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Steam pulls Digital Homicide games following fan lawsuit

Indie studio alleged harassment in $18m lawsuit against Steam users, now considering legal action against Valve for its response

Digital Homicide Studios has pledged to file a lawsuit against Valve after its games were removed from Steam, a move taken after the company filed a different suit against 100 of Steam's users.

In a statement sent to Polygon, Valve explained that it, "has stopped doing business with Digital Homicide for being hostile to Steam." It was a direct response to a lawsuit Digital Homicide filed against 100 Steam users that had formed - by its own estimation - a "hate and harassment group" targeting the company, its products, and other consumers with a legitimate interest in its games.

According to a legal document obtained by Kotaku, Digital Homicide has claimed that members of the group were involved in "continual and repeated attacks" on the company, across a period of between 1 and 21 months per member, and spanning between 10 and 2,000 Steam community posts per member. The document states that, in total, the "Digital Homicides Poop Games" group generated 20,000 posts, which the company believes constitutes, "repeated anonymous harassment." The group describes itself as, "a dedicated consumer-advocacy group and censorship safe haven."

The lawsuit is asking for $18 million in damages from the 100 Steam users based on a list of charges that includes stalking, harassment and criminal impersonation. This appears to be at the root of Valve's decision to remove Digital Homicide's games from Steam; a move that the company's founder, James Romine, has since condemned in a post - titled "Seeking Legal Representation" - on its official website.

"By removing us they have taken the stance that users have the right to harass me, tell me I should kill myself, and insult my family. If I try to defend myself against said actions then I lose my family's income"

Romine has accused Valve of failing to respond to, "numerous reports and...multiple emails in regards to individuals making personal attacks, harassment, and more on not only us but on other Steam customers who were actually interested in our products... The lawsuit recently filed is solely in regards to individuals where no resolution was able to be obtained from Steam to provide a safe environment for us to conduct business."

The post highlights instances in which threats - including death threats - were made against both Romine and Digital Homicide's employees, and insults were levelled at Romine's wife and children.

Romine continued: "By removing us they have taken the stance that users have the right to harass me, tell me I should kill myself, and insult my family. If I try to defend myself against said actions then I lose my family's income.

"If it wasn't for two years of experience of dealing with Steam on a regular basis, this disgusting stance would seem shocking to me. The only thing that prevented me seeking legal counsel for a long list of breach of contracts, interference with business, and antitrust issues was the fear of losing my family's income. Since that has been taken away I am seeking legal representation."

This isn't the first occasion that Digital Homicide has pursued legal action against what it perceived to be a threat. Earlier this year, it filed a $10 million lawsuit against the critic Jim Sterling for, "assault, libel and slander."

However, this isn't the first time that Valve has been accused of failing to properly moderate Steam's community. Indeed, our own Rob Fahey concluded "I don't think Valve cares" when he examined the toxic atmosphere on the platform in May this year.

"The problem is this; Steam is almost entirely unmoderated, and Valve makes pretty much zero effort to reign in any behaviour on its platform that isn't outright illegal. As a consequence, it's open season for the worst behaviours and tactics of the Internet's reactionary malcontents - the weapon of choice being brigading, whereby huge numbers of users from one of the Internet's cesspits are sent to downvote, post terrible reviews or simply fill content pages with bile."

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Latest comments (12)

Connor Martin Aspiring game designer/tester 2 years ago
If you have money to blow on lawsuits surely you could afford to make a game that isn't an asset flip, just maybe?
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@Connor Martin: regardless of the quality of the games a studio makes, if you're a serious owner of a public platform you are responsible for moderating it at your best, and provide a healthy environment to both partners and users. If you have reasons for kicking a developer out, you do it before hundreds of idiots are able to post 20K+ offensive and threatening posts to the developer and his family. Just maybe ?!
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Marty Greenwell Software Developer 2 years ago
You probably want to go and check the behaviour of said developer.
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Show all comments (12)
Anthony Chan2 years ago
I do agree with Emanuele on the merits of Digital Homicide's actions, however unfortunately it feels like Digital Homicide's lawsuits are just trying to 'stick it to the man'.

I strongly believe the whiners from the current 'entitled generation' are truly a bunch of low-life, low-class, sad-excuse-for-a-human-being types. They only do what they do, because internet anonymity allows them to do so.

But the lawsuits are just going to make things worse. While I would love to SILENCE these arseholes, I believe spending money on the equivalent of a pew-pew gun on what would be characterised as a boss level demon is a waste of resources. In addition, all Valve is doing is protecting its own interests.

What would be a solution is devs and publishers combined need to create fully controlled forums for gamers to provide constructive feedback and discussions for the game. As part of joining the community, the gamers would need to login with a validated facebook page.

