Yesterday, Steam dinosaur game The Orion Project got yanked from Steam. Trek Industries’ David Prassel posted an update to Steam claiming that his game was the victim of a DMCA claim from Activision. And then the real fun began.
It should be noted that we reached out to Activision and Valve for comment, but they’ve yet to reply. Thus, all we’ve got to go on is Prassel’s word that Activision was behind the DMCA takedown, as well as an official-looking email Prassel tells us he was sent by Valve, which explains that the DMCA came from someone “acting on behalf of Activision.” Prassel explained in an email:
“I received the DCMA request after [Orion’s] removal from Steam with no warning/contact from either Valve/Steam or any developer associated with Call of Duty nor anyone from Activision.”
“I never was provided specific examples of assets, or screenshots of what offended them - nor given the chance to rectify or remove any offensive content prior to having our game removed from sale.”
“We assumed which pieces of content based on what they self-labeled of their own as well as community-provided assets.offered to remove ANY offensive content (as it wasn’t specified) and this was not accepted.”
It’s not entirely unbelievable that Activision would do this, given what intrepid Steam sleuths have uncovered since Prassel first drew attention to Orion’s removal from Steam. Per a Reddit thread chronicling this whole mess, here’s a comparison between guns featured in Orion, which came out in 2016, and a couple from Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, which released the year before.
Those sights aren’t just visually similar; they are damn near indistinguishable. People are also claiming that near-exact assets from multiple Black Ops 3 guns show up in one Orion gun. You can see why Activision might be peeved.
Shortly after all of this started yesterday, however, Orion’s Prassel posted an update to the Steam page of a previous Orion game, Orion: Prelude, with what he believed (allegedly) Activision (allegedly) issued the DMCA over:
Those pictures of gun models hardly look similar at all, and many people quickly took Prassel’s word for it. Some even started a petition aimed in Activision’s direction. Prassel then went on to claim in another Steam post that Activison clearly meant the DMCA as a direct and purposeful attack on his obscure dinosaur game that was selling for $0.50 at the time. For some reason. In a different Steam update, Prassel wrote:
“What Activision is claiming isn’t a valid or legal use of DMCA. If they were alleging that we had actually RIPPED the Black Ops 3 weapons FROM their game and used them exactly - their shipped meshes, their shipped textures - that is a DMCA case. And the fact that they made an artist feel this way when it’s ALL they do is absolute crap.”
“We will be seeking resolution for all damages wrongly inflicted towards us FROM Activision via this malicious and overly aggressive tactic.”
But again, the examples Steam users discovered after the initial announcement look almost exactly the same as Black Ops 3 weapons. In response to that, Prassel conceded, “The sight is the only similarity we can see. Even if it was a 1:1, that’s not enough for a design infraction, even by legal standards and by a significant amount. And the sight is just a futuristic M1 Garand, so either way both are homaging a real world property, the only thing that could actually hold up and is the only one without a dog in this fight.”
Prassel has also said that the artist responsible for one of the guns, the Automatic Shotgun, will remake the weapon with a different design. However he added that the weapon will be changed not because Trek Industries thinks Activision is in the right, but because Trek is a small company that can’t afford a legal entanglement with an industry giant.
It should be noted that this is not the first time an Orion game has been hit with accusations of asset theft, though in both cases, Prassel claimed that the assets had come from inexperienced freelancers who made mistakes. The assets, he said, were ultimately removed from the game.
Today, Prassel issued yet another Steam update claiming this whole thing has cost Teek Industries big, especially since it occurred in the middle of the Steam Summer Sale. “As of yesterday, Activision cut out 70% of our profit [from the sale],” he wrote. “My calculations put it at 90% today. What they did is devastating.”
Here’s where it gets especially bizarre: Today Prassel launched an Indiegogo campaign with a flexible funding goal of $500. The first donation came from—wait for it—Orion developer Trek Industries. It was for $500, guaranteeing that any money anybody donates at all will definitely go to Trek. The campaign has since broken $1000, buoyed by rhetoric about fighting against “the money-abusing, ♥♥♥-wiping turds that is Activision who walks all over gamers with annual $60 releases, season passes, $15 map packs, doesn’t involve or listen to them in any way.”
If you couldn’t tell by now, it all feels a little bit... off. Some people think Prassel is throwing up a smoke screen in the wake of valid accusations and potentially profiting from it. Others think he’s got a point, or at least that what’s in Orion isn’t deserving of the full DMCA treatment.
Speaking personally, the whole thing does strike me as a bit opportunistic, especially given that this is the same company that released a buggy-as-hell game (Orion: Dino Beatdown) in 2012 and generated multiple controversies, only to turn around and use all of that as a selling point three years later. That said, they have managed to polish a turd into a series quite a few people seem to like pretty well, and they did it with years of dedicated support.
The situation is messy, is what I’m saying. To top it off, there’s one thing Prassel’s definitely not wrong about here: DMCAs can hurt game developers badly on Steam. When companies like Valve receive DMCA notices, they tend to err on the side of caution and immediately take down the offending thing. Otherwise, they could face copyright infringement charges. DMCAs aren’t very difficult to file, but they hit creators hard. In the past, we’ve reported on multiple instances where copyright trolls managed to do things like get videos pulled for using the word “pixels” and and, most pertinently, yank a game from Steam despite not being an actual copyright holder.
In Orion’s case, Prassel claims the game will be off Steam for at least ten days—and that’s apparently sans full legal paperwork from Activision. That’s the full remainder of the Steam Summer Sale and then some. Unless Valve’s seriously tightened up their process since last year’s aforementioned incident, there’s always a chance that any DMCA could be an elaborate troll job. Regardless, this stands to hurt Trek very badly during one of the biggest Steam events of the year. I wouldn’t be surprised if their sudden need for money is all too real, even if their campaign seems kinda dodgy.
So yeah, nothing about this is cut-and-dry. I imagine we haven’t heard the last of this, either. Somehow, though, I doubt it’s headed toward a clean conclusion.
UPDATE 6/29/16: Prassel posted another update that’s, um, long. Here’s the most important bit of info, though:
“Last night I received evidence directly from Activision regarding assets not even mentioned in public yet. Upon receiving this it became immediately apparent that blatant rips were made. While the artist offered to remake any assets at no cost, he has now been fired immediately upon learning this.”
So there you go: Prassel claims an artist stole assets, and they’ve been fired for the infraction. Prassel chalked it up to the difficulties that arise from working with a large remote team and noted that the Orion series has a habit of paying homage to gear from other series. Case in point: there’s a helmet that is pretty much Boba Fett’s to a tee. He called these sorts of things “vastly” different from their source material (which is, errrr, arguable), but said they’re meant as obvious tributes and references. Most importantly, though, they’re not direct asset rips, which is what got Trek Industries in trouble here.
Still, for a series that’s dealt with asset rip issues in the past and just added another to its increasingly dubious legacy, it’s a fine line to walk.
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