Jim Sterling is a game critic who isn't afraid to throw a few punches. In this case, the developer punched back, prompting Sterling to call them "another poopbrain dev." But this "poopbrain dev" is really pissed off and wants to fight back.
So pissed off, in fact, the developer filed a copyright claim against Sterling to have his video taken down. It will not be accessible on YouTube for the next two weeks. In essence, if the developer's going to lose potential sales from Sterling's pointed commentary, Sterling will have to lose potential ad revenue by having the video offline for a little while.
The developer in question is Digpex Games. Chances are you haven't heard of them, but that's probably true of most developers trying to get approved through Steam Greenlight. Most games on Greenlight aren't done. Instead, it's developers showing what they have so far in the hopes of getting support from potential customers for the chance to be sold on PC's busiest marketplace.
Skate Man Intense Rescue was one of those games, and games like it have become prime fodder for Sterling's growing YouTube channel. It's where he makes some of his money these days.
Sterling used to write for The Escapist, Destructoid, and elsewhere. Like other games media personalities recently, he's now operating independently via Patreon, YouTube, and other outlets. "Best of Steam Greenlight trailers" is one of his more popular playlists on YouTube.
His commentary can be vicious, but truth be told, many of these games don't look very good.
Here is Skate Man Intense Rescue:
What kind of game is Skate Man Intense Rescue? I'm not sure. I'd embed Sterling's video, but it's been taken down by Digpex Games. I'd link to the game's Greenlight page, but it no longer exists. Besides this official website, any mention of Skate Man Intense Rescue has disappeared.
If you try to access Sterling's video, here's what comes up:
There are a couple of ways a video disappears from YouTube. A copyright owner can claim there's infringement (i.e. what happened here and the recent Power/Rangers video) or Google's ContentID system detects something. The former requires the copyright owner to take action.
For Sterling, once a takedown notice has been issued, there's a three-step process. The entire time, of course, the video is offline, not running ads, and he can't make any money off of it.
1. He has to watch a video by YouTube about copyright infringement and answer a quiz.
2. To file a counter-claim, he has to disclose his name, address, and phone number to whomever is alleging the infringement. Sterling only gets the individual's email address.
3. When the counter-claim is filed, the rights holder has 14 days to respond. In each instance, Sterling watched as the developer did nothing except keep the video offline for 14 days.
"In order to fight a counter-claim, they would have to pursue it in court," he told me over email. "So far nobody's done that, as it's the point in the process where a developer actually opens itself up to any form of consequence—if they fail, the YouTuber can then take them to court and seek damages. Issuing takedowns is all well and good when the developer can remain relatively shielded from risk—no studio has yet decided it's worth gambling further."
The big question, then, is why? Shutting down a game critic, even one as loud and brash as Sterling, is going to result in bad PR. There's almost no way for this to look good for the creator.
At the bottom of the Digpex Games website, there's an innocuous contact address. I sent a note asking for information about the takedown notice. The response I received doesn't have a name attached to it and suggested a developer whose native tongue is not English. Best I can tell, Digpex Games is part of a company ran out of Vietnam. Keep this in mind as you read further.
"is about time somebody stop that stupid guy," said the anonymous developer. "I seen all his video he is enjoying making money from, is from steam greenlight. and greenlight videos are from poor indie guys or new companies who have little to defends them self. almost all of greenlight projects are still underdevelopment the developers are still working on it."
Essentially, the developer feels Sterling is using Greenlight as easy bait. Of course the games look bad: they're not done yet.
"i cant stand people that are using poor weak developers for money," said the developer.
I pitched this idea to Sterling: do you think these videos are a tad mean spirited? He disagreed.
"There is a prevailing belief that indie games, by virtue of their size and budget, are above reproach, and I simply believe that's a bullshit and rather cowardly way of trying to duck criticism," he said. "If you're selling a game, you should expect game critics to, y'know, criticize it. You're not special, and you certainly don't get to play the 'I'm a poor bullied weakling' card when you're the one wielding takedown strikes to silence people who said things you don't like."
Digpex Games seems to know the copyright notice is nothing more than a bump in the road.
"I know he got the law on his side and little followers," said the developer. "some of the greenlight developers too have contact me that saying that does how he do use the law and He will get the the video back running. but that does not mean He will continue to enjoy the HARD WORK of the Indie Game Developers videos forever. "
"I very much appreciate the developer admitting that they know their claim is spurious, and that they're simply throwing a tantrum because they can," said Sterling. "I'm sorry their feelings got hurt. I also have been hurt by this, as Skate Man's framerate is incredibly stressful on the eyes. So, we've both got wounds to lick."
There's no video evidence of Skate Man Intense Rescue's existence right now, but this GIF from NeoGAF purports to demonstrate what Sterling is talking about here, regarding the frame rate:
Though I was interested in chatting with Digpex Games about the relationship between critics, developers, and the nature of showing off early work, the studio told me it wouldn't be having it.
"thanks for your concern. and dont worry about us ..worry about yourself," the developer said. "He might be a king to you but he is shit to me. you can always bully people but one day you meet the wrong one. and Please Do not reply because we are not interested about your concern and communication."
Assuming Digpex Games doesn't take Sterling to court, his video will be back up in two weeks.
You can reach the author of this post at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @patrickklepek.