CBS has SHUT DOWN fans creating a free VIRTUAL REALITY Enterprise-D Walk-Through!

Well, $#*&!

One of the most mind-blowingly exciting and immersive fan projects EVER has just received a Cease and Desist letter from CBS.  And I’m not just speaking in hyperbole here.  The STAGE 9 project was virtually (pun intended) guaranteed to get an “OMG…I can’t believe this exists!” from Trekkies who discovered it.

It wasn’t a fan film but rather a virtual reality recreation of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D…not just from the outside but also from the inside!  What began back in 2016 as just a simple art project by a Trek fan in the UK trying to make a really nice 3D recreation of the TNG bridge quickly grew to so much more!

Using the fourth iteration of the Unreal Engine from Epic Games, an open-source way for anyone to design and build their own virtual reality simulations for first-person shooters and the such, a number of developers from around the world hopped on board with this U.K. artist to improve and expand what the newly-dubbed “Stage 9” project had to offer.

New version by new version, more decks and destinations were added to the virtual walk-through: the observation lounge, Picard’s ready room, the hangar deck (a very BIG hangar deck!), sickbay, transporter rooms, battle bridge, Picard’s quarters (with Ressikan flute!), Data’s quarters, Worf’s quarters, engineering, ten forward, nine forward, other crew lounges, flight deck control operations, the arboretum, the brig, science labs, computer core, holodecks, phaser range, and endless corridors.

But that’s not all!

The holdecks featured recreations of other Enterprise bridge layouts, including the original TOS bridge and the variations of the Ent-D bridge from episodes like “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” “Parallels,” and “All Good Things…”  Players could climb inside of shuttlecraft and/or runabouts and pilot them off the ship to see the Enterprise from outside.  The shuttles could even land on the hull, and you could step outside and do a space walk!

With each new iteration, more things were added as these developers let their imaginations run wild!  NPCs (non-player characters) would sit on the bridge and wander the corridors…some of them familiar.  For example, Chief O’Brien would greet you when you started the game and materialized in the transporter chamber, and Data sat at Ops on the bridge.

Other fun things players could do included sounding yellow and red alerts, practicing on the phaser range, piloting the Enterprise at warp to other planets, and even triggering a warp-core breach!

Underneath it all, a player would hear ambient sounds of the ship like the hum of the engines, beeps and clicks, swooshing of doors, red alert alarm, hangar door opening warning, etc.  Also added later on were music loops appropriate to certain areas.  For example, when a player entered one of the holodecks and set it to the TOS bridge, one would hear a very subtle TOS theme in the background.  Taking the Enterprise-D to warp would trigger another piece of music.  Sure, that wasn’t totally “realistic,” but it was still extra cool when it happened.

There were also little Easter eggs scattered throughout, including a crewman dancing “Gangnam style” in Engineering one floor down from the main warp core dilithium chamber.

Sure, it was still a little glitchy in places, but those glitches became fewer and farther between as the development progressed.  By version 10.o earlier this year, YouTube videos of the first-person player simulation would go on for more than a half hour to an hour before something stalled or crashed and the user had to initiate an “emergency transport” or a complete restart.

The game was made available for free to anyone who wanted to check it out and hopefully help to test it and report bugs.  There’s countless videos on YouTube of people playing and making some amazed comments…many of them filled with, shall we say, colorful metaphors.  You could literally spend hours and hours walking the corridors of this Galaxy-class starship and still discover things you’d never seen before!

Don’t believe such a thing was even possible?  Here’s one of those videos I mentioned, a user going everywhere as he explores this virtual world of Stage 9 for the first time…

Incredible, right???  And even more was being planned…until CBS shut them down with a Cease and Desist letter on September 12.

I’d actually been trying to get an interview with the creative team for many months, ever since their version 9.0 release.  I’d even written most of the blog introduction (essentially, what you’ve just read…just not in the past tense).  But the team members were slow to get back to me.  I later found out why, and you will, too, in the video at the end of this blog.

On August 21, TrekNews.net beat me to the punch with this exciting article spotlighting the Stage 9 project.  And for the first time (that I’m aware of) the actual name of this U.K. developer, ROB BRYAN, was revealed publicly.  Three weeks later, a Cease and Desist letter arrived (might have been an e-mail), and despite some desperate attempts to contact CBS and figure something out, the Stage 9 website and videos disappeared from the Internet early last week.

