Game Studio's Plan To Deal With Critic Of Games: Sue Him To Hell

from the waaaaaah dept

There are lots of dumb ways for companies to combat online critics. You can simply claim copyright over the criticism as a way to try to silence it, although that tends to end poorly for the silencer thanks to public backlash. You can go to the court to ask for an injunction against the critic as a way to try to silence it, although that tends to end poorly for the silencer thanks to the Streisand Effect. Or you can ask the courts to test whether the criticism amounts to defamation, although, again, The Streisand Effect, the public backlash, and the fact that those types of suits are rarely successful.

This story is an extended example of the last of those, with game developer Digital Homicide deciding to file suit against game critic Jim Sterling to the tune of ten million dollars, all because Sterling’s shtick is to post online reviews mocking what he considers to be crappy video games.

Digital Homicide claims Sterling, whose real name is James Stanton, has “falsely accused [Digital Homicide] and caused damage” to the company. According to court documents, the company is asking for $2.26 million in direct product damage; $4.3 million in emotional, reputational, and financial distress; and $5 million in punitive damage requests. That adds up to $10.76 million, and it’s nothing to scoff at.

The claims are, frankly, ludicrous, but they’re the kind you occasionally see leveled against an online critic. As most of you will know, the claims being made will typically need to be shown to have been willfully fallacious to get past what will surely be Sterling’s defense, that his criticism is either his opinion or that it is valid, or both. The monetary damages asked for are equally silly. The only real potential meat to this whole thing is the accusation that Sterling falsely accused Digital Homicide of committing offenses or crimes.

In an article titled “Digital Homicide And The Case Of The Sockpuppet Developers,” Sterling remarked that another Digital Homicide game, Galactic Hitman, had artwork taken from elsewhere. Specifically, it may have been lifted from an artist on DeviantArt. Sterling later edited the piece to say it “may” have been purchased from Shutterstock, an online repository of media. In the lawsuit, Digital Homicide presented a July 2015 receipt for a Shutterstock subscription.

As Sterling dug into other companies Digital Homicide was connected to, he discovered that the people behind the studio had also started a company called ECC Games, which seemed to take its name from a different game publisher in Poland. Digital Homicide points to a line in Sterling’s article where he argued it could lead to “potential legal trouble for folks who rebranded and accidentally defamed a completely different studio.” In the piece, Sterling spoke with the Polish publisher, who said it had “already taken legal actions.”

In other words, you have a commentator or critic raising the issue of potential legal issues, while not directly claiming them to exist as a matter of certainty. That couching language is likely going to mean that the false accusation portion of the suit will fail, as there’s very little difference between how Sterling discusses this and how any media outlet deals with the existence of potential criminal or civil actions.

And that’s really all a side show, because the fact is that Digital Homicide appears to be chiefly angry about the criticism of its games as leveled by Sterling.

The drama began when Sterling published a 10-minute video of Digital Homicide’s first-person shooter Slaughtering Grounds in November 2014, dubbing it the “new” worst game of 2014 “contender” and a game where “the awfulness just doesn’t stop.” The game did not get much attention outside of Sterling’s videos; in fact, one of Sterling’s critical videos is the second Google result for Slaughtering Grounds and the first result when you do a search on YouTube. In response to this criticism, Digital Homicide published two videos — both removed, though archived on Sterling’s channel — where the developers call Sterling “a fucking idiot” and accuse him of not playing the game correctly.

In another — again, now deleted — post, Digital Homicide explained its position.

“In the sole instance of Jim Sterling’s ‘Squirty Play’ video,” said the developer, “We find the usage of the terms ‘WORST GAME OF 2014 CONTENDER!’ and ‘Absolute Failure’ to describe the entirety of our product while not actually evaluating it in its entirety unfair and unreasonable use of our copyright material. While the reader may disagree with our claim, we believe the unbiased perspective of a court will agree there has been a violation of our copyright and for this reason we will be pursuing an attorney and proceeding with our complaint.”

That last bit had originally come along with a DMCA takedown of Sterling’s review, but Sterling appealed the takedown to YouTube, which put the video back up, because the claim that this kind of criticism is copyright infringement is insane.

So, how’s everyone in the public reacting to the DMCA takedowns and the lawsuit? Well, Digital Homicide had put up a crowdsourcing site to fund its legal efforts against Sterling, but had to take it down because of the sheer number of people trolling the page. The press, meanwhile, is reporting on this issue, and not in a manner favorable to Digital Homicide. In true Streisand Effect form, Sterling’s reviews are spreading as a result, and Digital Homicide comes off looking petty.

In other words, they had better win that ten million dollars, because it doesn’t sound like the public is going to be happily buying their games at the same volume as they did before all this nonsense began.

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Companies: digital homicide

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Comments on “Game Studio's Plan To Deal With Critic Of Games: Sue Him To Hell”

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33 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Errmmm, how do you inflict emotional distress to a corporation?”

Are you able to feel emotional distress? If the answer is yes then your question is answered.

After all, with the act/law of turning slaves into people, aka living human beings with human rights, corporations became people too. Sure, over 90% of people who used the law at the time were corporations but let’s be honest… how can anyone argue that an artificially created construct is less of a human being than a living breathing black skinned, subhuman slave*?

bit of /s to not offend while statics are true

Sarah Black (profile) says:

Digital Suicide missed their chance

Digital Suicide could have taken the review in stride, and marked all their sales slogans with Sterling’s quotes. Then they could have created a second game building on the same concepts as the first, and marketed as, “Winning Worst Game of 2014, We are trying again for 2015!”

