Update: NeuronHaze has informed us that the return happened after they reached a pretrial settlement over the disputed IP, thus the status of the project appears to not be in any further jeopardy from this dispute. We have reached out to Artem to confirm this and will update if we learn more.
Original Story below
It wasn't that long ago that TechRaptor held a giveaway for the Early Access MMORPG Project Genom, which appeared to be a project with a lot of potential, although it is in its early days on Early Access. We didn't know at the time that there was drama going behind the scenes that would erupt and cause the game to be removed from Steam for several days, as well as likely slowing down the deployment of new content.
The situation as we saw it began on November 23 when Neural Haze, the developer of Project Genom, emailed us about the game being removed from Steam and their statements as to why that had occurred. They ran through a series of allegations about the programmer Artem Stehnovsky, known also as CodeSpartan on the Unreal Engine forums, who's best known for his work on the MMO Starter Kit for Unreal Engine 4. The post was also put on their site, with very similar wording, the primary difference being that the prices were mentioned in rubles on their site post compared to dollars in the email.
Their allegations can be boiled down to the following:
- Artem was paid the most on the team for his work, with a payment over double his monthly rate before Early Access launch to help house repairs
- After getting that raise, they allege that he disappeared, leaving code unfinished requiring them to find someone new
- After the release on Steam, he extorted the team for 10% of sales income, and if he didn't get it he'd complain to Valve to have the project taken off steam.
- They agreed to pay him $23600 through December 20th, but the contract was never signed
- They are suing him under several provisions
They also stated that they were working on getting new code done to replace what Artem had so that he would have no intellectual property claims possible on Project Genom.
Artem has also posted publicly about the situation in general, giving a different take on the situation. In his post on Reddit, he explains that he had filed a DMCA claim with Steam and that he had been promised 10% of the revenue from the get go and that Neural Haze had contacted him about doing the code for their game on Unreal Engine. Here are the key points of his post and allegations he makes:
- He was being paid $1000 per month, and additionally he would get 10% of the game revenues
- When they received a $19 000 Epic Games Unreal Grant earlier this year, he was paid 10%
- When Project Genom launched on Steam, the game made over $230 000 in the first 3 days, and then he was informed he wasn't getting anything as he didn't work enough in September and that the 10% would go to the next programmer
- That since there was no contract, he is the owner of the intellectual property that constitutes 90% of the game code, citing a Computer World article which uses US Law (we'll get back to that)
- He claims that they had agreed after that to a contract to transfer all copyrights for 10% of October's sales. He alleges NeuronHaze delayed after getting it drawn up in a week, saying it needs translation to English, and then stopped communicating. He also alleges that part way through the negotiations they wanted to change from 10% of October to a fixed amount
- After waiting, he allegedly told them after 3 weeks that he was going to submit his DMCA at the end of the week. He states that Neuron Haze told him that what he's doing constitutes blackmail or he'd get nothing, and that he has to wait until November 30 to sign the contract, as they weren't working on the project until the date.
- He filed the DMCA on Steam, after asking for help on Reddit, which got noticed by people who posted on the Project Genom forums. He alleges this led Project Lead, Ilya Usanov, to threaten he'd contact Russian authorities, with claims that the Project Lead verbatim said he was involved in "blackmail," "fraud," and would "contact Interpol and Belgian embassy in Russia" and that he would expose Artem at a press conference in Russia.
The reason for suggesting to check with legal counsel is that this is almost certainly going to end up in a legal battle of some sort. Where that will take place is another question, and whether Artem's claim on copyrights is correct is difficult to say. Getting back to that point from before, US law might not matter in this situation due to the fact that Artem is a Belgium citizen living there and NeuronHaze is in Russia. Artem's VKBook does hint he may be from Russia though.
At this time, Project Genom is back up on Steam, and there haven't been any further developments. This story may serve as yet another reminder to always, always, have a contract just in case something like this happens. For players, it's a reminder to be cautious with Early Access games.
Do you own Project Genom? What should developers do in situations like this? How do you think it will end? Share your thoughts in the comments below!