As Rob explains on the his heartfelt video message below, he and his team always knew they were playing in CBS’s sandbox without permission, and that a legal warp core breach could shut them down at any time.  Indeed, Ubisoft, an official CBS and Paramount licensee, had already purchased the rights to create a version of their popular Bridge Crew VR game using a licensed Star Trek theme.  For the launch in 2017, Bridge Crew only featured the Kelvin-verse Enterprise.  But a few months ago, they came out with a TNG version…which is pretty nice (take a look at it here).

I’m sure you can see the problem.

Yeah, you could argue that Bridge Crew shows ONLY the bridge while Stage 9 shows the entire ship (or would have shown the entire ship eventually).  And yes, you could argue thatBridge Crew is a video GAME with missions and a plot line, of sorts, while Stage 9 is just a walk-around, explore, and discover things environment…totally different experiences.  And of course, you could also should loudly “BUT STAGE 9 IS FREE!  No one is making any money off of your intellectual property, dammit!!!”

Yeah, you could say/shout all of that…but licensing doesn’t work that way.

As much as I’d like to throttle CBS Licensing and CBS Legal for killing this project, I know why they did it.  Remember that I worked for Viacom Consumer Products under John Van Citters (and others) for eight years.  And while you’re all thinking, “Why doesn’t CBS just give Rob and his team a license, too…?” here’s the problem…

When a licensee pays CBS $50K or $100K or $150K for a license, they aren’t simply buying permission to create and use Star Trek content.  They are also buying exclusivity.  They will be the only book publisher, the only model kit maker, the only toy prop manufacturer, the only comic book creator, etc.  It’s the reason that James Cawley can stop Ray Tesi from even asking for a license to become a second Star Trek Set Tour, even though Ray has TOS sets  in Georgia that are 1,000 miles away from James’ in upstate New York.

Ubisoft expects that same protection from CBS Licensing.  Sure, Stage 9 and Bridge Crew are different, but they’re similar enough that Stage 9 could scratch that TNG “itch” for a fan and convince them not to buy the licensed game and instead just download the free VR app instead.  Therefore, CBS could not simply look the other way and ignore Stage 9 after they found out about it, even if Stage 9 wasn’t generating any revenue.  It could still adversely impact the sales of a paying licensee.

But licenses don’t last forever.  They need to be renewed annually (usually).  And one day, if Ubisoft decides that having a Star Trek license is no longer viable, perhaps Rob Bryan could approach them with a pitch to get a license of his own.  Or maybe a wealthy TNG fan will come along wanting to see the VR simulation completed, and make CBS Licensing an offer they can’t refuse, setting certain conditions and limitations to the Stage 9 project that protect Bridge Crew‘s uniqueness.  In other words, this VR simulation isn’t necessarily gone forever.

But for right now, it’s gone.  And yes, life isn’t fair.  But there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it other than listen to the following message from Rob Bryan as he bids Stage 9 and the fans who loved it a fond farewell…

44 thoughts on “CBS has SHUT DOWN fans creating a free VIRTUAL REALITY Enterprise-D Walk-Through!”

    1. Watch the video at the end, Kenny. No harder proof than the guy who received the Cease and Desist letter telling the whole story and explaining why he’s shut down the project.

      And Kenny, there’s no need to tell people your name. It appears above your comment. I, Jonathan Lane, promise you that. 🙂

  1. So, Ray Tesi can’t approach CBS for a license for the Stage 9 Studios sets (no relation to the Stage 9 VR above), but could CBS conceivably make an offer to him to become another licensed set tour if they so chose?

    1. The latter would likely violate whatever contract of exclusivity that CBS signed with James Cawley. So I doubt CBS would make any such offer to Ray…nor is Ray seeking such an offer.

  2. It’s sad but true to say that when you play in someone else’s sandbox, you run the risk of finding where their cat has been.

  3. Nicely written article. Another thing that should also be mentioned is the amazing and atmospheric TNG style original music that was composed for this project so as not to infringe on original copyrights.

    So sad to see this project come to a halt. Over a year ago I purchased the HTC vive and found the VR version of this and despite the bugs and low resolution it was a magical experience.

    Stage 9 was the reason I bought VR and a PC capable enough for VR, I just didn’t know it at the time.

    1. Oh, there were so many more things I could have said about all of the nuances of the project. But I really needed to get to the point of the news itself. However, yes, the music was all originally composed for the project so as not to violate a copyright. However, pretty much every visual was based exactingly on Star Trek I.P. This project was absolutely playing in CBS’s sandbox. It’s just a shame they got kicked out.

