The Sinking City studio and publisher fight over ‘pirated’ Steam release in competing store page updates
A contractual dispute between the developer of The Sinking City, Frogwares, and publisher Nacon resulted in the game being removed from most digital stores last year. In early 2021, a French court found that Frogwares had unlawfully terminated the contract and therefore ordered the restoration of its terms pending a final decision. This made the game return to Steam and elsewhere, although sales on Steam unexpectedly ceased soon after.
It reappeared on Steam last week, but in an unexpected twist, Frogwares warned against buying and said, rather cryptically, that it wasn’t a build the studio had released. The story got even stranger today when Frogwares expanded that claim by claiming that Nacon “cracked and pirated The Sinking City” to be republished on Steam without knowledge.
The long post begins with an overview of the dispute between Frogwares and Nacon that resulted in the studio repeatedly refusing to provide an updated master version of The Sinking City for release on Steam. This matter is currently on trial and a decision cannot be reached for some time. On February 26th, a new version of the game appeared on Steam, which led to this escalation of the dispute.
Frogwares claims that the version of The Sinking City that Nacon released on Steam is actually a build it “specially prepared for release on Gamesplanet,” cracked and slightly modified to remove logos and other related content. The studio claims Nacon decompiled the game with a key to bypass the Unreal Engine encryption system. According to Frogwares, these are not DIY jobs by inexperienced people, but programmers who know Unreal well. After that, it seemed to involve changing some configuration files, making some other changes, and then recompiling the game for release on Steam.
The studio says it can prove this happened by downloading the Steam version released by Nacon and trying the existing encryption key in the archive – and it worked. “The hackers didn’t even want to use a different encryption key than the one we created when we recompiled,” the studio wrote.
(It was also claimed to know how Nacon obtained the key, but said information will be presented to the courts.)
From there, the update moves on to a relatively complex explanation of what has been changed and how, along with further allegations of steps Nacon has taken to “hide the fraudulent exploitation of the game on Steam,” and possibly other platforms . It is also alleged that developer credentials for the account indicate that the files were uploaded by a Nacon employee.
Frogwares stressed that neither Steam nor Gamesplanet is responsible for its allegations, and that it fully believes that the Gamesplanet version was legally purchased and that Steam had no reasonable way of knowing the true origins of the build. However, it does not crush words about Nacon.
“Nacon has proven that they are ready to do whatever it takes to serve their interests, including illegal actions,” said Frogwares. “They ignored the judiciary’s decision and circumvented it by pirating The Sinking City to deceive their partner, Steam.
“There is long-term damage to deal with. Nacon unpacked our data, stole our source code and used it. Nacon can use our assets to create a new version of The Sinking City. You can resell, reuse, recycle our content and ours Tools, etc. We need to measure the extent of what has happened now and take the best legal action to prevent it from happening again. “
The dispute between the two companies has also continued on the new Sinking City Steam page, to which both apparently still have access.
(Image credit: Frogwares)
“We regret that Frogwares continues to disrupt the Sinking City release,” Nacon said in an update released at 1:02 p.m. ET today. “It’s easy to play the victim, but all we’re looking for is Frogwares upholding its contractual and court-required obligations.
“Regarding the feedback on the release of Sinking City on Steam, this is an official and complete version. However, due to the lack of cooperation with Frogwares, we cannot integrate Steam-specific features (cloud storage / achievements). Therefore, this version contains just the base game with no additional content. Even so, we’ve organized the release so fans on Steam can enjoy the game. “
In an update posted on the site a few hours later, Frogwares said the version of The Sinking City now running on Steam is “pirated,” referring to the video embedded above.
All claims against Nacon are unproven, but the fact that Frogwares is willing to make them so openly is noteworthy in itself. I asked the company for a comment and will update it if I get a response.