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The maw of Cthulhu, though vast and unknowing, must still bow before the might of a publishing dispute. Ukranian developer Frogwares announced today that it has requested that The Sinking City be removed from most game stores after a dispute over the game's publishing deal with Nacon (formerly known as Bigben Interactive).
In a statement on its website, Frogwares claimed that Nacon took multiple steps to both deny payments to the developers and act as though it was the IP-owner for the game. Frogwares states that their original deal was for Nacon to publish the game on Xbox One, PS4, Steam, and the Epic Game Store, but after its launch in June of 2019, the company began allegedly reneging on promised payments and claiming that certain stores weren't paying royalties.
During this time, copies of the game were allegedly sold without Frogwares' logo on the front or back of the case, and the studio's name was removed from marketing materials. Nacon (under its former name Bigben) apparently also published a tabletop RPG without Frogwares' involvement that claimed it was the copyright holder of The Sinking City.
On April 20th, after a year of back-and-forth on these issues, Frogwares says it moved to terminate its contract with Nacon. This opened up a new legal minefield, one caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. After the pandemic began, France passed emergency laws meant to protect companies during the pandemic, and Bigben claimed that because of these laws, Frogwares could not terminate its contract.
Frogwares, for its part, says that a Force Majeure clause in the contract still allows them to initiate the termination. They also say that Nacon has refused to pay 1 million euros worth of royalties.
This finally led Frogwares to request the game be removed from the Steam, Epic, Xbox One, and PS4 game stores. The game is still available on platforms where Frogwares has published the game itself. These include Origin, Gamesplanet, and on Nintendo Switch.
This is an unusual reversal for Frogwares, which endured another publishing dispute with Focus Home Interactive in 2019. In that case, Focus Home had allegedly "wrongfully delisted" Frogwares' Sherlock Holmes games.
We've reached out to Nacon for more information, and will update this article when they respond.
Update: 8/26 - Nacon has replied to our outreach request, and provided the following statement.
"A dispute between Nacon and Frogwares over the interpretation of the Sinking City video game publishing agreement is pending before French courts. A decision is not expected for several months. However, Frogwares thought it necessary to anticipate the upcoming ruling by issuing a press release on their website and Twitter feed, which reflects a personal and erroneous interpretation of the content of the agreement and the nature of this dispute. Nacon emphatically rejects this open letter, the terms of which do not square with the facts. Frogwares is seeking to discredit Nacon in the eyes of the public and professionals alike (even going so far as disclosing confidential information!) and to jeopardise the distribution of The Sinking City, the development of which was principally funded by Nacon. This behaviour, unworthy of any professional, is unacceptable and Nacon intends to take legal action so as to get them convicted and obtain redress. Nacon is confident about the outcome of the dispute, irrespective of the tricks used by Frogwares to cause them harm."
An earlier version of this story incorrectly labeled Frogwares as being a French developer. It is in fact, Ukranian. This has been corrected.