  4. Fans making a non profit game that is different than any other game on the market is a squashed by CBS, and CBS won’t even talk. I don’t hear bridge crew or STO offering to do what Stage 9 was doing.
    How is it okay for CBS to say it needs to protect its IP when its in the business of stealing IP from others (std).

    1. I didn’t know CBS was stealing IP from others! If you’re talking about the bogus Tardigrade lawsuit, you can’t copyright a microscopic organism. Had the video game creator’s lawyers not screwed up the filing of the complaint by suing the wrong corporate entity, and the lawsuit actually made it in front of a judge, it would have been quickly dismissed and frivolous.

      1. Actually, I think you can’t COPYRIGHT if it is made in a laboratory, BUT YOU CAN PATENT. There was a case years ago where GE tried to make a micro-organism that could eat oil slicks and they tried to patent it(mostly to satisfy the legal question).

        Here’s a link to the guy who made it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ananda_Mohan_Chakrabarty

        And a link to the case: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diamond_v._Chakrabarty

        If you’re curious, I came across a mention of this in the Dean Koontz horror novel Phantoms(’cause, you know horror novels are such a reliable source for legal case information! 🙂 )

        1. I should have said you can’t copyright a naturally occurring microscopic organism. If you make one of your own, sure, go ahead and patent the creation.

          That said, trying to copyright the idea of a giant teleporting tardigrade is a dubious effort. But let’s assume, for a moment, that the tardigrade guy with the video game was able to claim a copyright on his tardigrade. Discovery did NOT have a teleporting tardigrade. It had a vicious, terrifying killer tardigrade that had to be plugged into a mushroom-fueled spore drive in order to navigate it. The tardigrade didn’t teleport anyone; the spore drive and mushrooms did. (Man, that sound stupider each time I type it!) In the plaintiff’s video game, a human hugs the giant tardigrade, and the tardigrade teleports them both. Try to hug the Discovery tardigrade, and you’ll wind up torn into shreds of bloody flesh. 🙂

          So no, definitely not infringement.

  5. Let’s not pretend they HAD to forcibly shut it done. They CHOOSE to, and that is unforgivable.

    As you admit Stage9 and Bridge Crew are not the same thing (they simply exist in a similar area). If anything, exploring Stage9 made me want to play Bridge Crew more, not less.

    I find it hard to stay calm over this. CBS took something great – made by fans who clearly love Star Trek – and trampled on it with their army of lawyers simply because they believed, wrongly, it would hit their profits.

    But what can we do in the face of this injustice? Nothing. Fans count for nothing except dollar signs and CBS will squash our dreams and squeeze us dry. Resistance seems futile. How long can we continue this way? 🙁

    1. Well, yes, they CHOSE to shut it down because of the threat of a multi-million lawsuit if they didn’t…which isn’t much of a choice. It would have been extremely difficult to defend against such a lawsuit when numerous versions of the game acknowledged awareness that Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation were owned by CBS. Just because you don’t INTEND to violate someone’s copyright doesn’t meant you haven’t done so. Even if a jury doesn’t find you guilty of WILLFUL infringement, NON-WILLFUL infringement can still carry penalties into the five-figure range. That’s why the fan film guidelines, while onerous and draconian, are ultimately a good thing in providing a way for fan films to be made without the risk of a lawsuit.

  6. So glad I downloaded this while I could. Whenever I see this sort of thing I always do, because I know that they survive on borrowed time.

    They can’t make me delete it off my hard drive at least!! It really is the Star Trek Technical Manual that never was! Maybe they should approach Ubisoft for permission to greenlight it and continue with its as an upcoming Ubisoft title, would be a smart move by Ubisoft, and would also win them more customers and positive PR, for coming out and saving the project!

    Kind of Like Black Mesa did with half life. It has the blessing of Valve, and if there is ever to be a half life 3, then valve would probably get them to create it. Surely some kind of arrangement between stage9, Ubisoft and CBS could be made. It is such a waste of such great work otherwise, and ultimately (despite how legally understandable it is) just fuels anti corporate sentiment. See now I won’t by Bridge Crew BECAUSE its been shut down. So it still effects sales either way. Stupid Bean counters trying to shutdown something that is not measurable or quantifiable. There is no way to measure if it has any impact to sales or not. Fans that bought Bridge Crew would most likely still pay for the TNG update, or buy Bridge Crew because TNG is now included, despite this project. Their reasoning is just ridiculous! This decision will cost Ubisoft more so than it would if they permitted it. But thats corporate mentality for you!

