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The Sinking City’s studio just DMCA’d its own game off Steam

Frogwares rolls out the heavy ammo in dispute with Nacon

The Sinking City (2019).
Image: Frogwares/Nacon via Polygon
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Frogwares, the studio locked in an acrimonious dispute with publisher Nacon over their game, The Sinking City, used a DMCA claim to have it removed from Steam’s storefront, a Valve spokesman confirmed.

To Vice on Tuesday evening, Valve spokesman Doug Lombardi said Steam “received a DMCA take-down notice” for the version of The Sinking City that Nacon has shipped — the one Frogwares calls a hacked and pirated copy of their game. “So we have responded to that notice,” Lombardi said.

The Sinking City is no longer searchable from within Steam itself, and external links to the game’s product page now redirect to the main storefront.

In a statement provided to Polygon, Frogwares said that the version for sale on Steam “contains content that Nacon has absolutely no rights to — namely The Merciful Madness DLC.” The studio said it sent the DMCA takedown demand to Valve because it was “our most effective tool to give us time to gain further potential evidence and to also start the required and lengthy additional legal processes to prevent this from happening again.”

A Nacon spokesman directed Polygon to a statement the publisher gave Tuesday about the controversy, and declined to make additional comment on the Steam DMCA takedown.

“In the past, Frogwares has improperly relied on accusations regarding a lack of payment to refuse delivery of the game on Steam, at which point they tried to unsuccessfully terminate the contract,” Nacon said in its statement. Nacon said that “despite this blocking situation created exclusively by Frogwares,” it still made the game available to players on Steam (at least until Tuesday’s takedown) and that it would pay Frogwares royalties from those sales.

“By encouraging the gaming community via Twitter not to buy the game on Steam, Frogwares is once again sabotaging our investments in the game,” Nacon said.

A Frogwares representative pointed out to Polygon that The Merciful Madness was “first made for the Nintendo Switch version of The Sinking City,” which launched in the fall of 2019, two months after the Nacon-published PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One versions. That version of The Sinking City “belongs to Frogwares in its entirety,” the studio rep said. “When Frogwares were then able to release the game on other platforms, like PS5 (in February) or via Gamesplanet, they included that DLC.”

Last summer, Frogwares and Nacon went to court in France (where Nacon is based; Frogwares is headquartered in Kiev, Ukraine) in a dispute over royalties for The Sinking City. An appellate court ruled in October that Frogwares unlawfully terminated its contract with Nacon. Although the litigation continues, a judge told Frogwares to “refrain from any action on the breach of this contract,” as well as “any action that impedes this continuation.”

With that ruling, Nacon went back to online storefronts, such as Steam, to start selling The Sinking City again. To do so, though, Nacon says it was entitled to a full version of the game from Frogwares. Frogwares disputes that, and is arguing it in court — in a case the studio says could take years to resolve. Because of that, Frogwares alleges, Nacon took matters into its own hands to sell the game itself, resulting in the version that Frogwares considers “hacked” and “pirated.”

Update (March 3): Frogwares’ representative has provided additional remarks from the studio, explaining its side of the dispute.

Frogwares’ developers note that in the legal dispute, “Nacon made two attempts to get a separate court to order Frogwares [to] deliver the Steam master version [of The Sinking City]. Both attempts were refused by the courts.”

Therefore, “any up-to-date version of the game that Nacon uploads to Steam could not come from us,” Frogwares said. “The Steam version, by a technicality, is in legal limbo, and instead of working with us on a compromise ... or waiting [for] the final trial court verdict, Nacon instead chose to crack a version of the game we rightfully provided to a partner (Gamesplanet), added DLC they had no rights to, whatsoever, and attempted to cover their tracks by removing various watermarks and identifying logos.”

Frogwares clarified that the versions of The Sinking City available on the Microsoft Store, PlayStation Store, Nintendo eShop, Origin, and Gamesplanet “are all published by Frogwares. Our contract with Nacon never mentioned these platforms.” The studio also added that more platforms “are likely to come in the near future.”