Epic Games says an employee leaked spoilers. Now it's suing him.

An image from "Fortnite."
An image from "Fortnite." Epic Games

When it comes to protecting its leading cash cow, "Fortnite," Epic Games doesn't play around.

The Cary-based game developer recently went to court to sue a contract worker, Thomas Hannah, it accuses of helping leak spoilers about the fourth season of the hit title.

Not only did the late-April leak violate a non-disclosure agreement and various protection-of-trade-secrets laws, it "deprive[d] Fortnite's players and audience of the thrill that comes from the element of surprise" when an update changes the game for all of them at the same time, Epic's federal lawsuit said.

The May 7 lawsuit is the latest in a string of cases Epic has filed in defense of "Fortnite," the title that took the online-gaming industry by storm after its release in the summer of 2017.

By at least one reckoning it's the biggest revenue-generator of any title in the console-gaming market and a top-five property in PC gaming too.

Analysts from SuperData Research say "Fortnite" on all platforms generated $223 million in revenue in March alone and "is now the largest free-to-play console game of all time."

Epic's rollout of Season 4 of "Fortnite" was therefore a big deal for the company and the gaming world in general. Players suspected the game's designers intended to revamp a portion of the game by hitting it with a virtual meteor. They were right, and therein lies the rub.

On April 24, a week before the scheduled release of Season 4, someone calling himself "internetadam" went on Reddit to say that the meteor would hit a part of the map called "Dusty Depot," rather than the "Tilted Towers" section many players thought was due to get blown up.

The since-removed posting on the "Fortnite" subreddit also said the upcoming release would be "superhero-themed," and that the information came from someone who "refused to be named." A follow-posting elaborated on and added to the original spoilers, and went into some of the behind-the-scenes thinking Epic's designers had for making the changes.

At least the first portion of the leak turned out to be accurate, as Epic in fact used the meteor to turn Dusty Depot into a crater called "Dusty Divot" when Season 4 went public on May 1.

The company contends that "internetadam" is actually a person named Adam DiMarco and that DiMarco got his information from Hannah, who worked at Epic from Dec. 4 to April 4 after hiring on through an agency called Volt Workforce Solutions. The two "working in concert" are "responsible for the misappropriation and public disclosure" of some of Epic's trade secrets, according to the lawsuit.

The suit doesn't name DiMarco as a defendant or otherwise provide a lot of information about him. But it said Hannah, a former quality-assurance tester, is a target because he signed a non-disclosure agreement that promised the company he'd "keep in strict confidence" all the information he learned about its plans.

Hannah attended a secure livestream of a "Fortnite" team meeting on March 16 and had access to information about "the development of upcoming seasons of" the game, the lawsuit said, without supplying any detail about ties between Hannah and DiMarco.

Epic is claiming breach of contract, violation of state and federal trade-secrets laws and conspiracy. The company wants an injunction, damages and attorneys fees. Hannah has yet to respond to the lawsuit and couldn't be reached for comment.

The filing follows a spate of lawsuits Epic filed over the winter and earlier this spring against people it accused of creating or using "cheat codes" and other hacks to undermine "Fortnite's" normal gameplay.

In North Carolina federal courts, the company's settled three of those cases, secured a default ruling against a forth person and is still involved in litigation with the fifth, a Delaware teenager named Caleb Rogers who posted videos of himself cheating at "Fortnite" on YouTube.

Rogers' mother, Lauren Rogers, wrote the judge handling the case to complain that the company was "using a 14-year-old child as a scapegoat to make an example of him.” The judge responded by sealing portions of the case file.

Epic also filed cheat-code cases in California against five men from South Africa, Sweden, Russia and Ukraine. Court records indicate it's settled, obtained default judgments in or dismissed all but one of them.

SuperData's analysts in March said "Fortnite" surpassed a leading competitor, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, in part because cheating in the other game was rampant and forcing its developer, Bluehole, "to spend resources fighting this instead of creating new content and polishing the core gameplay."

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer