Search for The Sinking City on Steam, the Epic Games Store, Xbox One, or PlayStation 4 and you won’t find it. The Lovecraftian detective game released last year has been missing for a couple months now. Today, Ukrainian developer Frogwares finally revealed why: for the last year it’s been in a legal dispute with the game’s publisher, Nacon, over late payments, missing royalties, and licensing issues.
“Since the release of The Sinking City on June 27, 2019 we’ve been involved in legal battles with BigBen Interactive/Nacon over the title,” Frogwares wrote in a lengthy statement posted on its website today. The statement details a number of Frogwares’ grievances with Nacon, which Frogwares says have forced it to terminate its original publishing agreement and thus pull the game from several storefronts. Currently, the game is only sold through the Switch eShop, where Frogwares self-published, and a few other places including Frogwares’ own website.
Nacon did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the issues raised in Frogwares’ statement.
Update - 10:26 a.m., 8/26/20: Nacon has responded with a statement of its own rejecting the claims made by Frogwares:
A dispute between NACON and FROGWARES over the interpretation of the “Sinking City” video game publishing agreement is pending before French courts. A decision is not expected for several months. However, FROGWARES thought it necessary to anticipate the upcoming ruling by issuing a press release on their website and Twitter feed, which reflects a personal and erroneous interpretation of the content of the agreement and the nature of this dispute. NACON emphatically rejects this open letter, the terms of which do not square with the facts. FROGWARES is seeking to discredit NACON in the eyes of the public and professionals alike (even going so far as disclosing confidential information!) and to jeopardise the distribution of “The Sinking City”, the development of which was principally funded by NACON. This behaviour, unworthy of any professional, is unacceptable and NACON intends to take legal action so as to get them convicted and obtain redress. NACON is confident about the outcome of the dispute, irrespective of the tricks used by FROGWARES to cause them harm.
According to The Sinking City developer, Nacon received the rights to sell the game on Steam, Epic Games Store, Xbox One, and PS4 in exchange for payments to Frogwares to help fund the game’s development. But Frogwares writes that these payments, which were supposed to be released upon hitting certain development milestones, were continually late. The developer also writes that Nacon at one point tried to get the source code for the game from Frogwares, and made misleading marketing and corporate promotional materials that implied Nacon was the actual owner of the game. Once the game was finally released in June 2019, Frogwares writes that royalty payments for sales were also late and sometimes missing altogether.
“We have completely stopped receiving the royalties that are still being collected on our behalf and owed to us, now amounting to roughly 1 million euros,” part of the developer’s statement reads. According to Frogwares, it managed to terminate its agreement with Nacon in court last month, but is now still battling public perceptions that The Sinking City belongs to Nacon when dealing with other platforms. “Given these breaches, ongoing hurdles and an unwillingness to cooperate, Frogwares last resort was to request the removal of The Sinking City from any remaining stores to at least halt any further sales going to BBI/Nacon,” the developer writes.
While The Sinking City’s detective gameplay didn’t set the world on fire when it first came out, its approach to the influence of H.P. Lovecraft was lauded for not shying away from the deep seated racism inherent in the occult horror author’s work. “Most video games avoid the topic of Lovecraft’s racism, The Sinking City tackles it head on,” wrote Vice’s Matthew Gault in his review. “Lovecraft’s work is full of thinly veiled metaphors and outright bigotry and The Sinking City uses his racist and xenophobic anxieties as the raw material for a video game about facing existentially dread and the (often racist and xenophobic) evil people do to each other.”
Given that it’s the one-year anniversary of the game’s release and that an HBO adaptation of Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country is currently TV’s only real appointment viewing, The Sinking City is also ripe for revisiting. So it’s unfortunate that Frogwares’ work is currently trapped in platform purgatory.