    1. Approaching Ubisoft isn’t an awful idea, but it wouldn’t be a slam dunk either. Ubisoft would still have to pay $50K-$100K for an additional license or a license expansion/extension, and they would also have to pay to either 1) buy out Rob Bryan either, 2) pay Rob Bryan and his team to develop further, since I believe that French law doesn’t permit people to work for free on a commercial product, and/or 3) hire their own employees to continue development. Either way, that’s a huge monetary commitment on the part of Ubisoft for a product that there’s no guarantee will sell. The 3D/VR world is growing, but it’s still a VERY niche market. There’s a big risk spending so much capital on a product that might not be as popular as we all think…especially if it carried a $29.99 or a $49.99 price tag.

      1. All valid points, Jon.

        However, the Stage 9 VR is a proven product with a extant fan base. It’s not like Ubisoft would be buying a pig in a poke. And most of the hard development work is already done. That would be worth a few bars of gold-pressed latinum, for sure.

        1. Not that simple, George. Full public awareness of the Stage 9 VR product was actually extremely low (or else CBS would have known about and put a stop to it long before this). And those fans that did download this VR simulation were doing so for free. So there’s a real question of whether a large enough amount of fans would have paid $20, $30, $40, or $50 for such a thing. Maybe they would have. Maybe not. Despite the amount of work already put into this, there’s a minimum cost of $50,000 for an expanded license, then probably another $250,000 to complete development (once you’re paying a team–even a small team–a decent salary to finish it up and work out all of the bugs). Add more to that number if you want to create additional new rooms that weren’t built yet or add new features. Add in another $100,000 for advertising/marketing. We won’t worry about ongoing tech support and just fold it into their existing personnel.

          So let’s assume $40/sale. Ubisoft would need to sell 20,000 units to get to the $400,000 they needed to break even (since CBS gets 50% of gross revenue). Is 20,000 units realistic to assume? And that’s just to break even. Ubisoft wants profit, so let’s double that number to 40,000. Seems small until you realize that the TNG Blu-rays sold only in the hundreds of thousands (VERY disappointing to CBS…which is one of the reasons we won’t be seeing special HD editions of DS9). Since Blu-ray players are way more established in the marketplace than VR simulations like the Occulus Rift, one has to assume that, at least right now, 40,000 unit is a fairly ambitious target. Perhaps not impossible, but also not probable either.

          And thus does Ubisoft have to weigh their decision…along with dozens if not hundreds of other considerations. For example, is this the business they really want to be in? Bridge Crew takes an engine and just skins themes on top of it. They have a product that can be easily repurposed over and over again…like M&M’s (plain, peanut, almond, mint, crispy, dark chocolate, peanut butter, espresso bean, etc.). The TNG VR is a one-off. You want to do the same for TOS or Discovery? Those need to be designed and built from scratch all over again. It’s like M&M’s deciding to make a KitKat bar. Is that a lake that Ubisoft wants to jump into?

          Hard to say.

      2. I understand, that its not a slam dunk, but at least its an avenue that could be explored. Option 2 would be the desirable outcome. Yes wages would have to paid, as for purchasing it. I certainly would, even at $89 with the content that was planned.

        As you say there is always a risk with investing in any software, Commercial Software bombs all the time, even Star Trek releases have had a fair share of this. I expect one like this would do better than most however, and a sizeable amount of development cost saving would be realised as a lot has already been done.

        3D/VR certainly is very niche, I don’t own one and Bridge Crew wasn’t even on the radar for me until it was released as non-VR. As long as it supports both VR and non-VR, then that risk is minimised at least.

        My hopes now rest with completion of Titanic Honor & Glory, another lovely piece of work, which doesn’t have the same legal problems threatening it. It is essentially the same thing but set on a different type of ship!

        1. See my similar answer to crunching the expected numbers elsewhere on this page, Andrew. As much as I’d love to see Ubisoft take on this product, if I were consulting for them, I’d likely advise them against the idea. Sorry, but I just don’t think it would be a wise business move and would need to be more based on a true love of Star Trek…which I don’t know whether or not they have or would want to have to explain to their shareholders.

