Today, we present a performance: a tale of two foes, one locked in heated bitterness over the other who revels in his sarcastic cynicism. But lo, the victim of the cruel villain’s curt opinions, wrought with anger, vows revenge in the stupidest and most hilariously public way possible.
Let’s be real, as someone who is a writer by trade, we are used to hard criticism. As an author of journalistic articles, you have to be prepared that you are a crappy writer sometimes, and your editors are going to fillet your beautifully written article with a red pen and point out how poorly you did. As an author of fiction, you have to accept the reality that sometimes people don’t like what you’ve made. This is the essence of criticism: anyone can do it, because everyone has opinions. Sometimes people won’t enjoy your lovely little macaroni picture. That’s the end of the story for most folks – they receive negative criticism, take it on the chin, and learn from their mistakes.
Not so with Digital Homicide Studios LLC and developer ImminentUprising, who are currently locked in a war of words and legal threats over their game The Slaughtering Grounds with reviews editor at The Escapist and internet personality, Jim Sterling. A quick recapping of events:
- Sterling posts a first impressions video of The Slaughtering Grounds, an FPS zombie game, being judgmental and crass as he is with pretty much every game he tries out.
- The Slaughtering Grounds developer responds by creating a YouTube channel called Review The Reviewers, whereupon they reupload Sterling’s video except with text overlaid on top. The text was sarcastically speaking as Sterling, and essentially calling him an idiot.
- Sterling reposts this Review The Reviewers video, and mocks it, because he finds it funny.
- Not to be outdone, ImminentUprising posts a blank video that contains the audio of Sterling mocking them, and again insults him with text overlay.
By this time, the internet had already caught wind of the drama, and began pointing out how fair Sterling’s impressions were, as well as many cut corners taken by the developer. Many of the assets of the shoddy game were reused. Much of the game was glitchy and broken. The blood effects were stolen from a Google Image search. The official artwork was stolen from an independent artist without credit. Not to mention that the game looks and plays like absolute rubbish.
And if you were curious, you would be correct in assuming that the developer was banning users and censoring negative feedback on their Steam forums. They went so far as to create a contest to give free game codes to anyone who would give negative criticism about The Slaughtering Grounds, before promptly banning everyone who entered.
Surely that’s the end, right? Surely the devs would have learned their lessons from being the laughing stock of the independent gaming community, right? If only it were so. It seems now that ImminentUprising is getting serious, issuing a DMCA claim to Sterling, allowing them to remove the initial video from Youtube.
Dear ImminentUprising, developer of Slaughtering Grounds. You DMCA-wielding cowards. You won’t win.
— JimFnSterlingSon (@JimSterling) November 9, 2014
Yes, they went with a full DMCA takedown as the latest installment of their ongoing, undignified little fucking tantrum.
— JimFnSterlingSon (@JimSterling) November 9, 2014
The developer later went on to confirm his intentions to sue Sterling on the grounds of fair use, although it’s hard to tell whether this was just big talk or an actual threat, as the developer later deleted the statement. Who could blame the developer for backing down from such a threat, as Jim Sterling is currently associated with the network Polaris. TotalBiscuit illuminated the uphill battle for The Slaughtering Grounds devs in a recent video: “I dearly hope they attempt to pursue this in court… Jim Sterling is part of Polaris. Who owns Polaris? Disney. I hope you like being drowned in lawyers. Make no mistake, Mickey Mouse ain’t got time for your bullshit.”
Welcome to a long and sad history of developers attempting to silence negative critique. The Slaughtering Grounds enters an ever-growing line of developers who can’t seem to keep their mouths in muzzles, including: Air Control, Earth Year 2066, Guise of the Wolf, and Day One: Garry’s Incident. In some hilarious coincidence, these games are almost all exclusively awful in quality and frequently use stolen assets. If anything is to be learned from these past errs by developers, it is that censoring criticism does not work. Any DMCA claims that have been set forth failed in their efforts to silence negative critique, and some of the behaviour has even earned the game itself being booted from Steam.
Let’s players and Twitch streamers have solidified their own importance in the video game industry by existing en masse. Thousands of gamers record footage of their gameplay for entertainment, criticism, and posterity, and the law defends this practice. If anything, the laws should be updated to better define the true legalities of this grey space in copyright law, although we all know how slow the law is to catch up with modernity. What is inarguable is that abusing the legal system by issuing false DMCA claims to take down people’s creative content because someone doesn’t like it is not just bad form, it’s illegal under penalty of perjury, as noted by the legal blog PopeHat.
But why does this matter? Why should we be concerned as gamers?
I would argue that we should be aggravated by this type of behaviour on the part of the developers because it is inherently anti-consumer in nature. As much as we may love Steam, it is inarguable that they have dominance in the digital games market; you will be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t buy their games through Steam. This is coupled with the fact that Steam has been doing an awful job of curating their own store, and while recent improvements have been made to allow users to curate for them, this doesn’t take Valve off the hook. Games are continuously farted out into the online retailer: crappy mobile ports, shovelware, and a slosh of trashy independent releases that are functionally broken and unplayable.
The Slaughtering Grounds and Air Control aren’t merely early access or greenlighted games, although any game that attempts to sell itself based on misinformation is foul regardless of its release date; these are listed as finished products, demanding your money. It would be easy to brush off the issue by saying, “Well I wouldn’t buy that,” but the reality is almost nobody would buy these games if the developers didn’t go out of their way to publicly lie to your face as a consumer about their own products to try and trick you into clicking the BUY button. Moreover, these games clutter a market that is already inundated, forcing good games that deserve your attention from getting the attention they deserve.
The fact that the response of developers to receiving any negative critique demands immediate censorship of all unwanted behaviour is even more disturbing, as it works entirely against the ideas of free speech. Accepting that behaviour is a slippery slope that none of us want to see the community go down. Imagine if Twinfinite’s highly critical video on The Sims 4 was removed from YouTube because EA did not like it. The content in Yami’s video is no different from the content in Jim Sterling’s video, and you could guarantee that if the video were critiquing The Slaughtering Grounds, it would likely have received a DMCA claim as well. And believe me, if you don’t think some publishers would love to remove some of their content from videos you’ve recorded because they don’t like it, you would be sorely mistaken.
So here’s a toast to you, ImminentUprising and The Slaughtering Grounds. Welcome to the exclusive club of video game creators who refuse to acknowledge freedom of speech and freedom of expression. You will be forever recorded into the annals of history not by your creation, but by your horrible anti-consumer practices. Hopefully your consistent attempts to stifle criticism make it less possible for peers of your ilk to do the same, so that those of us who enjoy playing games can do so with even more freedom and protection than we already are already afforded, and can freely mock and criticize any game we choose if it doesn’t meet our standards as the people buying them.