by Tim Cushing

Filed Under:
criticism, derek smart, video games

Game Dev Derek Smart (Again) Responds To A Negative Review By Making Vague Legal Threats And Banning Commenters

from the celebrating-18-years-of-bad-reactions dept

There are many ways to handle criticism well, and none of those ways include lawsuit threats or deleting comments. This almost always results in a previously localized event becoming the focus of widespread coverage and commentary. Instead of only a few people knowing how lousy your product/service is, everyone knows. It's a phenomenon whose name scarcely needs repeating here at Techdirt.

Despite this well-known effect, some people continue to feel that blustering thuggishness will somehow make the problems go away, as is the case with the game developer whose recent attempts to rub out a negative review quickly spiraled out of control. (via Adam Steinbaugh)

The game developer is Derek Smart, one who has never shown much interest in damage control. Smart's problems with negative reviews go back at least as far as 1996, when public discourse ran through AOL, CompuServe and Usenet. Negative reviews of Smart's insanely ambitious "Battlecruiser 3000" prompted what has been declared the "longest running flamewar" in Usenet history. Smart made tons of promises about the game (which had been in development since 1989), many of which failed to materialize in the finished product. Disappointed reviewers expressed their disappointment and Derek Smart (among many, many other things) expressed a desire to sue them.

In 2004, Something Awful poked the (somewhat dormant) hornet's nest with its "Completely Libelous Review of Universal Combat," a game the reviewer admitted to not having played and which opened with this memorable sentence:

Universal Combat is one of the first games produced solely for sex offenders.
Needless to say, the hornet's nest responded by poking at SA's own hornet's nest. This poke arrived in the form of another (somewhat veiled) lawsuit threat, albeit one prefaced with the phrase, "I get parody," before heading off in a direction that suggested Smart didn't actually get parody.
And there is parody and then their is libel. Stating as fact that I was convicted of bank fraud, is NOT funny - and I can 100% guarantee you, is not within the legal guidelines of fair use parody…

Look, I know some of you think you're above the law because you are on the net, but I never have and never will take legal action against ANYONE in the media. But if you bastards make me set an example, it won't be a good one. And trust me - I don't think any of you have enough pennies to rub together to outspend me. So whatever you do, don't test my resolve. I'm NOT taking this shit anymore.
Smart asked for the correction of the bank fraud assertion and received this in reply from "Dr. Richard Kyanka, PhD."
Dear Doctor Smart,

As per your request, I have changed the offending remark.

"When he was convicted of bank fraud in 1994"

has been altered to:

"When he was convicted of bank fraud and raping an entire petting zoo in 1994"

I hope this is satisfactory.
So there's that. Nearly 20 years down the road from his one-man assault on Usenet, not much has changed. A gamer recently published a review of Smart's "Defense Tactics." Overall, the review isn't terribly negative but it does point out that the game is short, shallow and most crucially, has severely broken controls. It does highlight other aspects, but in the end, the reviewer points out its not worth the $25 Smart's asking for it.

That's when everything started going haywire. Smart banned this reviewer from his dev forum, followed by flagging the full review as "abusive." This prompted the reviewer to add bunch of links to Smart's apparent burial of negative comments (via the deletion of posts and banning accounts) at his section of the Steam forums.

Smart then penned a lengthy response to the heat he was taking, which immediately got off on the wrong foot by suggesting that gamer reviewers suffered from an outsized sense of entitlement. During the extra-long read, Smart dropped a small hint about what he felt the corrective action should be.
The forum mob mentality is the bane of internet forums and is the primary reason why, across the internet various content providers are taking steps to curb (you can't prevent haters from hating or people from behaving badly) this behavior as best they can. So much so that many a lawsuit has been filed against some people who went too far.
The reviewer on the receiving end of Smart's unhappiness also grabbed a screenshot of another comment Smart had made, which suggested he was serious about using the legal system to shut down criticism. (That original post has apparently since been altered or deleted.)

The non-specific legal threat reads as follows:
Whether it is a lawsuit or just a discovery engagement to find the misfit behind the anon mask, I will pursue as I have done on several occasions -- and prevailed.
At this point, it's tough to say how much this will affect the public's perception of Derek Smart. 17 years of actively arguing with critics in public forums tends to leave a lasting impression. Smart's has often stated he doesn't care what the public thinks, but his actions prove otherwise. As far as damage control goes, he's apparently never found anything but scorched earth to be a useful tactic.

What's bizarre about Smart's defensiveness is that the review is not a simplistic bashing. It highlights what the reviewer found enjoyable or innovative about the game, but in the end the reviewer felt the game was too short (and the controls too broken) for it to be worth the premium price Smart was demanding. This isn't the sort of thing that should lead to multiple defensive posts from a developer, much less the indiscriminate banning/deleting of comments and commenters.

While this situation will likely only solidify Smart's antagonistic relationship with the public, it is having an adverse affect on his latest game. Steam's "tag" system has been used to tag the game with such colorful phrases as "Diva Game Dev" and "Overpriced Port of a Mobile Game."

Some semblance of order has been restored at this point (likely related to the game being temporarily unavailable for part of Feb. 15th), with the tags having returned to the more expected "space," "scifi" and "strategy." (Although Smart's efforts haven't completely eliminated the "scam" tag…) One would normally call this sort of internet give-and-take "instructional," but we're dealing with Derek Smart whose tactics haven't shifted since 1996. He may find that the internet is much, much bigger than it was in the CompuServe/AOL heyday (or even 2004, for that matter), but as he stated in his long post at Steam, he's too old to care about engaging with negative commenters (while pretty much writing off the entirety of Steam's forum members as trolls).

If that's the case, there's nothing to learn, at least not for Derek Smart "PhD." If nothing else, this may kick off the Great Steam Flamewar our kids will be reading about in Wikipedia twenty years from now.

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  1. icon
    dsmart (profile), 19 Feb 2014 @ 2:07pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: This is simply untrue

    Cry me a river. I don't care about you enough to be concerned about whether or not you are being civil. The fact that I banned, then blocked you, should be a clear sign that I want nothing to do with you. Take a hint.

    There is a reason that you were banned on the forums and my blocking you (and the rest of your quartet who are now here - doing the same thing). This would be it. And it's called HARASSMENT. Look it up.

    And you don't have any of my games. People who own my games - let alone play them - have a lot more sense that you exhibited in your posts and here.

    Have a nice day. I think I'm done here.

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