from the good-guys dept
In recent days, megalith digital games platform Steam found itself making headlines with a tweak to its game reviews system. At issue was Steam's prioritizing reviews from customers who bought a game on Steam over anyone else. Asked for an explanation for the move, Valve suggested that some game developers were attempting to game the reviews system by exchanging download codes for positive reviews. While this explanation omitted the prevalence of crowdsource funding of games, such as Kickstarter funding, Valve at least was putting on a public face of trying to treat its gaming customers well.
And now we have the second such story of Valve looking out for its gaming customers, as the platform has chosen to entirely drop a game developer known for its anti-consumer behavior off of the Steam store. You may recall that Digital Homicide is a game developer that has been featured on these pages before, having decided that the best way to deal with some mildly scathing reviews of its games was to sue the reviewer for ten million dollars, alleging emotional, reputational and financial distress. It seems that lawsuit wasn't a one-off, as Digital Homicide has now apparently filed suit against a whole bank of Steam users (at least 100), who reviewed Digital Homicide games, to the tune of $18 million, with a court recently granting a subpoena requesting that Steam turn over identification data for those users.
And, as a result, Valve has dropped Digital Homicide completely from the Steam platform.
By Friday evening twitter user "lashman" discovered Valve had removed all of Digital Homicide's games from Steam. Games like Wyatt Derp, Temper Tantrum, and The Slaughtering Grounds (the first game Sterling reviewed)—are all gone along with their community pages, reviews, and associated downloads as if they'd never been there. You needn't worry if you've already bought the games in the past. They're still there, accessible through your account's library. But if you have a pressing desire to play Wyatt Derp in the coming days, you'll have to look somewhere else besides Steam.
"Valve has stopped doing business with Digital Homicide for being hostile to Steam customers," Valve VP of marketing Doug Lombardi told Motherboard in a brief email. He didn't say how Valve plans to handle the subpoena or if "being hostile" even directly refers to the lawsuits.
Valve went as far as to allow community groups and past purchases to remain up on Steam, but everything else is gone. No more games for sale. No more reviews of any kind. No promo videos or early access projects. It's gone.
Digital Homicide, as is its wont, is attempting to wrap itself in the blanket of victimhood, throwing all kinds of accusations at its targets and doing everything it can to pretend that this legal action doesn't revolve around negative reviews of its products.
On Saturday night, Digital Homicide responded with a lengthy post on the studio's homepage, suggesting it targeted Steam reviewers who harassed them.
"The lawsuit recently filed is solely in regards to individuals where no resolution was able to be obtained from Steam to provide a safe environment for us to conduct business," Digital Homicide said. "We submitted numerous reports and sent multiple emails in regards to individuals making personal attacks, harassment, and more on not only us but on other Steam customers who were actually interested in our products."
The post then goes on to show screenshots of posts on the Steam community boards illustrating these personal attacks. Two of the biggest examples, in which one user says he wants "to murder every single person responsible for this [game]" and another that tells Digital Homicide chief James Romine he should "kill himself for making me waste 0.14 for your ****** game," don't appear in the leaked documents from a few days ago.
They don't appear there because these lawsuits have nothing to do with the kind of over-the-top vitriol that any game developer ought to have fashioned a thick enough skin to wave off in this digital era. This is all about the reviews and nothing but. Were the court to suddenly find itself burdened with lawsuits against every game review that included nasty language, the system would collapse on itself. Everyone knows this, everyone deals with this. It may not be pleasant, but it isn't a reason for a lawsuit.
Yet Digital Homicide's suit claims harassment, alongside -- swear to god -- disorderly conduct, stalking, criminal impersonation, tortious interference, libel, unjust enrichment, restitution, negligence, damages, and conspiracy to commit civil rights violations. In its response to being dropped from Steam, the developer goes on to claim that Valve's siding with its customers is an indication that Steam is not a "safe environment", before suggesting that some form of legislation is needed.
It better come quick, along with a win against every John Doe it is suing in court, because the prospects for Digital Homicide making any money from selling its games to a public now informed of these actions are bleak indeed. Valve meanwhile, and its Steam platform along side it, have built up just a little more goodwill with that same public in siding with customers over an abusive game developer.