Digital Homicide Studios Sues Jim Sterling

Apologies about the extra article, but I figured that this deserved to be mentioned.

As most people reading this will no doubt be aware, me and HVN are both fans of the online video game critic Jim Sterling, who is best known for his series The Jimquisition, which basically points out a lot of shady behaviour in the video game scene (on all levels, not just on the developer side of things). He has been an independent critic since late 2014 and, while I would be lying if I said that I regard Sterling as one of the best voices in the video game scene, he is a voice that I have a decent amount of respect for due to his willingness to tell it like it is.

Digital Homicide Studios (as I’m sure people may have gathered from my less-than-positive references to in the past) are an indie video game developer (although, as the rest of this article should prove, calling them a developer might be a bit of a stretch) who first became known for their game The Slaughtering Grounds, which was released in late 2014 and, by pretty much all accounts, was disliked for a lot of reasons, ranging from bad quality graphics, bad controls, the reliance on pre-bought assets for the game engine (the Unity engine, for those not familiar with gaming) with no original assets in sight and all sorts of stuff like that. Jim did a video on the game back in 2014 and, well…lets just say things got interesting from there.

See, Digital Homicide Studios, in a move that I’m sure most people will be facepalming at due to the incredible lack of professionalism associated with it, decided to respond to Jim Sterling. By taking his video playthrough of their game and having text over it that was incredibly rude about Sterling himself.

Clearly, these guys know what good PR is…

Sterling’s response was to respond in a similar way: he took their video and added his own written commentary over it, although his was at least more professional and clearly more humorous than theirs was. So, what did Digital Homicide Studios decide to do?

Put a copyright strike on his channel, claiming unfair usage of their work.

Again, I remind you that they had originally taken HIS video, without muting the audio at all, and put text over it insulting Sterling. I believe the term is “pot calling the kettle black”.

Luckily, Sterling was able to get the claim removed from his channel and just about everyone recognised Digital Homicide Studios as a very shady developer in the aftermath of the incident. However, the story did NOT end there.

Yes, seriously. Digital Homicide Studios did not get the hint at all and proceeded to carry on the way that they previously had (right down to the pre-bought Unity assets), only this time, they decided to try to use different names entirely to avoid getting recognised by the video game community.

Yes, because taking the time and effort into making a genuinely good video game is clearly not the best way to change a video game critic’s opinion of your poor quality work…

Digital Homicide Studios were caught out for their behaviour by Sterling and then things proceeded to turn REALLY ugly. After an hour long interview where the developers spent the whole time trying to make Sterling look bad by yelling and screaming at him and making unfair and untruthful accusations (yeah, great job there, guys…you do HAVE a PR guy in your company, right? I think even the worst one in the world would have told you in less than a second that doing that was a TERRIBLE idea!), they decided to tell Sterling that, if he talked about them one more time, they would sue him. When he put up an article talking about all of that, he accidentally had an error in it, which he corrected, but Digital Homicide Studios claimed that it constituted telling lies about them and they would sue him if he did it again.

And now, after having apparently lost their Steam space, they have, citing libel and slander (and assault, but that’s because libel is part of a broader category) and requesting damages of $10.76 million (yep, seriously!). After apparently also failing to succeed at crowdfunding to allow them to get a lawyer which they ALSO claimed to have had in the past and who, if I remember correctly, also apparently talked to Sterling after requesting (although “threatening” is apparently more what they did would count as) that he not talk about them again.

This…I’m just stunned that these guys think this is a good move. Seriously, I’m writing this with NO formal training in business of any sort and having two years worth of knowledge in a completely different legal system from the US and I can tell you right now that Digital Homicide Studios have made so many bad decisions that I’m stunned that they think they’ve made a good move on ANY level, let alone have a case that is going to win against Sterling in court.

Let me break down why their decisions are bad, just in case anyone reading this thinks any of it is a good move:

  1. If you want to work in an entertainment medium, you must be prepared to work hard at what you do and try to be original with it. Trying to get by through other peoples work with none of your own will easily get you locked out of the medium by fans of it when they spot what you’re doing and, from that point on, it might well be easier to quit rather than stick it through trying to prove your detractors wrong because you will have little to no audience with which to provide a good word of mouth should you actually prove capable of doing something well and your detractors will not give you a second chance. You should DEFINITELY not try to continue in your previous ways and trying to avoid being caught doing it through using alternative names…or, at the very least, make sure you’re smart enough that you’ve covered every single possible way that you can be caught, like not having your previous company name connected in any way to your new one! You also need to be willing to accept criticism, but that’s something that probably doesn’t need pointing out!
  2. If someone negatively critiques your video game, your response should be to look at your video game, consider the feedback you have received and either work to improve the game in line with the criticism received or (if you can’t do that for some reason) make sure that you do that for your next game. Attacking your critics makes you look unprofessional, brings attention to the negative criticism and usually results in you only validating the criticism more in the eyes of those watching the situation, as well as driving potential customers away who won’t stand for your behaviour.
  3. If you feel a criticism is unfair and you have to respond to the critic, it is more sensible to calmly explain why you feel the criticism is unfair (for reasons BEYOND “I disagree with you, therefore you are wrong”: if they say that your game does not have a save feature when there is actually one and a lot of their complaints involve that fact, that’s a very valid reason to get in touch) to them and ask them if they would be willing to change their review to a more fair one.
  4. If you must talk to a critic who has panned your work, the best course of action is to be civil with them, allow them to have their say and don’t try to be underhanded with them. If the critic shoots themselves in the foot through their own behaviour in your discussions, that’s their problem, not yours!
  5. If you feel someone is continually going after you and your work and you wish them to stop, a polite request to do so WITHOUT THE THREAT OF LAWYERS (as bringing in lawyers when you’re requesting people to stop talking about your work could technically be argued as being blackmail) is usually a good starting point, with the lawyers usually best saved for when that has failed and the other side has constantly been harassing you and your work.
  6. If you must sue someone, make sure your case is not one where you have given the other side a lot of ammunition to work with, as that is likely to result in a counter-suit for your actions as well (indeed, I would not be surprised if Jim Sterling does counter-sue for most of Digital Homicide Studios’ behaviour!).

You don’t need to re-read this to know that Digital Homicide Studios have done absolutely none of these. They simply don’t seem to get that they have made every bad decision in the book and that, while Sterling is not the most polite of critics when it comes to games he really dislikes, he is professional about his work. Heck, the only times I’ve seen him bring up Digital Homicide Studios is when THEY have been the ones who have done stuff to him publicly or he has found out details related to them which are felt to be worth bringing to people’s attention, like the earlier mentioned alternative company names things!

So yeah, this boils down to a developer having a temper tantrum that Jim Sterling did not like their work, they attacked him and failed and are now having another go through the legal system. They clearly missed that Sterling is not alone in his criticisms of their work (seriously, just about everyone who has reviewed their work has panned it: Sterling is not the only person saying that their work is bad, yet they seem determined to focus on him!) and that their behaviour only makes them look far, FAR worse than Sterling ever could.

Oh yeah, and the cherry on this already ridiculous situation? Digital Homicide Studios were asked by Destructoid (a fairly well known video game online magazine) to comment on their history of illegal threats and their response was to threaten the site and the writer of an article talking about this very same situation. Seriously.

 

There’s not a lot I want to add to this, as I think the facts speak for themselves. All I will add, on the off chance that Digital Homicide Studios are reading this, is this…don’t try bringing out the threats on us. Trust me, it’s not worth it: we’re not afraid of you, we’re based in an entirely different country from you and we’re prepared to contact people who have louder voices than us to ensure that your attempt to threaten us does not go unnoticed.

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