Update: Frogwares have issued a DMCA takedown notice to remove Nacon's version of The Sinking City from Steam. More below. (Original story from March 2nd)
The Sinking City developers Frogwares have accused publisher Nacon of pirating the game and allegedly uploading an illegal copy on Steam. Nacon published a version of the Lovecraftian RPG on Valve's storefront on Friday, which was quickly followed by Frogwares urging fans not to buy it. The two have been embroiled in a messy legal dispute over the game since last year. Now, the developers believe Nacon "cracked, hacked, changed the game's code and content" in order to put it on Steam and allegedly prevent Frogwares from earning money from a game they claim they own.
Frogwares and Nacon have been tangled up in a legal dispute since summer last year. At first, Frogwares alleged that Nacon breached their contract during the game's development by missing payments, and allegedly tried to claim the game's copyright as their own.
The developers removed the game from sale from some digital storefronts to stop sales going to Nacon. However, in October the French courts found that this unlawfully terminated their contract with the publisher, and they had to play nice with them until the legal dispute was sorted.
The Sinking City started showing up on digital stores again in January, but the version that went up on Steam mysteriously disappeared again shortly after. It only returned last Friday, and now the devs are claiming this new version is a pirated one that Nacon allegedly stole from another storefront.
In a blog post, Frogwares claim the version of the game currently on Steam is one that was originally bought from Gamesplanet. They allege that Nacon altered it to remove Gamesplanet watermarks and logos, as well as advertisements for Frogwares' Sherlock Holmes game.
"In order to make changes Nacon had only one way: to decompile or hack the game using a secret key created by Frogwares since the totality of the game’s content is archived with an Epic Unreal Engine encryption system," the devs say.
"To be clear this is hacking and when hacking has the purpose to steal a product and make money with it, it’s called piracy or counterfeiting. In order to achieve this goal, programmers with serious skills need to be involved. This is not DIY work by inexperienced people, this is done by programmers who know Unreal engine well."
They go on to explain the tech of it all in more detail, which you can read about in the blog post, or get an idea of in this video explainer they made.
"We believe Nacon did this to hide the fraudulent exploitation of the game on Steam but also on other portals which they may be planning to send the game to. Nacon wants Frogwares or anyone, including the French Justice, to never know the true scope of their exploitation of the game," Frogwares say.
The developers highlight that they "still fully trust Steam and Gamesplanet". They believe that Nacon bought The Sinking City legally on Gamesplanet before they allegedly hacked it, and that Steam would have no way of knowing the game was supposedly pirated.
"Nacon has proved they are willing to do anything possible to serve their interest, including illegal actions. They ignored the decision of the Justice and bypassed them, pirating The Sinking City in order to deceive their partners, Steam in the first place," Frogwares say.
"There are long term damages we need to take care of, Nacon unpacked our data, stole our source code and used it. Nacon can create a new version of The Sinking City using our assets; they can resell, reuse, recycle our content and our tools etc."
Last night, Nacon responded to Frogwares' comment asking players not to buy the game on Steam. Here's their statement:
"We regret that Frogwares persists in disrupting the release of the Sinking City. It was Frogwares who came to Nacon to request financing for the development of the game, and to date, more than 10 million euros have been paid to Frogwares by Nacon. It was Frogwares that relied on our marketing and promotion teams, representing thousands of hours of work and several million euros worth of investment. Now that the game has been fully developed, and published, largely thanks to Nacon's money and work, Frogwares would like to revise the terms of the contract to their sole advantage. It's easy to play the victim, but all we seek is that Frogwares respect its commitments both in the contract and as demanded by the courts.
"In regards to feedback on the release of the Sinking City on Steam, this is an official and complete version. However, due to a lack of cooperation with Frogwares, we are unable to integrate Steam-specific features (cloud saving/achievements). Thus, this version contains only the base game, without any additional content. Despite this, we have organized the release so that fans on Steam can enjoy the game."
Update: The Sinking City is gone from Steam yet again, because Frogwares issued a DMCA takedown notice to get it removed. In a statement to Vice Games, Valve said: "The Sinking City has been in dispute in French courts for a while. An interim decision last fall appeared to give Nacon the right to distribute the game on Steam while the litigation proceeded. However, today we received a DMCA take-down notice for the version that Nacon recently shipped, so we have responded to that notice."
Update: Nacon have responded to Frogwares' claims of piracy, saying that they had acted within their contract in order to release a version on Steam.