The developer of The Sinking City has accused its publisher of pirating the game and tricking Steam into uploading it for sale.
In the latest development in Frogwares' long-running dispute with Nacon, the Ukrainian studio issued a blog post outlining a raft of accusations against its French publisher.
Over the weekend, Frogwares recommended gamers do not download its H. P. Lovecraft-inspired horror adventure from Steam after it popped up on Valve's platform last month.
Frogwares' dispute with Nacon dates back to 2019, when it filed a lawsuit alleging the company tried to claim copyright of The Sinking City after its release, withheld milestone payments, and owed the developer around €1m in unpaid royalties.
Then, in August 2020, Frogwares pulled The Sinking City from sale. In October 2020, the Paris Court of Appeal ruled Frogwares acted unlawfully in doing so, and ordered the developer to refrain from any further action that would affect its contract with Nacon until the dispute between the two parties was resolved.
This decision opened the door to The Sinking City's return to Steam, and last week Nacon published the game.
Now, Frogwares has accused Nacon of cracking, hacking and changing the game's code and content, and "illegally" uploading the game to Steam. Frogwares has now threatened new legal action against Nacon. Nacon has denied any wrongdoing.
"This last action was the straw that broke our backs," Frogwares said. "It's corporate bullying, and incompetent hacking, at its finest."
Frogwares also published a video outlining its complaint:
Frogwares said Nacon's lawyers had tried to force the developer to deliver a new master version of the game, but so far it hasn't budged.
According to Frogwares, Nacon bought a version of The Sinking City from digital retailer Gamesplanet, tinkered with it, and uploaded it to Steam. This, Frogware claimed, was a breach of contract.
Frogwares investigated the version currently on Steam, and found it had been altered compared to the original allegedly bought from Gamesplanet.
"In order to make changes Nacon had only one way: to decompile or hack the game using a secret key created by Frogwares since the totality of the game's content is archived with an Epic Unreal Engine encryption system," Frogwares said.
"To be clear this is hacking and when hacking has the purpose to steal a product and make money with it, it's called piracy or counterfeiting. In order to achieve this goal, programmers with serious skills need to be involved. This is not DIY work by inexperienced people, this is done by programmers who know Unreal engine well.
"The first step of Nacon was to obtain the key of encryption, then go through the config files and modify them (by the way, we are aware how they got their hands on the encryption key, and we are going to submit our findings to the court). Also add or change some files and then recompile the game like nothing happened and release it."
Frogwares goes on to accuse Nacon of stripping the game of identifiers, including watermarks, that would reveal its origin on Gamesplanet. Differences include the replacement of the Gamesplanet logo with the Nacon logo, the removal of the Gamesplanet logo from the loading screen, the removal of the advertisement of Sherlock Holmes Chapter One - another Frogwares game - from the lower left of the screen, the removal of the distribution platform watermark from the lower right, and the removal of the "more games" menu option.
"This way Nacon 'anonymised' the game master, making it impossible for the average person to know what was really inside and where it is coming from, but also to prevent any exploitation, lawful or not, to be tracked," Frogwares said.
"We believe Nacon did this to hide the fraudulent exploitation of the game on Steam but also on other portals which they may be planning to send the game to. Nacon wants Frogwares or anyone, including the French Justice, to never know the true scope of their exploitation of the game."
It didn't take long for players who bought The Sinking City from Steam last week to discover it was missing some features. Frogwares said this new version deleted achievements, "thus removing a key feature of the Steam community."
Frogwares also accused Nacon of taking content without permission.
"Nacon pirated the Deluxe version of the game," Frogwares said. "This version features content that was developed after the original release of The Sinking City by Frogwares. Nacon didn't pay for this content or even tried to discuss it with us. Nacon is therefore stealing additional content of our game that is outside the contract we had with them."
Nacon insisted the version of The Sinking City on Steam contains only the base game, without any additional content.
"Let it be made extremely clear here, that we still fully trust Steam and Gamesplanet," Frogwares continued.
"We believe that the Gamesplanet version was purchased legally by Nacon through the Gamesplanet site and then hacked. Nacon then submitted this version to Steam who were in no way informed of the game's pirated state. This version was then offered by Nacon to all the listed legitimate distribution sites without them being informed that this is a pirated version."
Frogwares even claimed to know who, exactly, was behind the "hacking" of its game: a member of staff at Neopica, the Belgian studio behind the Hunting Simulator games - and subsidiary of Nacon.
"Nacon has proved they are willing to do anything possible to serve their interest, including illegal actions," Frogwares concluded.
"Nacon ignored the decision of the Justice and bypassed them. Nacon pirated The Sinking City in order to deceive their partners, Steam in the first place."
The legal action continues, with no end in sight. And the fight over The Sinking City has affected consoles, too. The PlayStation 5 version, which was self-published by Frogwares on 19th February 2021, does not offer a platform upgrade for the PlayStation 4 version, which was published by Nacon, due to the legal battle.
"Communication on further legal matters will be provided at the appropriate time and through the appropriate channels," Frogwares told Eurogamer in a follow-up statement.
Nacon has tonight issued a statement in response to Frogwares' tweet, accusing the developer of "playing the victim".
Here's Nacon's statement:
"For the release of The Sinking City on Steam, published by Nacon, Frogwares posted on Twitter urging players not to buy it. We regret that Frogwares persists in disrupting the release of the Sinking City. It was Frogwares who came to Nacon to request financing for the development of the game, and to date, more than 10 million euros have been paid to Frogwares by Nacon. It was Frogwares that relied on our marketing and promotion teams, representing thousands of hours of work and several million euros worth of investment. Now that the game has been fully developed, and published, largely thanks to Nacon's money and work, Frogwares would like to revise the terms of the contract to their sole advantage. It's easy to play the victim, but all we seek is that Frogwares respect its commitments both in the contract and as demanded by the courts.
"In regards to feedback on the release of the Sinking City on Steam, this is an official and complete version. However, due to a lack of cooperation with Frogwares, we are unable to integrate Steam-specific features (cloud saving/achievements). Thus, this version contains only the base game, without any additional content. Despite this, we have organised the release so that fans on Steam can enjoy the game.
"We sincerely would have preferred that our relationship with Frogwares remain cooperative and respectful, as is the case with all of the studios whose titles we publish.
"We hope that many of you will continue to play The Sinking City, and may your adventures in Oakmont be a lot of fun."