Update: Mike Maulbeck has now left Code Avarice, the developer of Paranautical Activity. I’ve updated the story below at the end with his statement.
First-person shooter Paranautical Activity has been pulled from Steam after its creator tweeted a death threat about Valve founder Gabe Newell. Mike Maulbeck’s tweet – since deleted – followed an all-caps rant in response to the game being incorrectly labelled as being in Early Access. Because I guess this is the world we live in now.
The first tweet from Maulbeck read, “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME STEAM? WE JUST RELEASED OUT OF EARLY ACCESS AND THIS IS OUR FRONT PAGE BANNER?”, alongside the image embedded below, which states “Now Available in Early Access” underneath. He followed that up with more complaints.
The deleted death threat tweet has been deleted , but was captured by the website Player Attack. It reads simply, “I am going to kill gabe newell. He is going to die.”
Later that day, Valve got in touch with Maulbeck to tell him that they were removing the game from sale. The developer forwarded those emails to Eurogamer:
“On your Twitter account today there were a series of messages where you expressed your frustration with Steam. We are generally comfortable with partners expressing this type of frustration or any other viewpoint directly with us or publicly through social media and the press. But one of your tweets this morning was a threat to kill one of our colleagues. Death threats cross a line. We have therefore decided to end our business relationship with you and Code Avarice.”
“We’ve closed down your Steam admin accounts and we’re removing the game from purchase on Steam. We will leave make Community Hub available so that existing customers will continue to have a place to discuss the game. Our understanding is that you’re done developing the game, but if you need to ship an update to Steam customers, get in touch with us and we can help ship the update out for you.”
Maulbeck has since tweeted a number of follow-ups, stating that he’s “done making videogames now. It sucked while it lasted.” and that there was no way “to make a living in this industry without steam.”
Paranautical Activity was successfully funded via Kickstarter last year, but has had previous difficulties with Steam when Valve said that the game couldn’t be added directly to digital storefront by publishers Adult Swim after it had previously been submitted to the user-voted Greenlight process. The game’s publishing deal with Adult Swim consequently fell through.
The game was and still is available to buy through other services like the Humble Store and direct from the developer himself. It eventually garnered enough interested players to pass Greenlight, and launched into Early Access. liked the early build he played last May. The game launched its final version just yesterday.
In speaking to Eurogamer, Maulbeck states that he had reached out to Valve about the incorrect labeling “a few hours” before he started tweeting, and that he was frustrated when he received messages from people accusing him of deliberately marking the game as Early Access “to try and avoid criticism of the final version.”
On Twitter and in discussion with Eurogamer, Maulbeck seems mostly contrite for his threat, though he does downplay his comments, arguing that he “obviously didn’t mean” what he said, and tweeting “Mike blows up at valve on twitter. Valve wins because valve.”
A better summary might be, “Person threatens to kill other human being. Human being no longer wants to help person make money.”
Of course, it’s always possible Valve simply invented this whole scenario. It wouldn’t be the first time that the developer has gone too far in order to gain attention from gamers, having previously orchestrated a worldwide conspiracy to disseminate the number “3” in order to increase hype for “Half-Life 3”, a game which they then never even made.
Update: Late on the 21st, Mike Maulbeck announced that he was leaving Code Avarice, had sold his share of the company to his partners, and would no longer have anything to do with their future games or profits from Paranautical Activity.
As a result of my actions, Paranautical Activity, a game made by 4 or 5 people depending on who you count as team members, was removed from steam. I feel is it my responsibility to step down from Code Avarice completely so that Steam has no reason to harbor any more ill will towards the company, and maybe even if we can’t see Paranautical Activity restored, at least future Code Avarice games may be allowed onto the platform.
He goes on to state that this is the end of the road for him and indie game development.
My temper and tendency to use twitter to vent has been a consistent problem since I entered the games industry, and I just can’t do it. I don’t have the willpower necessary to be the “face” of a company. If I do continue to work in games it’ll be as an anonymous 1 of 1000 at some shitty corporation, not the most public figure of a single digit sized team.