On January 29, 2015, Andrew Yoon, 29, went to McKinney Falls State Park in Austin, Texas with his cousin, Seung Hyun Yoon, and a friend, Kayla Atkins. They decided to go swimming, a fairly common activity at the park despite signs cautioning against it, and took turns jumping from the rocks into the water below. When Andrew’s turn came, Kayla sang part of Europe’s “The Final Countdown” as she filmed him leaping.
It’s still unclear exactly what happened next. Andrew immediately swam to the right after jumping in, the police report indicates, then decided to swim to the other side through the current. Before he reached the left shore, he’d looked back at his friend and cousin, tried to yell something, and then went under. He never came back up. Police ruled the drowning an accident.
Andrew’s death was especially tragic for those who knew he was on the cusp of launching his passion project — a board game funded through Kickstarter that represented an exciting career change.
It was also especially tragic because it set in motion a bitter legal battle between his mother and his best friend.
Andrew Yoon is described by those who knew him as funny, genuine, curious, and devoted to his family despite a rocky childhood.
After his parents separated, Andrew’s father wasn’t really in the picture. Andrew became a source of both emotional and financial support for his mother, Elizabeth Pae. According to Andrew’s friends, his mother would become attached to get-rich-quick schemes. In one particularly troublesome instance, they say she sold her house to invest in an African mining operation, and she later bought a restaurant in a different state with financial help from Andrew. None of these schemes panned out, and friends say Andrew had to help pick up the pieces afterwards.
Elizabeth describes her son as intelligent but aloof. The two of them didn’t talk much about certain aspects of his life. “We’d talk about other general things,” Pae said. “But he doesn’t want to talk about his friends and coworkers to me.” She didn’t know he was starting his own business until long after the fact.
Andrew might be best known as a former editor at Shacknews and Joystiq, where he covered the videogames industry, but he was in the process of transitioning to a slightly different career path: game designer. This was under the umbrella of his own business called anyo games — a play on his name as well as Korean for “hello.” He’d been working on a board game called Divorce! The Game, which had a successful Kickstarter campaign in late 2014, raising just over $16,000 dollars. Divorce! was supposed to launch on February 14, 2015, two weeks after he drowned.
Divorce! is a card game where two players go through a simulated divorce. The goal is to end with more material possessions than the other player. Players draw two cards from a deck, some of which represent jointly owned goods like a house or jewelry, and then choose to give one of those cards to the other player, with the other going into their hands. Other cards can be played that actively destroy the other player’s possessions. Both players commonly end up in the negative, with the winner being the one who is less bad off.
“At the end of the game, you’re probably going to regret a decision you’ve made,” Andrew says in a promotional video for the Kickstarter campaign. “That’s why we like to call our game a regret simulator.” Several different people — Kayla Atkins included — play the game together in the video. They laugh and yell and laugh some more.
On January 28, the day before Andrew died, the manufacturers he was working with in Hong Kong emailed him to say that the shipment of the game would be delayed.
Andrew and David Beck — Andrew’s roommate, friend of over 15 years, and producer for Divorce! — were worried about how to get the games out to Kickstarter backers on time. “We had intended to have a launch at Valentine’s Day,” David said, “which was a huge part of our marketing strategy.”
There was another minor hiccup: Andrew had purchased plane tickets to Austin as part of a flash sale the week prior in order to show off more of the country to his cousin, who was visiting from South Korea. This put a damper on their ability to deal with the shipment problems, but they decided to figure it out when he returned.
“He booked a ticket, they flew out there, they grabbed some barbecue,” Beck said, “and in what was intended to be a 24-hour visit before he came back and we kind of finalized all of our contracts and incorporated and the rest of it… He drowned.”
On top of the emotionally draining reality that Andrew’s friends and family were now living in, a logistical nightmare formed. Who was going to pay for the funeral? How were they going to transport his body? And, as a slightly minor but still important point, what about the game? The last email from Andrew to Beck was just a series of deadlines to make sure Divorce! made it to PAX East 2015. One ended up being the day of Andrew’s funeral.
Upon learning of her son’s untimely death, Elizabeth Pae immediately began to suspect foul play despite there being no evidence that it was anything other than an accident. Part of this stems from the nature of his death, and part of it stems from the fact that Elizabeth seemingly just does not like David Beck very much. David claimed that after the accident Elizabeth had referred to him, in conversations with Andrew’s other friends, as the Antichrist. Elizabeth herself admitted she doesn’t like David, though not in quite those words.
Elizabeth believes that David has been trying to get his hands on Divorce! from the moment Andrew died. She claimed that David told her he and Andrew had gotten married, which David denies. She said that’s when she learned her son was gay — which he was, but there’s no evidence of romantic involvement with David. “This jerk did as much as possible to threaten me so he can steal the game,” Elizabeth wrote in an email.
Elizabeth has suspicions about the way her son died, the way he was buried, and whether all of his belongings had been sent back to her. Elizabeth wanted to cremate her son in Austin and have his ashes shipped back to New York, but David and others wanted to ship the body for a proper funeral. David eventually managed to get the cash to ship the body via a GoFundMe campaign, which only became another sticking point for Elizabeth as she believes he pocketed the cash or otherwise mishandled it by dealing with Andrew’s father for the funeral.
Perhaps the greatest source of Elizabeth’s animosity towards David has to do with the Kickstarter campaign. The Kickstarter account, the bank account attached to it, and the page accepting additional pre-orders of the game were all controlled by Andrew; after he died, they were inaccessible.
