First reported by TheGamer, a member of Dark and Darker developer Ironmace has stated on the game’s Discord that they have achieved an early victory in staving off Maplestory publisher Nexon’s copyright lawsuit, with a South Korean court dismissing the publisher’s preliminary injunction.
I’ve put a full timeline of the Dark and Darker saga below this article, but for a quick refresher: the indie hack n’ slash extraction shooter was a breakout hit in the 2023 Steam Next Fest, but this victory was quickly followed by a massive legal challenge from Nexon.
Nexon sued developer Ironmace and got the game taken off Steam via a DMCA notice to Valve. Nexon claims that Ironmace (which largely consists of former Nexon devs) poached talent from the publisher and illegally used assets from a canceled dungeon crawler project begun at Nexon. Ironmace, naturally, denies these accusations, claiming that no project P3 assets directly made their way into Dark and Darker.
I have reached out to Nexon for a statement, but this sounds like a substantial victory for Ironmace. According to the Ironmace developer sdf, who shared the Korean-language statement to Discord, the court ruled that “Iron Mace’s game cannot be considered an infringement of Nexon’s copyright or trade secret.”
Notably, sdf also makes reference to a “disappointing” ruling by the court regarding unfair competition, but it’s not immediately clear what the nature of that ruling is. Sdf claims that Nexon has yet to submit evidence from the canceled project at the heart of the lawsuit.
The story seems far from over, assuming Nexon choses to continue pursuing this lawsuit, but in theory the dismissal of the preliminary injunction could pave the way for Dark and Darker’s return to Steam: sdf stated that “the court ruled that Dark and Darker’s service should not be suspended based on Nexon’s claims and evidence alone.” Until then, you can still play Dark and Darker in early access via Ironmace’s own launcher.
Dark and Darker timeline
- July, 2021: Nexon project P3 lead developer Ju-Hyun Choi is fired from the company. Choi would later be project lead on Dark and Darker.
- August 5, 2021: Nexon reveals name of project P3 to the public as part of an initiative of games “developed at a faster pace and brought to market where they can be fine-tuned based on valuable input from players.” P3 is set to be a first person, medieval fantasy, dungeon crawling PvPvE game, similar to Dark and Darker
- August 9, 2021: Terence Park, director of game development at Nexon and “head of the sub-team for P3 project” leaves Nexon. He is currently CEO at Ironmace
- September 2021: Nexon hires for a project “P7” that is later revealed (in March 2022) to have replaced or evolved out of P3, supposedly becoming a more contemporary, firearms-focused survival game
- Development begins on Dark and Darker, according to the git log released by Ironmace “The [Ironmace developers] worked for more than a month in a shabby jiu jitsu gym without pay using our own personal PCs as a test of our resolve and teamwork.”
- October 2021: Ironmace officially founded
- February 6, 2023: A playable online demo of Dark and Darker is a hit at the Steam Next Fest. We loved it, and it quickly became one of the most played games on Steam while its demo was live.
- February 16, 2023: Allegation that Dark and Darker uses assets and/or code taken from project P3 first appears on Korean gaming site, This Is Game.
- March 8, 2023: Police raid Ironmace based on Nexon allegations of stolen code.
- March 25, 2023: Dark and Darker is delisted from Steam entirely following DMCA request by Nexon to Valve.
- Nexon alleges that concept art, code, and in-engine assets from P3 were all used in Dark and Darker, additionally that P3 and Dark and Darker project leader Ju-Hyun Choi illegally transferred a significant amount of development materials to a private server before being terminated from Nexon. Nexon also alleges that Park and Choi encouraged P3 team members to leave Nexon for Ironmace.
- August 17, 2023: Nexon’s US lawsuit against Ironmace dismissed on the grounds that Korean courts are better-positioned to adjudicate the issue.
- January 28, 2024: Ironmace states that Nexon’s preliminary injunction has been dismissed by a Korean court, with the judge ruling that “Iron Mace’s game cannot be considered an infringement of Nexon’s copyright or trade secret.”