Using bad publicity to create a lasting impression that will sure get people to see what made it so bad, all while going down in history for being “the best (worst) at something of the year.”

Its so bad, you have to see it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1eFdUSnaQM

Kronomex (profile) says:

Why bother addressing the issues raised in the article when it’s so much easier, and more childish, to cry, “Waah, he’s picking on us so we have to sue him for being a bully.” If what I saw when checked their site a couple of minutes ago: “Games Made With Love” and a image comprised of a horrible drawing a giant arse with the endearing title of AzzHoles. No wonder they’re offering 80% off a number of their “games” on Steam. Awful is a good word.

Lurker Keith says:

Re: Re:

They already tried that. Sterling &/ or his fans followed the shell game & outed them as the same people. That’s part of what the “devs” (given they’re resorting to more or less asset flipping, apparently, I don’t know if they can be called devs) are mad about.

They’d have to get out of making games completely to leave Sterling’s radar… His fans may track them more, anyway.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: TSE!

forgot the quote:
” You can go to the court to ask for an injunction against the critic as a way to try to silence it, although that tends to end poorly for the silencer thanks to the Streisand Effect. Or you can ask the courts to test whether the criticism amounts to defamation, although, again, The Streisand Effect”

Anonymous Coward says:

What they could possibly be thinking?

“Game Studio’s Plan To Deal With Critic Of Games: Sue Him To Hell”

What are you talking about, it’s a great plan!!!

A: All publicity is good publicity. Use the Streisand effect to your advantage.

B: Lawsuits are expensive. Sue people frivolously and critics know you mean business. This will deter other critics from criticizing you by setting up an example of what happens when you get criticized. It’s better to be feared than loved.

C: If you’re lucky you might get settlement payments. PROFIT!!!

D: This is a great opportunity to learn how the courts operate. Next time you want to sue someone or get sued now you have some idea how to navigate our legal system because you have some experience. You can even put it on your resume!!!

So if you want a ton of publicity that’s much cheaper than what you’ll get paying for adds, legal experience, and to send a message to critics suing people frivolously is the way to do it!!!! The lawyers will thank you!!!

klaus (profile) says:

Re: Re:

EDIT: It’s quite early here and my brain is only just coming online and I’d composed my response below reacting to your “All publicity” line thinking your post was for real… then I saw your sprinkling of “!!!” and on re-reading I realized I had nearly fallen for your gag. Well played sir/madam. Techdirt board, sorry.
——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————
Just my thoughts…

A: All publicity is good publicity – no, not really, this is an age-old myth

B: Lawsuits are expensive – exactly so, which is why Digital Homicide bizarrely tried to crowd-fund their litigation against Sterling and failed

C: If you’re lucky you might get settlement payments – no-one really wins but the lawyers

D: This is a great opportunity to learn how the courts operate – I can’t speak for you, but I’d rather gnaw my own face off than spend a day in a courtroom

See Sarah Black’s comments above – this is how to respond to criticism, with a light touch and good humour. And a classic Star Trek clip.

Anshar (profile) says:

Just because I'm feel pedantic…

$2.26M + $4.3M + $5M = $11.56M not $10.76M.
Just sayin’

Digital Homicide claims Sterling, whose real name is James Stanton, has “falsely accused [Digital Homicide] and caused damage” to the company. According to court documents, the company is asking for $2.26 million in direct product damage; $4.3 million in emotional, reputational, and financial distress; and $5 million in punitive damage requests. That adds up to $10.76 million, and it’s nothing to scoff at.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: I suspect that ANY press for Digital Homicide

Plus even if they will lose the lawsuit just suing people sends a message, if you criticize them prepare to face an expensive lawsuit!!! (OK, I guess that plan doesn’t work at deterring criticism because then it results in more criticism … but don’t tell them that).

Lurker Keith says:

any press?

Everyone pointing out “any press is good press” is forgetting something. Jim Sterling is, technically, the press. And, apparently, was the only press talking about them. Digital Homicide is a weird case in that press is NOT what they want. Any scrutiny is bad for them, since they appear to be trying to make quick bucks for minimal effort on a bunch of “games”.

Most games take years to make, but DH seems to release something every couple months (according to Sterling), & they are a small studio. So, something is up w/ them, & they don’t want light pointed their way to find out what it is.

Any press is not always good press. Look at Prenda as a golden example.

Anonymous Coward says:

You know, most games Jim chooses to berate really are crappy.
Digital Homicide’s case is their own fault, things escalated because of their own “review the reviewer” retort.
I’ve been following the “Jimquisition” since its Destructoid days. Now Jim used to be a bit brash and perhaps too outspoken, but that was a long time ago.
Right now he, at most, sometimes calls developers “lazy”, that’s only when the games themselves look lazily put together.

Lurker Keith says:

Re: Re: Re:

Oh, Jim’s going to fight. You know he is. I wouldn’t be surprised if he tries to stream the trial, if it actually gets before a judge (DH may be insane, but they can’t be THAT insane, can they?). I have a feeling he has been waiting for this. Doesn’t necessarily like it, but preparing.

Not sure if he still has it, but at one point, Jim was one of 4 YouTubers given special protection by Google, including access to a million dollar legal fund, for just this scenario.

Jim gets hit w/ bogus DMCAs so much, even Google noticed & couldn’t ignore it.

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