has some pretty big egos on their shoulders. I recall when I suggested (pre-pandemic) that Netflix should allow people to work from home, because there are talented engineers who are unwilling or unable to move to Los Gatos CA. I was told that "only the best and brightest work for us", and that being able to have water cooler chats and hash stuff out on a white board were absolutely necessary. I even later had someone from HR visit me about why I suggested that (touchy eh?).

They have a concept of Freedom and Responsibility (or F&R as we called it), that in theory means each individual contributor gets to choose what to work on, but there's also a responsibility in terms of dollars and cents. Every decision made should be backed up with how you are affecting the bottom line of the company. On one hand, they wouldn't bat an eyelash if you created a small Presto query service that could cost 10 grand a year, but if you wrote too much documentation, they would tell you that's a job for a Tech Writer, not an engineer, and that our time (as an engineer) is money they are paying for.

Although this culture slide deck is no longer used, it still permeated (circa 2019) Netflix culture and mind-think

Also, take my experience with a grain of salt. I worked in an unusual org of the engineering side, and also the engineering side in Los Gatos, and Singapore was (is?) different from the creatives/executives in Los Angeles. I did get to meet Reed Hastings twice, once at a company Q&A session with about 20 other people, and another time at one of our quarterly company lunches where he sat down next to me and my team and we chatted (non-business) for about 15-20 minutes. He seems like a nice and down to earth kind of guy, but of all the managers I directly worked with, I really only liked and respected 2 of them.
 
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GreyLord

Legend
I can't say I really enjoy Snyder's films as a whole in many instances. I actually like Whedon's Justice League far more than Snyder's cut...and it's shorter too! (I like some of the IDEAS Snyder presented, like having Darkseid as the true villain in the background, but the way he puts it together isn't as good as Whedon's was IMO).

However, he has certain scenes which are absolutely stunning! Unmatched in some ways even.

Take this


Absolutely stunning visual scene/set piece in a movie I can't stand. The fantasy scenes though are things that I could watch over and over.

Another absolutely great entrance of Heroes with great framing of the Music and action is this one


Snyder is awesome with a lot of his scenes like these (and Snyder has a particular style which you can see in both of them), but I'm not a big fan of many of his movies ironically.
 

Today the entertaiment industry bets for the strategy of multimedia franchises, one IP to sell different types of profucts. Usually IPs are focused into a little group of characters, the heroes and villains. The adventage of IPs focused into a setting is easily you can replace the previous MCs with a new group of heroes living adventures in other place.

The franchises based in action-live productions may be too linked to actors. Recast is possible, but not always a wellcome option.

A common mistake is forgetting the true economy is not only raw materials, products and services, but also the prestige thanks a job well done and the trust by partners and clients. These last one can be nor sold either bought, only earned by your own merits. You can trick partners some times but in the end if nobody trust you any more then nobody will want deals with you.
 


What this feels like to me, at a cursory glance, is the whole kerfuffle over Babylon 5. The nutshell of that was JMS trying to shop around B5 and taking it to Paramount, Paramount not wanting it but still having access to the series bible, and then... magically Paramount decides to make a Star Trek series that is the first time they will set a series on a station as well as not have a 'reset' after every episode and be serialized.

In this case, it doesn't feel EG produced extra material on spec but that they produced what was asked and Netflix has decided to do what Netflix does and try to get everything for pocket change and lint.
 

Thank you! Brief thoughts on the complaint as I read through it.

Procedural stuff.
Filed in C.D. Cal. (Federal Court, Central District of California, Wester Div.). That's LA and surrounding areas.
Jurisdiction is based on ... copyright claims ... which is weird, because I didn't see a copyright claim in the caption. Ok

Facts.
Snyder pitched Netflix on the whole Rebel Moon franchise idea, including a TTRPG.
EG then pitched their concept to Netflix and Snyder, and they liked it. This led to the licensing agreement (Agreement).
(Another weird thing- they didn't attach a copy of the Agreement to the complaint.)
Actual financial details- EG paid a $7500 advance, with another $15k due in 2024 and 2025. In addition, Netflix would get a share of profits of certain related goods.

Okay, now I see the meat- according to the complaint, the script from Rebel Moon was missing a lot of details ... you know, the whole world-building thing people want when they make franchises. And so EG made a "World Bible" to make it all cohesive. The example they use is that the script refers to an "Alien 1" and the Bible gave Alien 1 a name, age, origin, and a history of its home planet.

Which led to Snyder/Netflix saying that the stuff from the Bible are / would be incorporated into the film or other works ....

(Insert I have a bad feeling about this gif).

According to EG, Netflix then accused EG of breaching the confidentiality provisions of the agreement, using that to terminate the agreement.

Then there's just the usual scuttlebutt (Netflix is a meanie, they tried to pay us off ... which, um, is interesting in that is usually not something you in a complaint, but it depends on the context).

Causes of Action
1. Breach of K.
Pretty self-explanatory; the claim is that Netflix (I am using Netflix to mean all Defendants) breached the Agreement, and that Netflix has to perform to the contract (specific performance) or in the alternative, that the Agreement is rescinded and EG gets restitution. Basic stuff, but ... the Agreement is the license, so that's going to be an issue.

2. Breach of Implied Covenant of Goof Faith and Fair Dealing
This is the whole, "You didn't breach the terms of the Agreement, but you violated the spirit, yo!" Eh. Always tough.

3. Quantum Meruit.
Pay me for the work we did.

4. Unjust Enrichment.
It's not equitable (fair) that Netflix benefitted from being able to link the Snyderverse together using EG's work without paying Plaintiff.
Side note- each of these counts has a minimum jurisdiction requirement. WHAT???

