Project Genom [official site], an early access sci-fi MMO, has been removed from the Steam store by Valve following a bitter disagreement between the Russian development studio and an out-of-country programmer. It’s a bit of a mess but basically the argument involves copyright, payments, workloads and all the expected grievances between employer and employee that can lead to disastrous things like this. As usual, it looks like money is to blame.
At the beginning of Project Genom’s life, the developers, NeuronHaze, employed a programmer living in Belgium, Artem Stekhnovskii, to work on the code. All was going fine for the next year and a half, until it hit Steam Early access in October this year. After that, Stekhnovskii was fired. The company claim this is because work from the previous month was left undone, with their employee doing “virtually nothing” they had agreed upon.
But the programmer says he was sacked because otherwise the company would have had to pay him a previously-agreed 10% share of the monthly profits. The game was now making hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales thanks to early access, claims Stekhnovskii, which “exceeds by far everything we have received before through preorders”.
After trying and failing to come to some agreement, the programmer filed a DMCA order to Steam. Normally, a development company would own the rights to the work he has done, but NeuronHaze didn’t sign any formal agreement with Stekhnovskii to this effect. As a result, Valve considered his takedown request to be legitimate (he says he owns 90% of the work) and have removed the game from Steam. The developers will have to make a counter-claim with proof of their ownership to get it back up, which they say they will be doing.
As you can see, it’s a bit of a maelstrom. There are other complexities and accusations underlining the whole thing. But the short version is: man gets job, game is half finished, man gets fired, man says he hasn’t been paid, company disagree, explosion of nastiness. The end result is that you can’t buy it anymore, if you were ever interested, although current owners are still able to play.
My advice, however, is to be extra wary of this game, even if it comes back onto the store. Legal troubles are bad enough (both parties are lining up to go to court over the issue) but with development problems thrown into the mix it does not bode well for its future. On an anecdotal level, I’ve previously tried to run the game a few times, for our Premature Evaluation column, and every time it has suffered a crash or server problems. All in all, Project Genom is a bit of a mess.