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Anger mounting over non-payment from games marketplace

Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Over the last week many developers have privately expressed frustration to Polygon over a lack of communication with the Desura online games marketplace. Very recently, those complaints spilled over into social media as many devs complained that they're not being paid for games already sold.

Polygon contacted the team at Desura to find out more, but so far that response has been hampered by a single bottleneck — CEO Tony Novak — who is currently hospitalized. As it turns out, Novak is also the single point of contact for all payments to developers as well.

Evgeniy Kolpakov, writer and developer at Sometimes You, was among the first to bring issues with Desura to our attention. His complaints centered around a lack of email response, but also a lack of prompt payment for games sold through the service.

"The only person who answered my emails was the CEO of Bad Juju Games," Kolpakov said, referring to Novak. "He sent only a third of our payout by PayPal and promised to send other money after the weekend. That was on April 18, and after that he stopped answering emails."

Jay Margulus, developer of Delve Deeper, shared an email thread with Polygon through which he has been trying to receive payment from Desura since the first of May.

Desura's CEO is currently hospitalized.

"Our game ... has been over the minimum threshold for payment ($500) for two months, yet we haven't received anything yet," Margulus wrote. "Was just wondering if this is normal, or if there's a hangup we should be aware of."

Margulus didn't receive a response for nearly two weeks, and then was told his question would be forwarded on to Novak for further comment.

"I'll speak with Tony as soon as he gets in today," Lisa Morrison, Desura's head of developer relations, wrote Margulus on May 13. "The office is a shambles because it's being moved, but you will be on the list to pay out as soon as he has a chair to sit in once again."

Morrison wrote to Polygon to say that since Bad Juju acquired the Desura service from Linden Lab in November of last year, logistical challenges have mounted internally. Her comments were mirrored yesterday in a post on Desura's website.

"This not an 'excuse' or trying to say there isn't an issue," Morrison told Polygon. "I [want to] let the public know why Tony hasn't personally spoken on it yet, and that he will be doing so. The core of it all is that we don't have automation, we didn't from day one that we bought the site, so we inherited everything that means. We have our sights focused on how to change that, and are waiting to get Tony back with us to move forward on solutions."

Novak's illness appears severe enough to keep him hospitalized for at least a few days, but the fact remains that developers big and small are effectively waiting on him to get well in order to get paid.

Yalcin Oztek, co-founder and managing member of Flying Interactive, put the issues in stark perspective.

"Every penny is very important for small indie devs and teams."

"Even though the revenue that they receive isn't that big of a deal to most larger studios, every penny is very important for small indie devs and teams," Oztek wrote. "While we were working hard to get payments from Desura for our developers, some of them have been falling on hard times because they were counting on the payout from Desura to continue developing games.

"After all these tiresome efforts, we have realized that there is no way for us to continue working with Desura. For some of our games, we and the developers sent Desura agreement termination notices (for games such as Instant Dungeon, Still Not Dead, Into The Gloom and Red Goblin: Cursed Forest). They responded to the notice for two of our games on April 22nd, and claimed that they would turn the games to invite only on Desura after 30 days period ended."

The deadline for Desura to remove those games was today, Oztek said. So far they are all still available for download.

"If you see our games (Instant Dungeon and Still Not Dead) being sold on Desura on May 22nd, this will mean Desura is selling them illegally. About the other two games, Desura still hasn't even responded to the developers' termination notices which were sent in April."

Polygon is in touch with Desura, and is awaiting further comment from Novak.

"I am currently working to establish a news page and forum," Morrison told Polygon, "because we do recognize that communication is an issue, and that was the primary reason I was hired. I have already re-established the Desura IRC channel, #Desura, to make it even easier to get a real time response.

"I am working incredibly hard with the team developing the 2.0 client for Desura as well as the reboot of the entire site and service. Social and community are going to be picking back up in the near future as I start to roll out my changes and get the community overall properly ironed out. The point we want to make most clear is that developers are getting paid, and that there is no refusal to pay here. It's a combination of moving offices (the reason communication has been less the last week), a number of issues surrounding the acquisition, and now Tony being hospitalized."

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