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.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.
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."
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.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.
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."
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.