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Game developer revokes a user's Steam key after negative review

Posted by , | Views: 149,119

Here's a case of how to definitely not deal with getting negative feedback. A developer of Depth of Extinction revoked a user's key after a negative review. Update: A statement from the developer.

Depth of Extinction is a game that went through itch's "First Access" program where they sold limited amounts of keys across various rounds. Like a lot of games that start off on itch.io, the developer promised a Steam key when the game makes into onto Valve's store. So to make matters worse, this was a user who helped fund them a little before the wider release.

You can see the Steam forum post here where the user talks about it, which is now locked by the developer which was made after they put up this user review on Steam. Looking at the short review, they're not even saying all that much and it sounds like a pretty honest post as well as remaining quite polite with their negative thoughts about it.

The reply the developer sent to the user, is a great example of how to not respond to players of your game who dislike certain aspects of it:

Sorry about that, but I thought I you weren't interested in playing the game. I would have loved to get your feedback during the First Access but I didn't see anything from you until the Steam review, which was a little confusing. I really don't see how you saw enough of the current version of the game to make the judgement call you did there since we made massive changes in the last few months that were all just on Steam.

I can get you another key if you are interested in playing more and perhaps providing some feedback on how we can improve the game.

As polite as the developer reply may seem, how could they have thought this would be a good idea? They did also apologise in a later post after. Since I actually quite like the game, it also stings a bit to see a developer I also supported do something like this. Thankfully, the situation is now resolved and the user does have access to it on Steam once again. Honestly though, I'm a little in shock that doing something like this would ever cross someone's mind.

I've given plenty of negative reviews in my time here and on Steam itself, I've later changed my mind on it especially in times when there's been a patch to improve things and this user could have done the same but that's not the point. This feels like an attempt to silence negative feedback to me, it doesn't sit right at all.

It does also bring up some interesting questions about how easy it is for developers to remove peoples access to their games. While it's a system that can help developers in certain situations, it's also a system that is quite obviously open to a bit of abuse. I do have to wonder what Valve think about this as well, so I've reached out to them for a comment and I will update this if they reply.

This does make another interesting case for DRM free games outside of Steam, since a developer can't just take away your ability to play it. While a DRM free store could remove the game from you, you're still able to fully back it up yourself.

Hat tip to madpinger for the info.

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79 comments
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DrMcCoy 21 October 2018 at 8:59 am UTC
thykrYou have to keep in mind that the developers are human beings too.
The person who did this probably had a bad day, was very fed up already and read this review and took it personally or something, which lead to them over-reacting. It happens to everybody once in a while.

It doesn't help that game devs are basically expected to interact with reviews, especially if they're going the early access route.

This is completely different from, say, the writing community. There, "don't read reviews" is a common mantra, and if you do read a review, don't respond to it. There's a few examples where writers did respond to user reviews badly (Anne Rice is an often quoted example), and it never reflected well on them.

Writing a helpful review is a skill like any other, any most people are not particularily good at it. Now imagine wading through lots of lots of user reviews, most of them not really all that useful to you to improve on your craft, most of them contradicting each other, some laced with insults against the work you've spent considerable time on.

Sure, lashing out doesn't help either, and it's a crappy thing to do, but it is, in parts, understandable that it might happen.
liamdawe 21 October 2018 at 9:11 am UTC
I have a proper statement from the developer. I am waiting for full confirmation that I can post it.

RonsenWhat a crappy baiter news/article is that? Yeah lets slip in standards ...
Thanks for the feedback, what is wrong with it exactly?
jens 21 October 2018 at 9:23 am UTC
liamdaweI have a proper statement from the developer. I am waiting for full confirmation that I can post it.

Thank you, I guess that will put things into perspective. Currently the article is, from what I understand, factually and technically completely correct, but feels a little bit like "making it bigger than it actually is". Revering to DRM and Steam in that context in the last paragraph, while technically correct, seemed to emphasize that feeling after reading that article, at least for me.