5. Dec action.
Declare that Netflix is a bunch of poopy-heads. Just kidding! EG wants the court to declare that they own the rights to the works that they made. Basically.



Analysis
Look, I'm going to be quick. There's the factual issues, and then the legal issues. Factually, I can smell what the Rock EG is cooking. You don't have to read between the lines to understand that the basic claim is this-
1. They did all this work on the TTRPG.
2. Some of this work included the World Bible.
3. The actual "Rebel Moon" Snyderverse was ... underdeveloped.
4. Netflix and/or Snyder began using the Bible to develop the Rebel Moon Snyderverse (RMS?).
5. Someone was like, "Oh snap. We need to make sure we actually own this stuff."
6. So Netflix decided to claim EG was in breach of the Agreement, and then tried to force EG to hand over the Bible.

Obviously, this is just one side of the story. And truth is a three-edged sword ... there is Netflix's truth, EG's truth, and then there is Snarf's truth (aka, the absolute truth) so we'll see.

I am a little more concerned about the legal irregularities in the Complaint. It's not that it's bad, per se, it's just ... not quite right. Let me explain-

1. It's a complaint largely based on a single contract. The five counts are, roughly, "They breached that contract, they didn't act in good faith with regard to that contract, they should pay us despite the contract, they should pay despite the contract (part 2), and this court should declare our rights ... under the contract." So what's missing? Yeah, the contract. It's normally standard practice to attach the contract to a complaint like this. Under Federal Pleading Standards, you aren't required to attach it .. but it's odd. For example, at a minimum I'd like to be able to read the provisions of the Agreement; not all confidentiality provisions are the same.

2. They filed in federal court, but there is a questionable basis for federal jurisdiction. You either have to have a federal claim, or diversity jurisdiction. The parties are not diverse, even though there are repeated reference to the minimum jurisdiction of the court (for either state court purposes or federal court). The complaint asserts jurisdiction for copyright claims. The declaratory action states it sounds under copyright, but the law in that area is ... well, you have to be able to assert that the defendant would make a coercive claim under federal law, so it's a different analysis, and it really looks like EB is actually asking for a declaration of its rights under the contract, and tossed that in for jurisdictional purposes.

Still with all that said, the allegations are certainly harsh and at this stage, believable. Although there are hints of other things that might have went on (for example, the "fronting" of the allegations that Netflix was unhappy with EG's CEO's response to Netflix's concerns about confidentiality).
Great analysis.

I'd also like to see a copy of the contract. Note there is also "contract by performance" (if i remember the name) where if they can prove the work was request and done it creates an inplied contract regardless of anything written down.

Arguing ownership of the work carried out is going to be the tricky part. The NDA violation I suspect is just an excuseby the netflix legal team to try and exit an unfavourable contract - I have seen this happen before in business.

It's an interesting case because if it drags on then the financial cost will be a concern for EG, but the reputational cost may end uo being a concern for the new cinematic IP and Netfliz. I very much expect it will settle out of the courts.
 

Great analysis.

I'd also like to see a copy of the contract. Note there is also "contract by performance" (if i remember the name) where if they can prove the work was request and done it creates an inplied contract regardless of anything written down.

Arguing ownership of the work carried out is going to be the tricky part. The NDA violation I suspect is just an excuseby the netflix legal team to try and exit an unfavourable contract - I have seen this happen before in business.

It's an interesting case because if it drags on then the financial cost will be a concern for EG, but the reputational cost may end uo being a concern for the new cinematic IP and Netfliz. I very much expect it will settle out of the courts.
I agree. I wonder if the writing strike affected how hardball Netflix wants to play? I wonder, comparing this to the Dragon Prince rpg (Tales of Xadia), if anything is different in the contract language, if these 'NDA breeches' that supposedly happened during a con with Netflix there etc, if anything similar happened then? Or if maybe Netflix looked at Xadia's numbers, decided they wanted to get out/shift the numbers/make more profit/avoid more loss and decided this was the best way to drop back ten and punt and put the problem on EG
 

Most of you are probably too young to remember FASA and the Star Trek license fiasco. The Star Trek RPG was doing very well, a cash cow for FASA and probably worth a few bucks to Paramount as well. Then FASA inadvertently violated an NDA / product embargo by releasing a product early. No more Star Trek license. If you violate an NDA it doesn't matter if it was a big oopsie or a little one. The licensor is well within their rights to cancel the license. No questions asked. The streaming movie is the big property for Netflix and Snyder. The RPG was a sideline. If it threatens the far more lucrative movie in any way they will (and apparently did) cancel it. EGG was apparently a bit cavalier about it as well. Bad idea. I'm surprised given the number of licenses they've pursued that they weren't more aware of the pitfalls and careful with their use of material for promotional purposes. If Netflix people were there and OK'd their use you would be hearing about firings at Netflix, not this. More likely that Netflix people saw what they were doing and reached for the contractual axe. All imho, of course. I think the odds of this coming to open court (and us finding out the particulars) is extremely unlikely. More likely there will be a quiet settlement to avoid court / bad publicity, the attainment of this type of legal hush money could be the whole reason for the attempt at sympathy / publicity inherent in EGGs suit.
 

Staffan

Legend
What this feels like to me, at a cursory glance, is the whole kerfuffle over Babylon 5. The nutshell of that was JMS trying to shop around B5 and taking it to Paramount, Paramount not wanting it but still having access to the series bible, and then... magically Paramount decides to make a Star Trek series that is the first time they will set a series on a station as well as not have a 'reset' after every episode and be serialized.
Except with Deep Space 9/Babylon 5, there was at least some plausible deniability in having separate properties.
 


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