Another Game Developer DMCAs Its Own Game In Dispute With Publisher

from the pirate-publisher dept

Way back in early 2019, we wrote about an odd story with a game developer DMCAing its own game on Valve's Steam platform over a dispute with its publisher. The short version of the story is that the developer accused the publisher of ghosting out on royalty payments, so the takedown allowed the developer to wrestle back control of the game and put it back up themselves. Steam, which has a reputation of being far more friendly to publishers than developers, in this case actually helped the developer wade through getting control of its game.

And now, two years later, it's happening again. Frogwares, developer of The Sinking City game, issued a DMCA notice for the game to Steam. At issue again is the publisher, Nacon in this case, being accused of both of skipping out on royalty payments last summer and cracking Frogwares' game and altering it, putting out a completely unauthorized version. See, due to the royalty issues, Frogwares had already pulled the game off of digital storefronts last summer. Suddenly, Nacon published a new version of the game on Steam in the past few days. The details as laid out by Frogwares on that last bit are... quite a thing.

In a post it put up yesterday afternoon, Frogwares further detailed the situation, writing, “[T]o our great surprise, we found a new version of The Sinking City was uploaded to Steam and launched, but Frogwares didn’t deliver such a version… Nacon, under the management of its president Alain Falc, asked some of their employees to crack, hack and pirate our game, change its content in order to commercialize it under their own name, and this is how they did it.”

The game developer’s post goes on to share a variety of information that, Frogwares writes, is evidence proving the French publisher bought The Sinking City from a separate platform and altered the game’s data to hide its tracks. This included replacing online retailer Gamesplanet’s logo in the opening credits and loading screen as well as removing a dynamic “Play More” option from the main menu that pointed players towards Frogwares’ other games and acted as a non-intrusive security measure by connecting to external servers.

Nacon claims otherwise, of course. The publisher says it has a contractual arrangement with Frogwares, that the new release is authorized, and that all is on the up and up. But two facts seem to suggest that might not be true. For starters, if this were an authorized release, why the mucking about with buying and cracking other copies of the game from other storefronts? Assuming the evidence Frogwares is putting out there is true, there should be no need to do any of that if there is an arrangement between developer and publisher.

But Nacon knows all of that, as it's been locked in a legal battle in French courts over the rights to publish the game for months. From a statement Frogwares put out:

Regarding our use of a DMCA to remove the game from Steam. We believe in a very short time, we were able to collect extremely strong evidence to indicate this version of the game was pirated and contains content that Nacon has absolutely no rights to – namely The Merciful Madness DLC. A DMCA notice proved to be our most effective tool to give us time to gain further potential evidence and to also start the required and lengthy additional legal processes to prevent this from happening again.

We are aware that a final ruling on whether Frogwares are obligated to deliver a Steam version has yet not been made and could take years. As it stands, we have an appeals court ruling saying, until further notice Frogwares do not need to deliver a Steam version to Nacon. In the meantime, Nacon decided to take justice into their own hands and release a pirated build.

Which sort of makes that publisher a pirate if true. And this is the sort of piracy that damned well should be punished.

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Filed Under: dmca, royalties, steam, the sinking city, video games
Companies: frogwares, nacon


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  1. icon
    DocGerbil100 (profile), 4 Mar 2021 @ 4:21am

    Further to this, I've been looking at Frogwares' blog-post / open letter from August of last year, along with the various links they've given. Beyond the actions this article focuses on, which is bad enough behaviour in itself, it really does seem like Nacon has been conducting itself quite poorly.

    Aside from the alleged financial misconduct and other contractual breaches, it appears, amongst other things, as though Nacon wants to claim whole ownership of Frogwares' IP, but without having any actual legal right to do so.

    Frogwares has been very consistent and clear that Nacon is only the strictly-limited licensee for Sinking City, not the owner. Nacon has - or had - the rights to distribute the game on certain platforms, but apparently no right to claim it as their own work.

    For it's part, Nacon has been putting it's own copyright notices (in both it's current name and it's former name of Bigben Interactive) on various marketing materials, claiming IP ownership for themselves, while stripping out and relegating Frogwares' name and logo to the back covers, if they're even mentioned at all.

    It appears they've even gone as far as authorising a tabletop RPG based on the game, presumably taking licensing fees for it, without apparently having the slightest right to do so and with no mention of Frogwares in the copyright notice.

    One curious thing about this: as the Frogwares post points out, Nacon's official stock market prospectus has a list of four licensed action / adventure games, but describes Nacon working "[...] avec IP propriétaires", which - depending on the translation - might be interpreted as either working with IP rights-holders, or once again, claiming whole ownership.

    That list includes a Warhammer title. If Nacon's trying to imply - much less claim - actual ownership of a licensed Games Workshop property, then I can see their current difficulties suddenly becoming rather sharper, if GW's lawyers get wind of it.

    As Nacon's public reply points out, the French courts have sided with Nacon, thus far - apparently on the basis that the contract was improperly terminated by Frogwares.

    Nacon also says that one of the provisions of that contract allows them to use a third-party to adapt the game, if necessary - which is why they evidently feel they have the right to pirate the game and strip out the logos and other indicia of Frogwares and Gamesplanet.

    I'm of the view that - whether or not a given court agrees with Nacon's actions - this is an appalling way to behave: even actual, commercial videogame pirates don't generally go so far as to remove the developer's logo and claim ownership of the titles they're pirating.

    That a publicly-traded company like Nacon thinks it's appropriate or professional to do so utterly defies belief.


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