It's been a cursed couple months for the developers of dungeon crawling PvP extraction game Dark and Darker: They've endured a DMCA takedown, a police raid, DDOS attacks, and had to distribute a playtest entirely by torrent links. The developers have now defied Nexon, Steam, Discord, and Twitter just to get players into their free playtest, which is some exceptionally underdog behavior.
Dark and Darker's fourth alpha playtest in February was a surprise hit, pulling a peak of over 100,000 concurrent players as a Steam Next Fest demo. It was a great time to play in a party with friends, excellent fodder for clip compilations, RPG build theorists, PvP lovers, and finally gave me the non-FPS extraction game I've been needing.
After that high of highs, Dark and Darker has been in freefall for two months. Game publisher Nexon, former employer of two members of Ironmace, has accused the developers of stealing code and assets, which resulted in a police raid on the developer's South Korean office, removal of the game from Steam by DMCA takedown request, and a short lived GoFundMe campaign to assist with the developer's expected legal defense fees.
But Ironmace had already announced a fifth playtest to run from April 14-19 and dammit they were going to get players back into the game again. So they asked everyone to torrent it. I can't believe thousands of players had to learn how to torrent in the year 2023. Things only got more wild as the weekend went on:
- Ironmace informed players that the torrent link had been removed "due to Discord’s policy of not allowing links to torrents."
- Ironmace posted the torrent link to its official Twitter, which was removed for similar reasons.
- Ironmace distributed the link again by way of a text decoder tool that sidestepped the ban on torrent links.
- Dark and Darker servers went down on Saturday for an extended time while no developers were around to fix the issue.
- One of the official Discord admins locked the server's general chat room briefly to explain the situation in the midst of hundreds of players spamming "HOLD THE LINE" in support of the developers.
- Ironmace said it was affected by "incredibly sophisticated and powerful DDoS attacks" during testing.
- Ironmace somehow completed two hotfixes (also distributed by torrent) over the course of the weekend.
And despite the total trash fire, players are absolutely loving it. YouTube is full of videos of Dark and Darker players showing off and sharing their builds. Reddit has threads defending the developers and mourning the end of the playtest. The biggest point of contention in the official Discord is disappointment that Ironmace didn't extend the end date of the playtest to make up for the downtime over the weekend. If another game were being so tragically messy, its own fans may well have turned on it, but Ironmace is a small indie team and Dark and Darker is just a damn fun game.
Before the Nexon beef even came to light, Ironmace was presenting itself as an underdog with a mission. A statement on its website reads:
We are a merry band of veteran game developers disillusioned by the exploitative and greedy practices we once helped create. We are experts who have worked on many of the biggest hits in Korea.
We’ve seen first hand how corporate game companies sell their soul for the easy payday. We are disappointed to see them doubling down on more and more exploitative practices, becoming more like casinos instead of bringing joy to gamers.
We’re fighting to win back the hearts of gamers around the world.
I'll admit that I want to believe that this is a case of a big publisher unfairly coming down on some scrappy developers and that Ironmace's self-declared anti-exploitation values are genuine. We may never know the full story of the legal claim against the studio, and whether we like it or not, Nexon may have a case. Even if so, being on the proper side of the law has never been a prerequisite for punk.
For now, what we do have is very clear evidence of how incredibly tenacious Ironmace has been in getting players into its game. After getting booted off the biggest gaming storefront on PC, Ironmace went on to subvert the rules on both Discord and Twitter and force a ton of players to learn how to torrent files for the first time in their lives all to play an alpha. It was the most punk PC gaming moment of 2023 so far.