Last edited by jens at 21 October 2018 at 9:44 am UTC
liamdawe 21 October 2018 at 10:02 am UTC
jens
liamdaweI have a proper statement from the developer. I am waiting for full confirmation that I can post it.

Thank you, I guess that will put things into perspective. Currently the article is, from what I understand, factually and technically completely correct, but feels a little bit like "making it bigger than it actually is". Revering to DRM and Steam in that context in the last paragraph, while technically correct, seemed to emphasize that feeling after reading that article, at least for me.
Thanks for the actual feedback. About the DRM bit, probably true but I sometimes feel the need for mention it.
Delicieuxz 21 October 2018 at 11:50 am UTC
poiuz
delicieuxzHowever, the only case I see that regards modifying GPL-licensed software is the Welte in AVM vs Cybits case, and that case ended with the court ruling that, contrary to the GPL licenser's claim, the defendant was in-fact entitled to modify the GPL software and people were entitled to use the software after it had been modified.
The GPLv2 licenser (Welte) did argue in favor of the defendant and the ruling was in favor of the GPLv2. AVM was trying to deny the right to modify GPLv2 software (which would be a GPL violation). So I really don't see your point and it definitely does not argue against anything I said (GPLv2[/v3] are legally solid and the license can be terminated after a violation).

Longer version: Summary of the case so far

I clearly didn't read the whole case thoroughly, just the outcome. However, that means that there are no cases on the webpage you linked to that demonstrate a case about modifying GPL software.

poiuzAnd it is not true, that this is the only case about modifying GPLv2 code. As I said, Busybox vs Best Buy + 13 other companies (2009-2012) was about
Quote[…]
embedded in electronic products or by itself – that contains BusyBox or a derivative work of BusyBox

[…]

What was the result: Westhinghouse Digital Electronics, LLC filed for an alternative procedure to bankrupcy allowed under California law [6], thus exiting the main lawsuit. U.S.D.J. Scheindlin found «Westinghouse’s infringement to be willful and therefore awarded treble statutory damages of $90,000. The court also entered a permanent injunction prohibiting distribution of HDTV products with the BusyBox software and further ordered all infringing HDTVs to be forfeited to the plaintiff» [4]. All other companies reached an out of court settlement [7].
Again in favor of the GPLv2 and the court even prohibits the distribution of a product containing the GPLv2 code after its violation.

So no, it has nothing to do with arrogance, I simply try to state facts. And facts are that the GPLv2/v3 are legally solid and their clauses were confirmed in courts (GPLv3 not so much, yet, but there are cases, too).

This time, you haven't read the case thoroughly.

The Busybox vs Best Buy + 13 other companies case didn't involve an accusation of modifying GPL software, and "or a derivative work of BusyBox" is not what the GPL violation was.

The violation was having "distributed firmware... in a manner that does not comply with the License."

The GPL license was for "personal, non-commercial purposes only" while Best Buy and 13 other companies distributed the GPL firmware commercially.

The "or a derivative work of BusyBox" was only relevant in the case to establish whether GPL software was being used in a violating manner because of what I said, here:

"a distributed modified copy still counts as a distributed copy of the original work in copyright law."

And:

"The GPLv3 wording sounds to me like it's trying to prevent people from duplicating a licensed work and also from trying to get around that restriction by modifying it and distributing it then as their own work."

The court's decision in the case:

"The court also entered a permanent injunction prohibiting distribution of HDTV products with the BusyBox software and further ordered all infringing HDTVs to be forfeited to the plaintiff" (before an out-of-court settlement took place)...

... was because the companies were distributing GPL software as part of a commercial venture which violated the "personal, non-commercial purposes only" condition of the license. The court nor the case argued that there was a violation pertaining to modifying GPL software.


None of the cases on the webpage you've linked to show an example contradicting what you've taken issue with about what I said, which is:

"However, the claim of "Any attempt otherwise to... modify it is void" doesn't sound like it is true, to me. And, I wonder how the part that says "... and will automatically terminate your rights under this License" regarding a modified personal instance could be enforced. I don't think it could be."


