New twist in the case between the Ukrainian development studio Frogwares and the French publisher NACON: still opposed in a dispute over the publication rights and intellectual property of the game The Sinking City withdrawn from digital sales channels on August 25, 2020, a court decision from the Paris Court of Appeal has just brought the title back on January 5. Good news for anyone keen to experience the open-world investigative game deeply rooted in Lovecraftian mythology. But this difficult return is not the result of chance, but rather of a long conflict between dichotomous practices within the video game industry.
As a reminder, Frogwares had linked with NACON to publish the game on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows via Steam and the Epic Games Stores – but not as a full publisher according to the words of the boss of the studio. Waël Amr. A conflict between the two entities thus led to the game's withdrawal from digital sales platforms – until its reappearance today on the Microsoft Store …
As explained in an interview given for Planête Aventure in February 2020, the Frogares teams have “ always been the sole owners of [their] games and the only ones to insure the financial risks ” – a position quite distinct from the usual relationship between developers. and publisher in the video game industry. This particularity had already caused some disturbances in the past for the Ukrainian studio with its former French distribution partner Focus Home Interactive: a conflict which resulted in the temporary withdrawal in the fall of 2019 from digital sales platforms for certain sound games. catalog, including episodes of their flagship franchise Sherlock Holmes .
For its next big project The Sinking City, officially announced in March 2016, Frogwares has remained in the same position as regards its sales channels, this time joining forces with the publisher NACON, today integrated within BigBen Interactive. , as a new game development and distribution funding partner. But this collaboration did not go as planned: In a lengthy blog post published shortly after the game's withdrawal on August 25, 2020, Sergey Oganesyan – the studio's marketing manager – accused Nacon of various “ breaches of contracts ” and the like. bad practices on the part of NACON / BBI.
Thus, NACON would have defaulted on its “ financial obligations ” during the development of the game, with payment delays accumulating over several “ hundreds ” of days resulting in “ continuous pressure ” for the studio teams. BBI is also said to have claimed the source code for The Sinking City shortly after acquiring a “ rival studio also working on another game inspired by the Lovecraftian universe ” – undoubtedly the Parisian studio Cyanide and its title Call of Ctulhu released in 2019 – even though the publisher is only managing the distribution of the game. The studio has reportedly refused to comply with this request, resulting in a suspension of financial contributions for a period “ greater than four months ”.
An exit strewn with pitfalls
The Sinking City finally arrived on PS4, Xbox One, and Steam on June 27, 2019 – but the conflict between Frogwares and NACON still hadn't come to an end. The post-launch period raised new points of contention: the French publisher would have “ suggested ” to be the sole owner of the intellectual property of the game on its official website and on “ certain physical copies of the game ”, in complete opposition to the practices of Frogwares. NACON is also accused of numerous delays and non-payment of royalties to the studio amounting to around the sum of one million euros … All these reasons have led Frogwares to terminate the partnership contract and to promptly withdraw the game from major sales platforms, with a few exceptions like Origin and Nintendo eShop.
Unlike its counterparts on other home consoles, the Nintendo Switch version of the game has thus always remained available for purchase since it went on sale on the eShop on September 19, 2019 – the Frogwares studio took care of itself. even the distribution of the game on this platform, without going through other intermediaries, leaving it far removed from the legal imbroglio with BigBen Interactive.
The dispute between Frogwares and NACON / BBI is currently still ongoing in French courts – but a first decision was rendered on October 28, 2020 by the Paris Court of Appeal made public in a press release published on January 5 latest :
The Court ruled that Frogwares had terminated the contract in a “manifestly unlawful” manner and, consequently, ordered as a “precautionary measure, the continuation of the contract (…) until its term or until a decision is reached on the breach of this contract and orders the company Frogwares Ireland to refrain from any action on the breach of this contract and orders the company Frogwares Ireland to refrain from any action preventing this prosecution (…) ”
Thus, NACON announces that it is continuing “ its action in the defense of its rights by asking platforms and sites to put The Sinking City game online again so that no one is held hostage in this situation ”; without settling the dispute between it and the Frogwares studio. The Sinking City is again available on the Microsoft Store for the Xbox, and should soon return to the PSN Store and Steam. The Ukrainian studio has still not communicated about this court decision.