If you follow the drama surrounding Steam Greenlight at all, then you’re probably aware that Digital Homicide Studios has been going at it with video game critic Jim Sterling for awhile. Sterling first criticized their game The Slaughtering Grounds in a quick-look YouTube video in late 2014, citing crude graphics, stolen art assets, and lazy, inept programming among its many faults. In the two years since then, the situation has only escalated, first with a series of bizarrely defensive Steam community updates and YouTube videos, continuing with Sterling’s famously acerbic responses, and now culminating in a lawsuit accusing the critic of “assault, libel and slander”, details of which the studio has posted on their blog.
The post was put up on behalf of James Oliver Romine Jr., one half of the brother duo behind Digital Homicide Studios. In it, he outlines why he feels Sterling is responsible for emotional and punitive damages, citing the verbally abusive behavior of community members and lost revenue in response to Sterling’s criticism. He goes on to state that many of his harassers are current or future competitors in the games market, and that he is building a case on each of their threats, including those from overseas from anonymous handles, adding that this is only the first of many lawsuits to come. The lawsuit is filed in Romine Jr.’s homestate of Arizona and he is asking for assistance from supporters to raise the funds to hire a lawyer. You can read the statement in full over at the developer’s official site.
This situation illustrates some of the deep problems with the Steam Greenlight process, one that The Slaughtering Grounds evidently went through to reach Steam’s front page, where Jim Sterling first saw the game. While the beauty of Steam Greenlight is that even a game from a less experienced developer can become a success, the problem is that many of this less experienced developers also lack the project experience to polish their games thoroughly or even complete them at all. Some have even been abandoned and of those that aren’t, many are a subpar mess that shouldn’t be passed off as playable to the consumer. And because Valve has little to no vetting process for the identity of developers and publishers on Steam Greenlight, companies like Digital Homicide Studios have been allowed to spam the digital sales site with multiple below-standard titles with little to no repercussions.
The conflict also highlights the ongoing abuses of YouTube’s Content ID system, which even with its latest reforms can still be used by some developers and publishers to silence reviewers by making claims on their video for using in-game footage in a critical context.
When reached for comment Jim Sterling told us via instant message:
“All I can tell you is that I am dealing with this situation and that I am fully confident about it.”
We will update you on this story as new information emerges.