Last edited by Delicieuxz at 21 October 2018 at 11:53 am UTC
tuubi 21 October 2018 at 12:59 pm UTC
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DelicieuxzThe GPL license was for "personal, non-commercial purposes only" while Best Buy and 13 other companies distributed the GPL firmware commercially.
The companies tried to add a clause that disallowed commercial use of GPL licensed software (BusyBox) they had modified and incorporated in their products. In effect they had added additional restrictions.

The purpose of the GPL is to protect your rights to use or modify the code as you see fit, and distribute it freely. But to ensure that the recipients of your modified code also retain these rights, you are not allowed to publish the code or binaries under terms that conflict with the license.

None of the court cases are about modifying personal instances of the software, because the license simply does not care. It also does not try to prevent you from selling products that either incorporate or entirely consist of GPL licensed software, as long as you freely provide your customers with the source code as well and do not try to restrict the rights granted them by the license.

GPLv3 does add some clauses that might be harder to enforce in more corporate-leaning jurisdictions like those in the US. I'm not sure if the explicit protection against actual laws that restrict writing and distribution of certain kinds of software would stand a chance against the DMCA over there. Which is kind of silly in a country where corporations themselves can effectively override the law with EULAs and Terms of Service. Not that the EU is much better in this regard, but at least the laws over here retain a shred of decency. For now.
Kristian 21 October 2018 at 1:17 pm UTC
For reference the text of the GPLv3 can be found here: https://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-3.0.en.html

The text of the GPLv2(Which is the version Busybox uses) can be found here: https://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-2.0.txt

Neither of them prohibit commercial use and that is on purpose since doing so would violate the Free Software Definition(and incidentally the open source definition, the annotated version of which is available here).

What these GPL lawsuits and settlements are typically about is copyleft nature of the GPL. In other words the GPL prohibits people from taking the source code of a GPL work, creating a new product out of it, distributing the new product and then withholding the source code of it or releasing it under more restrictive terms.
Delicieuxz 21 October 2018 at 2:28 pm UTC
poiuz
Delicieuxz[…]
I can't say if you're a troll or just uninformed. If you're just uninformed, then some basic information:
GNU General Public License 3
Copyleft and the GNU General Public License: A Comprehensive Tutorial and Guide

The official FAQ:
Does the GPL allow me to sell copies of the program for money?
Does the GPL allow me to charge a fee for downloading the program from my distribution site?
If I distribute GPL'd software for a fee, am I required to also make it available to the public without a charge?

I'm done with this discussion, have a nice day.

Well, I guess you have to be done with it, because you were wrong.

It looks like I misread the description of the BusyBox vs Best Buy case and attributed the “personal, non-commercial purposes only" claim to the plaintiff instead of the defendant, but a more thorough look at the case reveals that it still has nothing to do with what you claimed it to. The case didn't involve an accusation of modifying GPL software, but of not providing the source code according to the GPLv2 license: "SFLC/SFC, took the position that the failure to provide source code as required by GPLv2 (a) automatically terminated the licensees’ right to distribute GPLv2 code"

And no, I'm no expert on GPL, and didn't claim to be. You asked what the things I said in a previous post would mean for GPL licenses and I explained what I expect after giving the GPL terms you posted a cursory look. You took issue with my explanation, but have failed to provide a single example of how what I said doesn't hold up.

I misread and failed to read some information about cases you presented, but the correct reading of them doesn't say what you claimed they did (the case was not about modifying GPL software and passed no judgment on modifying GPL software), and doesn't contradict what I gave as my expectation in response to you asking how GPL licenses would work in light of my previous claims about invalid, ignorable, and non-enforceable license clauses.

What you're arguing for, that a license can be enforceably terminated for modifying a personal instance of a GPL software, is akin to claiming that Disney can sue or legally act against a person who draws a picture of Mickey Mouse in their home.

Let me know if you find an example of such a thing happening.
Kristian 21 October 2018 at 2:30 pm UTC
"What you're arguing for, that a license can be enforceably terminated for modifying a personal instance of a GPL software,"

It has been a while since I read GPLv2, but the GPLv3 explicitly allows this.
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