Developer That Sued Negative Reviewers Claims Steam Isn't a 'Safe Environment'

Developer who's attempting to sue 100 Steam reviewers for $18 million posts lengthy defense on home page.

Leif Johnson

Leif Johnson

Image: Screenshot from Digital Homicide's game Temper Tantrum.

Yesterday we wrote about the drama surrounding developer Digital Homicide, which is currently trying to sue 100 anonymous Steam users for $18 million for saying bad things about the company and its games. To that end, it was granted a subpoena to demand the users' personal information from Steam owner Valve. Valve yanked all of Digitial Homicide's games off Steam in response, and in a statement to Motherboard, Valve's marketing VP Doug Lombardi said it ceased to do business with Digital Homicide because it was "being hostile to Steam customers."

On Saturday night, Digital Homicide responded with a lengthy post on the studio's homepage, suggesting it targeted Steam reviewers who harassed them.

"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," Digital Homicide said. "We submitted numerous reports and sent 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 post then goes on to show screenshots of posts on the Steam community boards illustrating these personal attacks. Two of the biggest examples, in which one user says he wants "to murder every single person responsible for this [game]" and another that tells Digital Homicide chief James Romine he should "kill himself for making me waste 0.14 for your ****** game," don't appear in the leaked documents from a few days ago.

They don't even appear in the full court document. Those documented tend to focus on posts about Digital Homicide's business practices, while Digital Homicide's post today focuses on the claim that "by removing us for defending ourselves against harassment Steam is openly stating you cannot defend yourself from examples like these."

Sometimes the screenshots show users saying things like the devs are "scumbags" or "scam artists" or that Romine will "never not stop being the joke of [G]reenlight," but rarely is there anything so violent as what Romine posted today. Most posts focus on Digital Homicide's tendency to ban any criticism on its Steam boards (proving that Romine does have some control over what's said), or its frequent pitching of new games to Steam's Greenlight service. The worst I could find in the actual court doc was a post saying "this dev should go from digital homicide to physical suicide," a more literal take on a low-hanging wordplay I myself made yesterday.

Yet Romine does list harassment as his fourth cause of action against the users, along with conspiracy to commit violation of civil rights, disorderly conduct, stalking, criminal impersonation, tortious interference with contractual relations with the distributor, libel, unjust enrichment, restitution, negligence, damages, and representation fees.

Image: Posts on Digital Homicide's Steam group this morning.

The post closes with a fair point relating to the larger conversation about online harassment, and Valve's famously hands-off approach to managing Steam.

"When someone bothers you on say a platform like Facebook and you find the need to ban them, the Facebook response after you ban is 'Sorry you had this experience' and then that person is removed from being able to post on your page," the post reads. "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."

Digital Homicide closes its post with a plea for help with legislation. That, in fact, has been the biggest hurdle in getting its cases to go anywhere. An earlier, still-unsettled suit against game critic Jim Sterling for $10 million has stalled because the studio can't amass the funding for the associated legal fees. After six months, Romine's GoFundMe account still only has $425 of his $75,000 goal.

But even there Romine focuses on the personal attacks, which he claims originated from Sterling's hundreds of thousands of YouTube followers.

"We recently received a pile of feces in the mail and someone contacted the Jehovah's Witnesses website to have them pay us a visit," he said. In addition, others said things like "Your wife is a whore" and "I hope you die in a fiery car crash."

Should a developer be able to sue Steam users for leaving negative reviews on its games? Of course not. But the Digital Homicide debacle is highlighting an issue with Steam regardless of whether you like its games or not: If a group of Steam users turns nasty on a developer, there's not that much it can do about it. Valve is obviously aware of this. Just recently, it revamped its user review system, making it so that only users who've actually bought a game can review it, rather than someone who received it for "free" with a promotional code. According to Polygon, this is already having a major impact on scores.

We've reached out to Digital Homicide for comment and will update this story if we hear back.

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