Kyle Lambert, more commonly known as Klace, the indie developer behind the episodic visual novel Major\Minor, has been the target of intense criticism, both of the game’s content and his handling of criticism and negative reviews. The game was released in December of last year, and since then the negative reviews and comments have piled up. The major points of criticism can be found in this Google Doc. I will also be referencing several official posts on Steam by the developer and his PR person, including this one from January 5, this one from January 17, and this one from January 22.
The first accusation in the Google Doc is the weakest. It makes the claim of price gouging, because the game sold for $7.19 at some point in the past, and has now risen to $9.99. If you think the game is not worth that much you might consider it price gouging, but that is a highly subjective judgment call. It’s hard to see anything objectively unethical about an indie developer selling a visual novel for $9.99 if people are willing to spend that much on it.
The next accusation is that game is incomplete and is missing content which was promised by Klace. In particular, the characters only have one facial expression. In a Reddit thread from about a month before the game’s release, Klace specifically stated that characters would have multiple portraits to show different emotions. As well, in response to some critical reviews in the days immediately after the release, Klace specifically stated that more portraits were on the way and would be patched in as they were completed by the artist. However, the Steam post from January 17 tells a different story. It states that having portraits showing different emotions was originally a Patreon stretch goal. Even though the goal was never met, Klace will be hiring the artist to work on them out of his own pocket.
On one hand, Klace is attempting to address what is a major complaint about the game, but on the other hand, his talk of Patreon goals seems inconsistent with some of his earlier comments. However, the post does contain an apology to anyone who thought the portraits would be in the game at launch. It states that Klace was simply overzealous in some of his statements. This apology may or may not satisfy critics, but it seems it was a mistake he is sorry for. Misleading comments aside, it is still arguable that the game is technically incomplete given the current state of its artwork. It might have been better for the game to stay in early access and delay the official release until he had raised money for additional portraits. This runs somewhat into one of the continuing points of confusion at times, which is what state is Major\Minor in? Particularly, Klace seems to view episodic as similar to early access while generally the perception of episodic as shaped by developers like Telltale is that each chapter is a complete segment of a whole.
Another complaint by some customers, which is not really covered in the Google Doc, is a patch that removed some characters from the game after release. The January 5 post defends the removal of characters, stating that, “As an episodic title, many things are subject to change and this is mentioned on the store page in a disclaimer.” This explanation is a bit strange; an episodic title just means bits of content will be released over time as they are completed—it doesn’t really suggest that already released content will receive major modifications. The post does encourage anyone upset by the removal of characters to get a refund if they are within the time limit to get refunds from Steam.
The removal of at least some of the characters seems to be related to the next major complaint in the document, which is multiple counts of copyright infringement. First off, he created a character in the game that belongs to the fictional Sergal species. This species was originally created by Trancy Mick, and using its distinct appearance in his game would have required the payment of royalties under the licensing terms set forth by Mick. When this was brought to Klace’s attention, he accused Mick of being greedy and refused to pay royalties, but did remove the Sergal character from the game. However, Klace seems to have had a change of heart. The January 22 post contains an apology to Mick over his previous behavior. Klace states he acted in an unprofessional manner in how he handled the issue. It also states that even though the Sergal character was removed, he would still pay Mick royalties because of the character’s appearance in marketing material.
There is also the claim that several of the background images are also infringing. Initially all of the background images were uncredited. The creator of the document tracked down some of the images to their original source and several of them are under a Creative Commons license, which requires attribution. However, a pair of announcements on Steam on December 13 addressed this matter. For some reason it appears to be impossible to link to or view those two specific post individually, and I can only view them within this list of all Major\Minor announcements.
Taken together, the two announcements suggest that Klace had intended to credit the creators whose works were under a Creative Commons license, he just wasn’t originally planning to put in a credits roll until the final episode was released. He stated credits would be added in an upcoming patch, but also lists them in that post. Additionally it mentions that some images are going to be removed in an upcoming patch, so those artists will not be credited in-game because their works are no longer in the game. However, he does credit them in the post in recognition of the fact that their works previously appeared in the game.
A later post from January 5 states that all the background images in the game are purchased from Dreamstime, a royalty free database. While the previous posts from December 13 had mentioned Dreamstime, it did also state that at least some of the images were under a creative commons license. One possible explanation for this is that all images that were under a Creative Commons license have been removed, and the game currently only uses backgrounds from Dreamstime. However, I cannot verify for certain that this is the case. In any case, it states that the images from Dreamstime will be credited even though it isn’t necessary, and these credits will appear in a txt file accompanying the game until a credits roll is implemented.
Klace is also accused of censoring criticism, by removing negative reviews on Steam and nuking comments on Reddit. The document contains several archive links to reviews that are no longer on the site. This criticism was also addressed in the post from January 5. In the post, it states the Klace is stepping down as the community manager, and a new PR guy would be taking over. It acknowledges that Klace was overzealous in flagging reviews, and they would be taking a much more lax approach going forward. But it still argues that he really didn’t do anything wrong, because developers cannot remove reviews, only flag them. Ultimately, only the staff at Steam itself can remove them if they decide that it violates their rules. Essentially, the defense is that a there is no harm done by a flagged review that doesn’t actually get removed by Steam.
However, the post from January 22 takes on a much more apologetic tone. He apologies for flagging reviews and for nuking comments on Reddit. He states that it was a mistake and he learned that he needs to take criticism to heart to make a better game and grow into a better person. He states that he will not make excuses or blame any external forces, but takes complete responsibility for his actions. And he closes the post by asking for a second chance from the community.
While it is clear that Klace has made some serious missteps, which he has admitted to, his recent statements combined with a relatively drama free last month suggests that he is trying to do better from now on. In addition to addressing complaints about censorship and copyright infringement, he is also attempting to deal with complaints about the quality of the game itself. A post from January 24 states that he is working on a complete rewrite of chapter one of the game, based on community feedback, to improve the quality and bring it up to the standard of chapter two. This demonstrates an effort to actually respond positively to criticism and use it to improve the game, and we can hope this is a positive sign going forward.