Wild Games Studio, the company behind Day One: Garry's Incident, is currently caught up in a controversy surrounding criticism of its game on YouTube. Immensely popular PC game critic John "TotalBiscuit" Bain has accused the studio of trying to censor him underhandedly, and he's got the evidence.
Bain's highly critical video on Garry's Incident was removed from YouTube after a copyright claim had been filed against it. In his latest video, the self-styled Cynical Brit revealed that Wild Games issued the claim, while studio chief Stephane Woods stated Bain had no right to use footage of the game.
"We protected out copyright because Total Biscuit has no right making advertising revenues with out license," Woods stated on the Steam forums. Any typos or erroneous spacing in names belong to him.
Bain fired back by revealing he was issued a review copy from Wild Games with the understanding that he was going to record footage from it and monetize it on YouTube. He also pointed out that less popular videos have not been taken down, and that Wild Games specifically targeted only the most viewed one.
YouTube's copyright claims system allows companies the ability to swiftly remove content that allegedly rips them off. As we can see here, however, the system is easily gamed for less-than-honest intentions. SEGA quite famously issued claims on tons of Shining Force III videos, just so it could become the top-ranked search for Shining Arc trailers, while Nintendo repeatedly and automatically has any video containing so much as brief trailer footage taken down.
This is also not the first questionable practice undertaken by Wild Games Studio. Stephane Woods allegedly dumped $10,000 into his own company's Kickstarter for Day One: Garry's Incident, and the studio was also offering free Steam Keys to anyone who voted for it on Steam Greenlight. It should hardly be considered a surprise to find that much suspicion surrounds the title's glowingly perfect Metacritic user reviews, either.
Exploiting copyright protection to squash criticism of your game, however, is a fresh new level of concerning.
"The idea that you could use copyright law as a spear to attack those who are criticizing you is an affront to free speech and freedom of the press," argues Bain. "It's horrendously anti-consumer, it's unquestionably censorship."
Criticism hurts, and it hurts even more when you're a small studio, inevitably closer to your product than some "AAA" developer pumping out licensed games for a stack of cash. It's understandable that more independent companies will feel the sting of negativity more harshly than Electronic Arts or Activision. However, that's not an excuse to act just as bad, if not worse, than a multimillion dollar corporation.
It's funny, but the EAs and Ubisofts of the world get accused of corrupting game critics a lot, of pressuring, bribing or otherwise undermining reviewers in pursuit of a perfect Metacritic score. In my personal experience, the most pressure has come from smaller companies, the ones who actually care. Electronic Arts has never cared that I've disliked its games. Activision has never cared.
Dark Energy Digital, the team behind Hydrophobia? They cared. They cared enough to harass our then-Sports Editor, Samit Sarkar, over Destructoid's negative review. They cared enough to try and exert pressure, to have freely expressed opinions quashed. Wild Games Studio cares. It cares enough to tear down the highest ranked YouTube video under the flimsy pretense of copyright protection. While it doesn't make it okay, we at least expect companies like SEGA and Nintendo to be out of touch and try to twist emergent media to their advantage. We should expect better from our smaller, scrappier studios, that are closer to the frontlines and ought to understand that this kind of behavior is unacceptable.
[Note - It should be pointed out that Konami has quite famously blacklisted me for expressing my opinions. I didn't mean to imply large companies are free of blame, as clearly they're famous for their asshole tendencies. Even with Konami, however, I was never harassed or pressured to remove my criticism. They're just sulking about it.]
Trying to make reviewers uncomfortable, or actively screwing with their ability to do their job, over conflicting opinions? That's a low I don't expect from the major corporations I've dealt with. The idea that smaller, infinitely more humanized groups of people are doing it just makes me feel quite depressed. I reiterate -- it's understandable that they'll take criticism far more personally, but that is never an excuse to weaponize copyright law.
Copyright law is supposed to exist for the purposes of defense, not attack. I have nothing but incalculable contempt for those who wield it as the latter.