Alex Birlo on March 5, 2021
This week we’ll take a look at the controversy surrounding the Lovecraftian detective game “The Sinking City”.
So first of all, if you are not familiar, lets establish the participants in this controversy. All of this is going to be important as we continue.
The Sinking City is a third-person detective game in the style of Lovecraftian horror.
It was released back in June 2019 to a mixed reception, both amongst critics and players. But it is universally considered that it was a good attempt and one of the better Lovecraftian-styled games of resent years.
The game was developed by “Frogwares”, a Ukrainian studio from Kyiv, that is best known for all these Sherlock Holmes quest games.
While the publisher was the French company “Nacon” formerly known as “BigBen Interactive”.
Coming to the situation that we are looking at today, the developers (Frogwares) used DMCA to request and remove its own game from Steam.
Many people were actually eagerly awaiting the game and the opportunity to play the improve edition, but due to this DMCA strike not everyone managed to get it.
“Why” I hear you asking wherever it is you are now? Well, there is an entire story behind it, that is both hilarious and sad at the same time.
It involves a legal dispute between Frogwares and Nacon over development fees, copyright royalty, and actual theft and hacking, which goes as far as August of last year.
So I will try to be quick about it, but the takeaway is that the game is currently not available on Steam, and hell knows when it will be available there. So if you what to play it on PC, you can try your luck on some other gaming websites selling the game directly from Frogwares.
On August 25th, the developer of The Sinking City “Frogwares” published an open letter to the public, where they disclose the reasons and information related to their legal battles with the publisher Nacon.
They explain that back during development, they signed a licensing agreement with Nacon (called BigBen Interactive back then) to help finance the production of the game.
In exchange for financial support, Nacon would receive the right to commercialize the game on 4 platforms: Xbox One, PS4, Steam and later Epic Games Store.
This is important to know, since the game was recently upgrade for the PS5.
But Frogwares would still remain the owner of the IP and entitled, of course, to a share of the sales.
The financial contribution of Nacon would be provided in installments at each critical development milestone.
Then they go on to explain how Nacon began acting towards the studio and eventually committed several breaches of the contract, leading to its termination.
The publisher would withhold funds and be hundreds of days behind on each payment despite the development being completed in time.
In addition, when Nacon acquired Cyanide, a French studio that would be working on another Lovecraftian game “Call of Cthulhu”, they allegedly demanded from Frogwares to hand over the source code for The Sinking City.
When Frogwares refused the unreasonable demand, since Nacon had no rights to the source code, they reportedly did not receive payment for over four months.
After the release of the game, Nacon told Frogwares to essentially go fuck themselves, because they were cancelling previously approved milestones; which in turn meant that Frogwares would not receive any share of the sales.
Nacon went on to try and claim ownership of the IP, by removing Frogwares logo from the Xbox One and PS4 game covers and some other marketing materials.
They even created a tabletop RPG of The Sinking City without even notifying Frogwares. And also began buying domain names related to The Sinking City and Frogwares previous Sherlock Holmes games.
Though of course, the main reason for the lawsuit against Nacon and the termination of the licensing agreement is the withheld royalty payments, which Frogwares claims to have reached around €1 million.
Even though the contract was officially terminated, the publisher continued to receive money from sales of the game, so Frogwares had to withdraw The Sinking City from big platforms like Steam, and distribute it through a handful of websites that work directly with the developer and on their own website.
Then a long “back and forth” ensued between the companies in the French court.
First Nacon tried to contest the termination of the contract in court but was rejected.
Then on October 28th the Paris Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the French publisher. Stating that removing the game from stores was too excessive and that Frogwares “had terminated the contract in a manifestly unlawful manner”.
Thus, they are to continue the contract with Nacon, until the court has confirmed whether Nacon were in fact in breach of the contract. All while refraining from actions that would further affect this contract.
Now, on February 26th this year, Frogwares released the following tweet:
And instantly the battle between the developer and publisher resurfaced, as Nacon then released a statement – in The Sinking City’s Steam news feed – allegedly disclosing the amount of money that they have invested in the game.
Since the game was withdrawn from steam, the page with the statement is not available as I am writing this, so I have to rely only on the gamingindustry.biz article where I read this.
The same day, Frogwares released a blog post on their website and a video on YouTube about “How Nacon Cracked and Pirated The Sinking City”.
I recommend you watch it later too, to get a good picture of the situation and how it looked.
But in short, the programmers form Frogwares led their own investigation and presented proof of Nacon’s blatant attempt at distributing a Steam version of the game, despite Frogwares refusing to continue working on it – which means there are no achievements or cloud saving.
The video demonstrates that the game’s version that was sold on Steam is an altered version of “The Sinking City” that is officially sold on a video game website called Gamesplanet.
They discovered that the Gamesplanet logo was removed from the startup screen and replaced with Nacon, while the Frogwares intro is partially skipped.
While in the main menu, several features and elements are missing, having been cut out because they required internet connection to check what version of the game is used and prevent pirated versions.
All of this is possible only if Nacon had decompiled or hacked the game flies using a secret Key that was created by, and available only to, Frogwares as part of an Unreal Engine inscription system.
What’s also ridiculous, is that apparently this is not simply the base game, but the deluxe edition. Which means it contains certain content that Frogwares developed after the original release of the game.
Which they obviously did not discuss with Nacon. And so it also means that the publisher is stealing additional content that was not discussed in the contract and was not paid for.
In addition to all of that, there are some smaller, more intricate changes related to file size and alterations made to the original config file. Which you can look up in the original video.
In the end, we have Frogwares requesting a DMCA and succeeding in removing the allegedly pirated and altered version of “The Sinking City” from Steam once again, despite the Paris Court of Appeal prohibiting them from taking any action that might affect the agreement with Nacon.
While Nacon are trying to protect themselves by claiming they followed the contract, financed the development and marketing of the game and Frogwares are “sabotaging [Nacon’s] investments”.
To me this entire story seems so absolutely ridiculous and impossible that I do have my doubts about the minor details of the case.
But in recent years, with so many publishers being exposed for horrendous ethics, I ultimately stand on Frogwares’ side, with all the proof they have provided in their blog posts and videos.
If true, such behavior on the side of publishers should not be disregarded, and should be punished by law.
Frogwares official open letter August 2020: https://frogwares.com/the-sinking-city-is-being-delisted-heres-why/
Gameindustry.biz article from 5th of January 2021 about The Sinking city returning to stores: https://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2021-01-05-the-sinking-city-returns-to-stores-as-nacon-wins-first-decision-in-ongoing-legal-dispute
Gameindustry.biz article from 1st of March 2021 about Nacons statement from the Steam news feed: https://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2021-03-01-nacon-blames-frogwares-for-feature-lacking-steam-version-of-the-sinking-city
Frogwares blog post and video on “How Necon Cracked and Pirated The Singking City”:https://frogwares.com/how-nacon-cracked-and-pirated-the-sinking-city/