  7. Sadder and sadder every day.

    CBS is still actively trying to kill “our” Star Trek, in favor of their own.

    Too bad they stopped listening to their fans, and instead, are listening to their financial reports.

  8. I was all prepared to rant and rave about the evil CBS actions showing they’ve learned nothing except how to annoy fans until I read your surprising post, Jonathan.

    You changed my mind from one of outrage to one of sighing about how the system works. I don’t like the system, but it’s what we have now and it appears CBS was in the right on this one. I assume, of course, that the contract is one of exclusivity which I presume is the case.

  9. Don’t forget that there have been game engine games utilizing Star Trek IP in a similar environment. Star Trek Elite Forces had interiors which were playable as a first person shooter. This environment fan created or otherwise was/could be similar or impinging on a game license that is out there or a game that is being created or a game license that is being sold…

  10. While I am aware that all things Star Trek is the property of CBS and Paramount, and they have the right to dictate who can or who can not make films, games, books, VR and so forth. However, they need to back off on this draconian style dictating. The whole fan film projects were doing nothing but benefitting Star Trek, especially with the lack of Star Trek Shows and movies in the prime universe. Yes this isn’t a fan film. It was a VR experience, but it was giving people exposure to Star Trek which benefits who? CBS and Paramount. But as the copyright holders they have the right to throw a wrench into any fan project they so choose, with or without a valid reason. I just wish it was the way it was before the whole damned Axanar lawsuit.

    1. I don’t think we can ever put that genie back into the bottle. As has been said elsewhere, if it hadn’t been Axanar, it would have been Renegades, or Federation Rising, or whichever fan film crossed over that invisible line. Fan films were just becoming too good, too professional-looking. CBS and Paramount couldn’t ignore them forever. And yes, most of us fans wish it were otherwise. But it’s not, and the ants really have no say in where the elephant decides to go…even if all of the ants try to block his path.

  11. I have the torrents of the most recent VR and desktop versions and am still seeding. Start checking on popular torrent sites, I’m spreading it around. I will NOT let this die.

  12. While it’s well within their legal rights to do this, it’s still disappointing. It feels kind of pithy I can’t help thinking that the reaction to season 1 of Discovery(to be followed by season 2 of “Star Trek: It’s Not ‘The Orville’, We Swear. WE PINKY SWEAR!”) was a catalyst.

    Another thing that has yet to be brought up is the upcoming Captain Picard show. Any possible similarities may be another mitigating factor. After all, they went after ANOTHER fan project that took place in the era of “Discovery”(the name escapes me at the moment, I THINK it started with the letter “A” and was run by some guy named Alex or something… 🙂 )

    Star Trek is just in a bad place right now. With two big stars for NuTrek 4: The Voyage to Marvel deserting, Paramount’s attempts to replace the original universe with the Kelvinverse have stalled and Les Moonves’ departure and the controversy surrounding it are just making things worse.

    Has Star Trek’s Long Night begun?

  13. Here’s the reality though, I already owned Bridge Crew with Next Gen DLC and I was considering All Access for the new Picard Series; however now – solely due to this – I WILL NOT spend another penny on CBS, and I’m even considering boycotting Ubisoft and the new AC Odyssey (as awesome as it appears) game over this. I’m that mad about it. Instead of protecting their profits they just lost a customer.

    1. Unfortunately, Joel, there aren’t many of you. Even my blog post only had 5,000 views. Assume 10% of them boycott. Wow, CBS just lost $36,000 in annual revenue for All Access…which takes in $200 million/year at present in subscriber revenue. Subtracting your $36K boycott from that $200M leaves CBS with…let’s see…oh, $200M. 🙂

      Sorry, Joel, but the boycott, while a nice symbolic gesture that might make you feel better, is sending a message as loud as an ant yelling at a herd of charging elephants to stop.

  14. I’m a bit late to this article just as I was a bit late to the project itself – I was never aware of it, so never downloaded it.

    Yes, I’m disappointed too, but the legal and commercial situation is what it is. It’s also true that if it had been more well known it would have been shut down sooner.

    What has cheered me up was skipping through the video and seeing the Pogo ‘Data & Picard’ song that plays on the bridge screen. Try and watch it without smiling. What’s more the (sampled) lyrics are rather apt:

    ‘Tis better to have loved and lost,
    Than never to have loved at all.
    Come cheer up my lads,
    Come cheer up my lads!
    ‘Tis better to have loved and lost!

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