Something strange happened today. Indie sensation Axiom Verge just got a release date for its physical release... on Wii U. Nintendo's last gen console has been dead and buried for some time now, so why is this game just coming out now? As it turns out, Limited Run Games and Axiom Verge developer Tom Happ have been locked in a legal battle with BadLand Games that potentially involves the latter stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Following the immense success of Axiom Verge as a digital-only title, Tom Happ was approached by multiple publishers looking to bring the game to retail. The retail release would be bundled with extra goodies, including a documentary about the game's development and an art book. Happ considered various offers and eventually chose BadLand Games.
Happ made this choice due to the fact that the CEO of BadLand presented himself as "very sympathetic to Tom's son's health condition." Alastair Happ, Tom's son, suffers from Kernicterus. When doctors failed to treat a routine case of jaundice during Alastair's first few days alive, he suffered severe neurological damage that permanently impeded his motor skills and ability to hear. BadLand claimed to be so moved by his story that they would donate 75% of their profits from the publishing deal to Alastair's medical bills. It was too good to be true.
After the deal was agreed upon, Limited Run Games stepped forward to get a piece of the action. Limited Run wanted to acquire the rights to distribute the Wii U physical release of the game in North America. Under the agreement, Limited Run would pay BadLand $78,000. In return, BadLand would supply Limited Run with 6,000 physical copies, which Limited Run would then distribute. The physical release was set for November 2017.
The planned release date came and went, and BadLand failed to supply the 6,000 copies they promised. The release date was pushed back to January 2018, then pushed back again when Nintendo had concerns over the game's rating. The issue was quickly resolved, but BadLand still hadn't provided the physical copies—and worse yet, they stopped answering messages from Limited Run.
At this point Limited Run issued an ultimatum: Either BadLand refund the money in full or supply them with enough copies of Axiom Verge on other platforms to match the value. Limited Run would have then distributed these copies (in a partnership with Happ) instead to recoup at least some of their losses. BadLand continued to ignore Limited Run. After a few more warning emails, BadLand finally agreed to work things out over a phone call that Monday. The call never happened, and BadLand went back to ignoring Limited Run for months.
Limited Run's patience finally ran out, and they filed a lawsuit. They intended to acquire repayment of the money plus interest and attorney's fees. BadLand finally responded after this, stating that the publishing rights had gone back to Tom Happ... because BadLand Games no longer existed. The company had folded, but many of its employees simply moved over to "BadLand Publishing" (which had been set up in 2017 to keep the company's distribution and publishing branches separate) and continued business.
According to BadLand Games / BadLand Publishing CEO Luis Quintans, the company ran into financial trouble due to a banking error that caused their credit lines to be canceled. Essentially, he claims that BadLand was blacklisted by banks by accident and the mistake wasn't corrected for two months. This allegedly occurred in September of 2017 and sent the company down a financially troubled path that led to it officially closing (and then simply shifting over to the other label) by October of 2018.
Quintans claims that BadLand Publishing has now paid off 90% of BadLand Games' debts, but Limited Run hasn't seen a penny. The court case was meant to open on December 4th, but despite multiple attempts to reach BadLand, they never showed up. The judge ordered BadLand to pay $78,000 plus $3,675.63 in interest and legal fees. Quintan claims he has every intention of repaying Limited Run, and blames the delay on them, claiming they haven't communicated enough.
"In short, this resolution says that we have to pay to Limited Run, which is what we are willing to do from the beginning. But for that Limited Run has to want to talk to us and keep in mind that it is not possible to face all the payments at once." — Luis Quintans
As Limited Run CEO Josh Fairhurst points out, BadLand has continued publishing games throughout this struggle, including in recent months.
"BadLand Publishing has released several physical retail products since we sent them our money, some within the last few months. Through my knowledge of minimum order requirements with the major platforms and the associated costs, I know that BadLand has spent more than $100,000 (at least) on recent physical product releases. So, they've had more than enough money to pay us back, yet they've been content to keep our money. " — Josh Fairhurst
Unfortunately, this already frustrating story doesn't stop here. Remember little Alastair and Tom Happ's agreement with BadLand? As you might have guessed by now, that hasn't gone as planned either. Dan Adelman (a former Nintendo executive who worked closely with Happ on publishing and marketing Axiom Verge) followed today's news with a Twitter thread accusing BadLand of much, much worse.
According to Adelman, BadLand "kept stalling" when the deadline for manufacturing the game's physical release approached. Eventually, BadLand broke down and told Adelman and Happ that they didn't have the money to follow through with their agreement. They proposed that Happ personally pay for the game to be manufactured. They promised they'd pay him back after the game hit shelves. Adelman claims that never happened.
"When it came time to pay Tom Happ his share for EU sales & contribute to Alastair's health care fund (which Tom had to pay a lawyer to establish), Badland went dark on us. We didn't even really know how much they owed us, though we have reason to believe it's about $200k. We've filed a lawsuit against them, but because of the international nature of the suit, it's proving hard to make headway."
"It's frustrating to see @BadLand_Publish tweet about new games they're releasing, no doubt funded with the money they owe LRG and Tom Happ. Badland has literally stolen money from a disabled toddler." — Dan Adelman
Between the $80,000 owed to Limited Run and the estimated $200,000 owed to Adelman, Happ, and Alastair's fund, BadLand has stolen nearly $300,000 according to their accusers. All parties involved are suing, but it's likely to be a long and challenging process with no guarantee of payment.