The publishing dispute surrounding The Sinking City has practically eclipsed any conversation about the game itself (which is just okay). Developer Frogwares and publisher Nacon have been embroiled in a very nasty battle over, among other things, the distribution rights to the game. Last week, it was announced that The Sinking City launched on Steam only for Frogwares to implore players on Twitter not to purchase that version of the game. Frogwares has since posted a lengthy blog post explaining that Nacon allegedly had employees “crack, hack and pirate” a version of The Sinking City to release on Steam.
Steam was one of the platforms Nacon was responsible for publishing The Sinking City to, per the original agreement between it and Frogwares. However, once the relationship started falling apart, Frogwares states that Nacon repeatedly tried to force the studio into delivering a new master version of the game for Steam claiming contractual obligation. Nacon took this request to the French courts on two occasions (July 2020 and October 2020) and was denied both times, and a final decision on the matter is currently pending judgment. Frogwares also says Nacon previously attempted to upload a pirated copy of the game to Steam back in late December (following an ultimatum by Nacon’s CEO) but the studio was able to block it from sale.
That’s why Frogwares was surprised to see The Sinking City hit Steam on February 26 under Nacon’s name. That caused Frogwares to do some digging; the company says it has discovered evidence that this version has been illegally modified by Nacon. Frogware’s blog post (and accompanying video) goes into exhausting detail about how Nacon allegedly edited the game files to pull this off, like swapping menu and loading screen assets to make it appear as if it is the sole entity responsible for the game. Furthermore, the Steam version lacks achievements, which Frogwares says is due to Nacon’s file meddling and that the publisher also pirated the game’s Deluxe version, which contains extra content that Nacon didn’t pay for or even discuss with Frogwares.
It’s a lot to unpack, and I encourage readers to read Frogware’s post detailing its full investigation. The short version, though, is this: If Nacon did indeed do this, it seemingly did a lousy job of covering its tracks, as Frogwares was not only able to trace the edited files to their original sources, but also to the parties responsible, even going as far as to name drop the guilty parties in question. Frogwares stresses that neither Valve nor Gamesplanet are guilty of any wrongdoing and were merely duped by Nacon. The studio is now focused on finding the best legal course of action, making sure to mention that violating IP laws in France can lead to seven years in prison and 750,000 euros in fines.
Meanwhile, Nacon responded with a blog post on Steam denying the accusations and claiming that Frogwares is merely trying to revise the original contract to their advantage while also adding that the game wouldn’t exist without it doing most of the heavy lifting in terms of funding and marketing. According to Nacon, “It’s easy to play the victim, but all we seek is that Frogwares respect its commitments both in the contract and as demanded by the courts.”
Nacon also blames The Sinking City’s missing Steam features on Frogwares, saying “In regards to feedback on the release of the Sinking City on Steam, this is an official and complete version. However, due to a lack of cooperation with Frogwares, we are unable to integrate Steam-specific features (cloud saving/achievements). Thus, this version contains only the base game, without any additional content. Despite this, we have organized the release so that fans on Steam can enjoy the game.”
So yeah, this fight doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon. If you have a dog in this race, figuring out which version of the game to buy that directly supports the company you want to side with is a mess in itself. Frogwares recently published The Sinking City on PS5 with visual enhancements, but it’ll be interesting to see if and how the game appears anywhere else after this latest fiasco.