UPDATE 2: TechRaptor received a statement from Valve on the matter:
Valve has stopped doing business with Digital Homicide for being hostile to Steam customers.
UPDATE: In the past hour, Valve or some other company has responded to the lawsuit by pulling Digital Homicide’s games (The Slaughtering Grounds) off of Steam entirely.
Original Story Below:
When it comes to the Video Game Industry: the developers, the media, and the community all manage to co-exist with each other on the internet. The people just want to play games, the press just wants to talk about them, and the studios want to make it happen and release something they hope is good. It’s a deal that works out pretty fairly for every party involved. But with the advent of the Digital Homicide situation, these three spheres of influence all crash into each other in a litigious mess. The conflict between YouTuber and Commentator Jim Sterling and game development studio Digital Homicide has been talked about in most circles of the web in the past, but the Romine brothers in charge of the studio are now taking it a step further and are now suing people who reviewed and made comments about Digital Homicide’s games on Steam for “personal injury,” and demand $18 million in reparations, according to legal documents provided by the SidAlpha YouTube channel.
The subpoena was granted, allowing Romine access to user’s personal information as a result of the legal discovery process. The screenshots included in the court documents show comments from Steam users claiming that Digital Homicide stole assets to use their games, along with statements saying the company is guilty of going after critics of their products. Many of these sentiments the public has toward Digital Homicide started back when the studio had a fight against Jim Sterling.
What started out as just another video for Sterling’s channel back in 2014 ended up becoming a much bigger controversy that would take up a good chunk of his time for months to come. The root of this situation can be traced back to an ongoing feud between Sterling and Digital Homicide, described here back in October 2015. As stated in the video, Digital Homicide’s game The Slaughtering Grounds was the subject of an episode in Sterling’s “Squirty Plays” series back in November 2014. After the flaws of the title were put in the spotlight, the developers made personal attacks against Sterling and DMCA’ed his video from YouTube altogether. The studio took it a step further, by allegedly doxing him and spreading further false allegations against Sterling’s reputation. The situation eventually died down according to Jim, with Digital Homicide appearing to be publicly quiet (a sit down interview between the two happened in July 2015). But then come August came his Devil’s Share video, and the next month he had done an impressions video of Galactic Hitman. Little did Sterling realize was that Digital Homicide was also behind these games.
They were published under a different developer and publisher label via Steam. Both Devil’s Share (2015 archive) and Galactic Hitman (2015 archive) turned out to be Digital Homicide productions, unbeknownst to the gaming community.
Sterling made this connection and began looking deeper into what was going on. He came across other similar products, such as Attrition: Nuclear Domination and Bombing Run. It all started coming out when Steam record repositories listed Digital Homicide as one of the game’s developers, in addition to including these seemingly third-party titles to the collection included in the Digital Homicide Studios Mixed Pack. The situation escalated when Sterling received an email from ECC Games (which turned out to be an actual mobile game studio in Poland), expressing concerns about what was happening with Digital Homicide. ECC Games took legal action against Digital Homicide, causing them to change their name to Every Click Counts Games in response. Under this new label, they attempted to get a game named Primeate through Steam Greenlight.
All the suspicions by Sterling had a factual basis when the involvement of the “Bundle Blitz” website is factored in. This seemingly third-party website happened to provide deals and other offers for games made by the Romine brothers, and Jim pointed out how many different shell companies were involved in this operation. While he was able to put together several clues and hints as to the direct connection between Bundle Blitz and Digital Homicide, Sterling was directly vindicated after the Bundle Blitz website made a reveal announcement about this themselves. Below is archived records of the Bundle Blitz page in September 2015 and January 2016. The website was taken down (or expired) at some point after. For a mini demonstration of this, here’s Bundle Blitz’s Twitter page where they directly confirmed Digital Homicide as the owners of the website.
The center of Sterling’s concerns was the fact that Digital Homicide was releasing a high volume of titles (Jim counts 19 total) in the span of months. He criticizes Steam’s low requirements for entry as a reason why this developer was allowed to upload games that were seen as buggy, with questionable asset usage, and low quality (according to the Steam reviews and so forth). This back and forth between Sterling and Digital Homicide escalated to the point of one Romine brother allegedly contacting Sterling directly via telephone, and informing him that Romine‘s lawyer wanted to sue Sterling for defamation. The description by Romine was apparently very specific, claiming that he and his lawyer understood the legal capacities of Maker Studios in regards to Jim’s YouTube channel, and they elected to target articles on Sterling’s website that were about the topic.
That’s how the feud between Sterling and Digital Homicide unraveled, anyway. By March 2016, the studio announced the lawsuit in a blog post, asking for the public’s help to fund their expenses. A link to the official court documents surfaced. They seek $10 million in damages from Sterling in that particular case.
As far as what this whole thing means for the public? Whenever the court system is involved, the results of whatever decisions are made tend to set precedent for future law-related controversies. Given the direct involvement of a part of the gaming community here, this situation is something to definitely keep an eye on.