Two-man indie developer Digital Homicide has made more news and gained more notoriety from their response to criticism than from their games themselves. Despite having nearly two dozen games on Steam, they are perhaps best known for representing themselves in a lawsuit against critic Jim Sterling for $15 million in damages related to his reviews and first impressions videos of their games.
Now, Digital Homicide is taking their legal game to the next level. The developer is now in the early stages of filing lawsuits against 100 Steam users for $18 million and is considering taking legal action against Valve itself.
Digital Homicide’s lawsuit against the Steam users alleges ongoing harassment through Steam. Some examples of the alleged harassment have been filed in United States District Court in Arizona and were subsequently posted online. I haven’t gone through all of them but some posts submitted appear that they could be considered harsh criticism rather than harassment or libelous assertions though some posts certainly seem to go beyond just criticizing as well. Whether those constitute libel or harassment is a matter for the court to determine.
The lawsuit makes seventeen different allegations (point #35 of the complaint under the heading “Factual Allegations”) against the defendants including criminal property damage, harassment, stalking, cyber bullying, forming a hate group (called Digital Homicides Poop Games which is also alleged to be false impersonation of Digital Homicide in point #37 of the filing), tortious interference for enrichment by other game developers and YoutTube & Twitch content producers, both taking advantage of a lack of and circumventing moderation tools to commit harassment, and conspiracy to commit a number of those aforementioned alleged offences. The filing, excluding various exhibits submitted to the court with the filing and other items filed, is about 58 pages and I’m not reading all of them.
As part of this lawsuit, Arizona judge Eileen Willett granted Digital Homicide a subpoena against Valve in order to discover the identities of the online aliases that have been named as defendants in the suit. The subpoena was granted as part of the discovery process for the suit and most armchair lawyers following the case say that this is standard practice and little can be read into this ruling.
In response, Valve removed all Digital Homicide games from Steam with a statement saying that “Valve has stopped doing business with Digital Homicide for being hostile to Steam customers.” Various reports say that you can still play DH games on Steam and redeem valid codes should you buy them elsewhere. Valve has not said what it will do in response to the subpoena but Valve’s options are to challenge or comply with the court order. They could ignore it but Valve’s legal department probably wouldn’t recommend that.
This action by Valve comes on the heels of a new filtering system for Steam user reviews that by default filters out reviews from users who have the game on Steam via CD keys input on Steam. Because Digital Homicide’s store pages no longer exist, we can’t check to see how this affects user scores for their games but anecdotal evidence suggests that reviews from purchases on Steam have lower scores (score being the number of positive reviews as a portion of total reviews) than scores from all game reviewers.
Speaking of Valve’s legal department, Digital Homicide posted a statement to their website asking for legal counsel to pursue action against Valve. The statement appears to allege that Valve failed to adequately moderate postings to Steam and they are considering legal action against Steam for damages as a result of what DH considers to be Steam’s lax moderation of postings. US law generally states that owners of a website are not responsible for postings submitted by users registered to it so DH would need a hell of a case in order to set a precedent.
According to Wikipedia, Digital Homicide has released 21 games since their founding in May 2014. The brother development team of Robert and James Romine have apparently developed and published their games under a number of names with four different publisher names (Digital Homicide, Game Portal Publishing, Micro Strategic Game Designs and R. Romine) and six different developer names (Digital Homicide, Every Click Count Games, Micro Strategic Game Design, Imminent Uprising, R. Romine and J. Romine).
Interestingly enough, Digital Homicide’s Wikipeida page also says that DH is “best known for developing video games of very low quality.” We’ll just leave that tidbit of info there. According to Steam Spy, DH’s best games have 39% positive reviews which puts them in the fifth-percentile of games on Steam (5% of all games on Steam have the same or lower review scores). Their lowest scoring game is The Decimation of Olarath which has 23% positive reviews which put it in the first percentile according to Steam Spy. Keep in mind again, the 99th percentile means a game is in the top 1% of games according to reviews while the 1st percentile is the exact opposite.
Hopefully this lawsuit is resolved quickly and painlessly for all parties involved. Users saying that a game is poor and informing other gamers of that is fair criticism. If Digital Homicide is going after users who were actually harassing or libeling them or forming a hate group, that’s a different matter. Of course, it’s up to them to prove it in a court of law as the burden of proof is on the plaintiff. They should probably consider hiring a lawyer to make sure that’s the case, though. The Court doesn’t look too kindly on people wasting it time and paying defendants’ legal fees will probably be more costly than a chargeback on PayPal.