Frogwares, the developer behind the horror game The Sinking City, has revealed why the game was removed from several platforms recently. In an open letter, the developer has accused publishers Bigben Interactive and Nacon of withholding royalties, several contract breaches, and even attempting to imply that the studio was merely a “technical partner” on the game.
When development on The Sinking City began in 2017, Bigben and Nacon signed a licensing agreement that would give the companies the right to sell and commercialize the game on Xbox One, PS4, and PC through the Epic Games Store and Steam. In exchange, Frogwares would receive financial contributions towards development and still own the intellectual property. Frogwares would receive payments whenever production milestones were completed, as well as a share of the revenue once The Sinking City was released.
Not long after the deal had been signed, Frogwares claims to have encountered its first problem. Money owed for completed production milestones usually came in later than the agreed date, with payments being halted entirely for 4 months after the publishers allegedly demanded that the source code for The Sinking City be handed over to them.
“Once BBI/Nacon bought out a competing studio working on another Lovecraftian game, they dictated that we give them our source code for The Sinking City,” Frogwares explained. “Once again, BBI/Nacon does not own the IP – they are a licensee. They sell the game – not develop and co-create it. After we refused to comply, we stopped receiving financial contributions for over 4 months.”
Development continued on The Sinking City, with Frogwares encountering new obstacles along the way that allegedly included being kept in the dark with regards to sales forecasts and a retroactive cancellation on the agreed upon milestone payments that were still owed, meaning that the studio receive any profit from the sales of the game.
Frogwares filed a lawsuit against Bigben and Nacon in August 2019, which only raised more questions. Income reports that the studio received were allegedly incomplete and undocumented, resulting in the developer being unable to see if the revenue was correctly calculated or how many units of the game had been sold. There was also the curious case of a statement claiming that a console manufacturer had not paid royalties for more than five months, which Frogwares found curious as payments for their other games had always come in on time.
The studio also claims that the publishers attempted to create a false perception that the developer had very little input on the game, which included removing the Frogwares logo wherever possible, purchasing Sinking City domain names without informing the studio, and even creating a tabletop RPG based on the game while keeping Frogwares in the dark.
“Our Frogwares logo was removed from some of the PS4 and Xbox One game’s cover and other marketing materials and we only were mentioned on the reverse side with the technical partners, again, creating a perception that we were neither the authors, nor the owners of the game,” the studio explained. “Dozens of domain names for our Sherlock Holmes and The Sinking City brands were bought by Bigben/Nacon without notifying us. A tabletop The Sinking City RPG was created without even informing us, and distributed freely, featuring the wrong copyright notice.”
Claiming it is now owed roughly 1 million euros in royalties, Frogwares has decided to formally terminate its contract with Bigben and Nacon. To reverse the perception that the publishers own The Sinking City and retake control of its intellectual property, Frogwares requested removal from several stores so as to prevent the profits of any remaining sales from going to the publishers.
“To all the players that wish to buy The Sinking City – we are more than willing to have the game be present everywhere and we will inform you as we reappear on more platforms on our social channels,” Frogwares explained.
Frogwares ended its letter on a more optimistic note, saying that the studio hopes that the transparency behind its actions will result in creating a more ethical video game industry.
GameSpot has reached out to Nacon for comment, and will report back when they reply.
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