“This jerk did as much as possible to threaten me so he can steal the game.”
David reached out to Kickstarter in order to take control of the campaign, which changed the byline on the Kickstarter page from “created by Andrew Yoon” to “created by David Beck” due to the way campaign accounts are handled by Kickstarter’s backend. (Kickstarter has improved the system since then by introducing the ability for people to designate co-creators and collaborators in May 2016).
David later added a line crediting Andrew, but Elizabeth has repeatedly implied that this was David attempting to take full credit for Divorce!. Elizabeth continues to use Andrew’s email, Twitter, and even a Facebook account bearing his name and face. In 2015, she filed a lawsuit on behalf of her son’s estate, alleging that David was illegally running the business.
The details of the lawsuit are a labyrinthian mess with back-and-forth arguments covering everything from David’s decision to attend PAX East with the game as its representative to whether Elizabeth now has rights to Andrew’s former room in the Beck family’s house.
The two were in contact about how to proceed with Divorce! almost from the moment Elizabeth knew that her son had drowned. According to David, the majority of what he did in the interest of the business was done with the approval of Elizabeth. According to her, David is a thief and a liar.
On January 12, 2017, Judge Peter J. Kelly of Queens Surrogate’s Court handed down a ruling in Elizabeth’s lawsuit. David was not legally Andrew’s business partner, and is therefore entitled to nothing. The judge found that his relationship with Andrew was more akin to that of a contract employee, because he had entered into a legally binding agreement with Andrew as a consultant on the game in August 2014.
The judge also dismissed essentially all evidence provided by David, such as testimony from mutual friends, because of a rule that prevents interested parties from testifying about what a dead person did or did not say.
Basically, David would have to provide proof of communication with Andrew that clearly established the two of them as business partners. Simply testifying to the fact that it happened isn’t enough. David claimed that the conversations about a partnership almost exclusively happened privately and in person. They lived together, David argued, and that’s just how they talked. It just so happened that the partnership was never agreed upon in a way that left a paper trail.
“Viewing [David Beck]’s contentions in the best possible light, it is apparent that, other than [Beck]’s own testimony, there is not one scintilla of evidence supporting his claim of the existing of a partnership,” the decision reads.
David has been hit with around $71,000 dollars in damages, most of which is Elizabeth’s lawyer fees. She’s also currently trying to get the court to find David in contempt of court for not meeting all the terms of the judgment, like paying up in a timely manner and turning over websites associated with the company and game, the latter of which Beck claims to have done to the best of his ability despite the domains expiring.
She continues to sell the game. Andrew’s Facebook account was memorialized, as is common with Facebook accounts of dead people, so Elizabeth made a second Andrew Yoon Facebook account which she uses to update the game’s Facebook page. She has also used the social media pages for the game she now controls to share her disdain for David.
“It’s like a Black Mirror episode.”
She’s also added a new game to the mix, which she calls Divided, that’s “about the most urgent situations facing our country and world.” It’s unclear who designed it. Those that backed the Kickstarter or knew Andrew and David, or both, have not responded well to all of this, to say the least.
“I think the last thing Andrew would have wanted is an ‘ugly court battle’ and his partner and friend's name being disparaged like this,” William S. Mitchell III wrote in response to the first Kickstarter update from Elizabeth. She spent a portion of that update attacking David. “Was...was his Kickstarter hacked?” another backer added.
The Facebook page isn’t doing any better. “It's truly a miscarriage of justice that the court seems to validate your distorted worldview,” Anne Baltazar, the artist for Divorce!, wrote in response to a post from Elizabeth blaming David for letting the page sit idle. “[Y]our misguided sense of grief has done nothing but harm the community that rallied around your son and supported his dream.”
David disagreed with the judgment, but did not appeal.
“I provided Andrew with a place to live for a year,” Beck said when I spoke with him for the first time in early January. I’d asked him to provide a timeline of the creation of the board game up until that point. The summary judgment had not yet been filed, and no damages had been awarded. “I helped organize and arrange and pay for his funeral, I then gave the eulogy. I have paid to continue the business despite not having the funds that were provided by our loving community… It’s potentially going to cost me six figures, which is… It’s going to destroy my life.”
“He was my best friend,” David continued. “He was my best friend, and I’ve had to sit in a room and be accused of his murder. I have to watch the person that did that wear his face online, speaking crazy things. Like a chat bot, just retweeting anything with the words ‘divorce’ and ‘game’ in it. It’s like a Black Mirror episode.”
At the time, David came off as optimistic, but desperately sad about the legal drama. Now however, months after that conversation, he has given up.
“This case has consumed my life for over two years,” Beck wrote in an email update after damages were awarded. “I've spent all my time and energy meticulously categorizing thousands of pages of conversations, years of friendship... for nothing.”
His relationships on all fronts have suffered, he said, his emotional health is destroyed, and he’s financially ruined. He doesn’t have the $71,000 dollars. “This game is cursed,” he wrote. Ultimately, he said he just needs to make peace with all of it and move on.
He also wrote that the core idea of Divorce! was taken from part of a tagline for the 1983 film WarGames — the only winning move is not to play. In the film, which sees a computer simulation take over real missiles with the threat to use them, this appears near the end after the simulation discovers there are no winners in nuclear war. “I think I'm finally going to take our own advice,” he wrote.