Workers and Resources: Soviet Republic (opens in new tab) is a niche, hardcore city-builder that's actually really good if you're into that sort of thing—"that sort of thing" being management games and workers' states. Unfortunately for anyone curious but uncommitted, it's no longer available for purchase on Steam because of a very strange DMCA takedown request filed by an angry fan.
In a "special report for the community (opens in new tab)," developer 3Division said the fan, formerly a "respected member of our community," believes the idea for a "realistic mode (opens in new tab)" added in December 2022 was his, and is angry that he isn't credited accordingly. The studio said it would have added him to the credits, along with other contributors, after the game was complete, but before that could happen the fan began making legal threats and issuing copyright strikes on YouTube against a popular Workers and Resources influencer.
"As he chose to use extortion and abuse, we became angry about this, and decided to never mention the name of the challenge he allegedly 'invented' again, and ignore him," 3Division wrote.
An understandable reaction—but instead of blowing over, the situation got worse, and the fan now claims that he actually owns the rights to Workers and Resources' realistic mode.
"This guy reported our website, and the website was taken down," 3Division wrote. "He also reported our video about the last content update where realistic mode was introduced, and the video was taken down." The studio said the takedowns were successful because they're handled through an automated process, and it expects to get the content returned once it's able to deal with actual people.
The message includes a link to the fan's original play guide, called Cosmonaut Mode (opens in new tab), and compares it to the realistic mode in Workers and Resources to demonstrate that "there is nothing in his work in terms of game design that would relate directly to game’s code, and he does not offer any technical solutions for the development team to use."
"He literally just created a guide with some possible way to play the game and called it Cosmonaut mode, but it is not helping the development process," 3Division wrote. "[The] one thing he was helpful in, is that the popularity of his guide showed us how much people wanted to play the game in a realistic and more challenging way."
3Division told Kotaku (opens in new tab) that the fan in question is actually a lawyer, and that he's betting the studio won't engage him in a costly legal battle. But "we will probably fight to the end," the studio said, noting that the angry fan is also risking his reputation and potentially hefty financial penalties if he loses.
The studio also said that it is "very sad" that DMCA mechanics enable people to do things like this in the first place. "[It] seems like anybody can claim anything," 3Division said. "The service provider is just forced to remove the content and in general not ask or [consider] if the claims are real."
Claiming ownership of a specific game mode based on writing a guide for a particular style of play is an interesting idea, and also potentially very disruptive if it's allowed to get traction. It reminds me of Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski, who blocks fans who send him unsolicited ideas (opens in new tab) because of potential legal entanglements—a habit he was also notorious for back in the days of Usenet (opens in new tab). He took occasional heat for being a hardass about it at the time, but this situation demonstrates that his concerns were not unfounded.
A 3Division representative said in an email sent to PC Gamer that the studio is "working with our legal representatives on the issue," but has not yet heard from Valve.