Lawsuit from small studio seeks private information of Steam users for lawsuit demanding $18 million.
Update: Since this article was written, Digital Homicide has updated its homepage with a lengthy response to Valve. We've written a followup story addressing this development, which you can read here.
Video game developer Digital Homicide, it would seem, is out to commit digital suicide. The studio already earned a bit of bad press earlier this year by slapping game critic Jim Sterling with a ridiculous $10 million lawsuit for posting rude video reviews of their games since 2014, and that still isn't settled. Now, however, they're casting a wider net that's only provoking more anger.
Based on legal documents posted on Google Docs recently by YouTuber SidAlpha, Digital Homicide developer James Romine is now suing 100 users of Valve's Steam digital distribution platform for $18 million for the heinous crime of leaving bad reviews of their games and saying bad things about the company. As part of the subpoena granted by Arizona judge Eileen Willett, Romine is allowed to demand the personal "identification and associated data" of the anonymous Steam users from Valve. We all know internet forums can be shitty places, but this sets a dangerous precedent for future legal action if successful.
By Friday evening twitter user "lashman" discovered Valve had removed all of Digital Homicide's games from Steam. Games like Wyatt Derp, Temper Tantrum, and The Slaughtering Grounds (the first game Sterling reviewed)—are all gone along with their community pages, reviews, and associated downloads as if they'd never been there. You needn't worry if you've already bought the games in the past. They're still there, accessible through your account's library. But if you have a pressing desire to play Wyatt Derp in the coming days, you'll have to look somewhere else besides Steam.
"Valve has stopped doing business with Digital Homicide for being hostile to Steam customers," Valve VP of marketing Doug Lombardi told Motherboard in a brief email. He didn't say how Valve plans to handle the subpoena or if "being hostile" even directly refers to the lawsuits.
Digital Homicide's Steam group remains, though, and users are taking to the comments section to express their schadenfreude. It's certainly colorful, but here's one of the better contributions:
"We all have the right to criticize the products you sell, and if you can't handle that then get out of the fucking sales world," a commenter named Captain Cthulhu said. "Calling your games shit isn't slander. A critic is not being a horrible person by calling your games shit and letting the public know, [they're] doing their god Damn Fucking job as a critic."
Other users were fully aware of the implications of their actions in context:
Digital Homicide's suit is but another chapter in a fight that's being waged against user reviews across the web. Just today, for instance, business review site Yelp is in the news for arguing that a lawsuit demanding that it remove some reviews with alleged "lies" about a law firm could mean the total elimination of negative reviews.
Now the company is asking the California Supreme Court to overturn previous rulings that upheld the takedown demand. As the Associated Press writes with eerie relevance, Yelp argues that upholding the ruling would mean that companies "could sue the person who posted the content and then get a court order demanding the Internet company remove it."
Dawn Hassell, the opposing lawyer, claims that upholding the ruling wouldn't be as drastic as all that. But the world of tech is on Yelp's side, and Valve likely would be as well if asked. In a letter to the California Supreme Court last month, reps from Facebook, Twitter, and Microsoft argued that supporting it "radically departs from a large, unanimous and settled body of federal and state court precedent" and could be used to "silence a vast quantity of protected and important speech."
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