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), 3 Mar 2021 @ 9:04pm

    Note: I don't speak French, so I'm only going by statements made by both sides and the various press reports. Perhaps a native French speaker might be able to dig out the original case records and see what's what, in more accurate detail than I can obtain.

    While I tend to agree that the publisher's probably far more in the wrong, here, things might be a little trickier than that in practise.

    This is a Ukrainian developer fighting a French publisher in a French court. From what's been reported, French courts have generally favoured their own nation's financial interests over and above what seems morally or even legally right, over the past few years - or so it seems to me. Frogwares may face an uphill battle, just from that factor alone.

    From what I gather, Nacon asserts - and so far, the French courts apparently agree - that they had a contractual right to publish the game. I have the impression that Frogwares may have had no legal right to pull the game from sale, without first getting some form of prior judgment authorising it. If pulling the title was wrong, I can envisage Nacon claiming that they've merely made whole their injury, when the matter eventually gets back to court.

    I can then see the average judge then preferring to write both sides' improprieties off as tit-for-tat vigilantism that should be ignored, rather than getting deep into the weeds of who did what to whom. After that, said judge would only have to look at contractual details, rather than go through reams of terrifying technical details presented by Frogwares. Most judges aren't renowned for their love of technology, after all, either in France or anywhere else.

    Who might win the case seems therefore to be very much an open question.

    All that said, I do get the impression that Nacon threw the first metaphorical punch, here. Reading between the lines of their statement on the cracked game's subsequently-pulled Steam page suggests to me that they did owe Frogwares royalties - they don't exactly deny it - but were sore about paying it, since the game hasn't made enough money.

    I get no sense that the publisher's in serious financial trouble, or anything - it just seems like they don't want to pay, until they've got more money to justify their alleged €10 million investment.

    Whether we start out rich or poor, desperate times do push many of us to desperate measures - and in my view, there are certainly some sins that deserve forgiveness, even in the corporate world.

    Merely being too damn greedy to pay your developers what you know you owe them really isn't one of them.

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