Valve just needs to allow devs/publishers to turn off feedback and commenting on the steam platform and link any commenting to an outside webpage requiring login.
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Marty Greenwell Software Developer 2 years ago
"What would be a solution is devs and publishers combined need to create fully controlled forums for gamers to provide constructive feedback and discussions for the game"

That wouldn't help in this instance, this is why: https://soundcloud.com/jimquisition/special-jim-sterling-and-digital-homicide-hash-it-out
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 2 years ago
Your boss can force you to make your feedback constructive.
You cannot force your boss to make his feedback constructive.
You are not the boss of your customers.
Leave it to the court to sort out the difference between freedom of speech and legally relevant threat
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Connor Martin Aspiring game designer/tester 2 years ago
@Emanuele Salvucci: The healthy environment you speak of was available before the developers started threatening people with legal action for bad reviews, alongside the nature of deleting threads and any complaint that bruised the ego of the creator if I dare to even call them that. Between legal action against Jim Sterling for "assault, libel and slander" and the several instances of downright childish and arrogant behaviour from the developer, I have no concerns for the filth thrown their way. Steam is a terribly moderated platform, however he who would fling the first handful of shit cannot complain when it is flung back.

I'd rather not see death threats and general toxic behaviour anywhere, however forgive me if my sympathy is reserved for those who get such despite being pleasant and reasonable people and developers.
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James Prendergast Research Chemist 2 years ago
Totally with Klaus on this. You can create a walled-garden of 'things you want to hear' and curate those which you don't but that isn't useful to yourself or the people commenting. Forcing people to be verified is the exact opposite of the scientific principle and modern democratic principle, that being: judge the argument on its own merit, not who it came from.

Not excusing the behaviour of anyone on either side here, there is poor behaviour on both sides from many angles but ultimately, closing down discussion by limiting who will comment and who is controlling the comments displayed will only work against everyone involved. You only have to look at the news stories of yelp users being sued for leaving legitimate negative reviews by companies to see this.

On the other hand, I really feel that, as a society, we're still in the middle of a transition that incorporates 'internet' into our understanding of the world around us: past, present and future. We should be able to view past or present indiscretions without judging but many don't. We should be able to take legitimate criticism but because the format is 'global' we can't. We should be able to leave responsible feedback/criticism but we fail - not due to anonymity but due to distance; in the same way we excuse our opinions of those at a distance in other countries.... Then we have the businesses judging us by our facebook accounts and online histories... Plus we have our own personalised segregation of how we experience the world through 'social media tools'...

This isn't healthy - and the majority of us are doing it and, at the same time, we're driving ourselves apart.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by James Prendergast on 20th September 2016 5:52pm

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Anthony Chan2 years ago
@James Prendergast: I do see yours and Klaus' point. But I do argue that the idea of a walled garden is a response to the unfortunate situation that internet discussions have become.

You are right in the fact that a world where selective commenting and forced identity verification is counter to a non-judgemental and democratic process. However, we are in a situation where a few bad apples are abusing the freedom they are 'entitled' to. Outside, when we go to a restaurant, participate in a board meeting, or purchase a good; we responsibly use our freedom to communicate appropriately. In case of a disagreement we rarely come to a point of insulting, threatening acts of violence, or full on public shaming. Hopefully, most of us are decent people and know how resolve problems in a dignified and appropriate manner.

I would even venture some of the internet 'trolls' actually fit into the group of gentle folk that are described above outside of the internet. The concept of free speech on the internet and the anonymity that goes with it skews how many trolls behave on the net vs outside. Since the internet is not at a stage to be rigorously policed, walled gardens may be the next best approach.

It's like a club meeting in your house. IN YOUR HOUSE, even strangers who have been graciously invited, know there is a certain way to act. When you INVITE a fan to partake in discussions on YOUR WEBSITE, its not public property, and proper manners should be in check. If somebody wants to act rowdy and inappropriate, you can kick them out. No need for lawsuits, rage-fests, and what not. Plus, the angry can still take it to other areas of the internet to be heard - just not in an official sense.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Anthony Chan on 20th September 2016 6:35pm

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Rafael Brown Creative Director/Co-Founder, Digital Myths Studio, Inc2 years ago
@Connor Martin: death threats and general toxic behaviour are never justified. They don't get reserved for people that you disagree with or people you have less sympathy for. They never get tolerated, EVER. Flinging shit as you call it, insults, disagreements, etc, are not ideal, but they never will justify threats, doxing, stalking, harassment, or other behaviour. We're not going to have a discussion here about how much harassment is permissible. None of it is.
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Marty Greenwell Software Developer 2 years ago
It's worth reading the submitted documents relating to this lawsuit (and their other one), they've been posted unofficially in a number of places (though there's a fee for officially accessing them so I won't link to those). It'll probably raise some question of whether this is really about harassment.

https://www.pacermonitor.com/public/case/19146067/Romine_v_Unknown_Party_et_al (PACER is an electronic public access service of United States federal court documents).

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Marty Greenwell on 20th September 2016 10:04pm

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James Prendergast Research Chemist 2 years ago
@Anthony I agree and I see the same problem you do. I wasn't and do not advocate for no moderating procedures to remove those bad apples but moderation can be implemented transparently and without 'verification' and 'real names'.
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