Friday, August 14, 2009

Abuse abuse

Little back story. I was the producer on a game called Abuse back in 1996. It did really well for us, became sort of a cult classic side-scroller. We dumbly reinvested our winnings into a game called Golgotha of so large a scope we couldn't finish it and had to close shop, but we closed it in the black.

Somewhere in there, we decided to release a goodly chunk of Abuse to the public domain, basically everything but the registered levels, the sound effects (which we didn't own, so we couldn't give away), and the Abuse trademark, which Jonathan and I transferred to ourselves before we closed the company.

Jonathan has since moved onto other adventures in the world of virtualization at VMWare, and I have been working on a myriad of things, from processors to games to videos.

I've always wanted to make an Abuse 2 someday, all deliciously updated and new, super money, the works, but I'm biding my time because I want to fund it myself, so that I can have final creative control. I feel that's really important, because if I didn't have that, Abuse would have been Alien Grue, the first game we attempted to make and botched horribly, and we wouldn't have necessarily had the freedom to fix it and do it right. I also want to hire the right guys. Jonathan Clark and Duong Nguyen in particular were the uber-mensch superheroes of the project.

I don't have that kind of money handy to do it right yet. I think it might be $1Mish, which is a damn sight more than the $60k I spent on the orig, so it might be a while.

However, in the meantime, someone fun came along and decided that Abuse was now fully public domain, including the trademark, sound effects, and registered levels that we exempted from the public domain submission. I guess he figured that proximity to public domain seeps into other things, or that time somehow erases ownership, or that licenses to some people to distribute it for free means anyone gets a license to distribute it for profit, or that seeing the exempted assets in the original tarball meant that like piracy, because you have a copy, it's free... or something. Not sure of his reasoning.

Unfortunately, there are pricks in this world. This fun fellow is named Stephane Portha, and he appears to be one of them.

We learned about this magical man a few weeks before GDC. He said he was about to release Abuse for the iPhone, and that he wanted to use the name, but he seemed to have no question about the copyrights, pricing, etc. It was just a foregone conclusion that he was going to sell it.

I was immediately appalled but too slammed with party prep and biz dev on four games to give it attention. Just figured I'd get to it when I found a breather. Instead, he waited two weeks and released the game about a week before GDC. Started getting congratulations from respected peers for having just released Abuse, but woops, I didn't. Nice and embarrassing.

Learning this, I very politely asked this mystery man to take a meeting with me at GDC. He acquiesced, and then the night before, he sent a creepy email making it super clear he doesn't get it and has no intention of backing down. So I scrambled to find an attourney to come with me. Got lucky, managed to get Jim Charne, who is fantastic peeps.

The meeting got unpleasant fast. He proceeded to share his theories on intellectual property law with us, tried to explain that the game was "abandoned" and therefore his to do with as he pleases. Jim and I tried to explain how IP law actually works, but you know the type. They don't admit to being wrong. They just swerve to some other topic to try to find some other issue with it. This quickly made me angry, and I started yelling. Not proud of it, but there you go. Don't like my baby being shaken.

Anyhoo, I said look, what's done is done, they can keep 20%, which is decent for a port and particularly considering how I found out about it, and he flatly refused. Stunned, I asked why, and he claimed it was because they had spent a lot of marketing money on it. Only half-believing that I was about to negotiate with a guy who had started exploiting our IP w/o our permission, I said OK, deduct marketing, and we'll split half. Still nothing.

Totally stunned but realizing that with his game climbing the charts (it quickly got into the top 100, peaked at 20-something), he was not going to be in any hurry to come to an agreement with us, I gave him a deadline, which he ignored.

Instead, he pretty staunchly stuck to his theory that we didn't own these things we that we said we did, and that we had to prove to him that we did.

So we sent a DMCA takedown notice to Apple, showed that the sound effects were binary identical, and an affidavit confirming ownership. I believe they forwarded all this stuff, or at least the grief associated with it, and it finally did come down conveniently almost exactly when we submitted Abuse Classic to the App Store.

There's an interesting story behind Abuse Classic. I honestly thought the little fellow was going to do the rational thing and settle, chalk it up to woops, might want to get permission next time, kind of a thing, but this wasn't to be.

What surprised me is that when we started getting on the horn with Apple about it, they too stalled. We actually shipped Abuse with every iMac for a while, did the deal through Bungie. Maybe my head is just swollen, but I didn't really think anyone out there questioned who owned or made Abuse. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. Big companies forget deals and people. I had heard that they weren't super organized there, partially from being overwhelmed with work from claims such as these, many of which are apparently bogus.

Prolly serves me right. I have all my Crack files deep in storage, and I had let the trademark registration at the US PTO lapse because you're supposed to do this update thing at the 6 year point. Doesn't mean your trademark protection itself has lapsed, just the registration. However, when you've got a duder claiming ownership to your stuff on the other end of things, it's wise to have such up-to-date docs handy. Let that be a lesson, kids. Might have accelerated things.

So anyway, as we sensed the looming bureaucracy behind the injustice, we started developing Abuse Classic because we realized that Apple might not take the game down until they realize that they have two of almost the same game on there and would have to pick one. It's the first time I've ever made a game to make a point. Completely weird.

Anyway, sure enough, foot dragging continued, but Alien Abuse came down somewhere around our submission of Abuse Classic to the App Store. Stephane said he took it down himself in email, but now he's saying Apple took it down. Whatever.

The fun part is that I promised the wee one that I'd go public with this story. I think it sucks and should serve as a warning buoy to others who want to do good gestures unto others.

I got frank about it in a thread on toucharcade.com.

In retort, he put up this neato site to explain his side of the story.

It's grossly inaccurate of course, 5% instead of 20%, leaving out the contexts of conversations, trying to spin it as greed and control, all that good stuff. Not worth getting into detail, as this has been his consistent approach- a mixture of distraction and consistent attempts to project an image of evil and unfairness on me. I would be more upset, but it's just not very well done. Happy to forward a copy of all the actual emails to a professional journalist who would like some of the source material he's drawing from if this is deemed newsworthy, but that's not the neat part to me.

The neat part is that he omitted a rather stunningly important link to our FAQ directly addressing his original theory about the wisdom of undertaking this project without our permission in the first place. The FAQ directly answers the salient question "Is Abuse Public Domain?"

And this brings us back to the beginning. We released all the shareware bits of Abuse to the public domain back in the day, but we kept ownership of the Abuse trademark, the registered levels, and Bobby Prince kept ownership of the sound effects.

That's really the beginning and end of the discussion, but it's been taken for a very long, stupid ride over the course of five months now.

His rationale was apparently that it's OK to get your game started with someone else's stuff, and then you can just patch it up later and don't have to worry about taking it down or those initial sales, brand damage, market damage, any of those annoying aftermathy details.

A friend of mine asked me whether I've been burned on open sourcing from this experience. I haven't. I still believe in it thoroughly, and I would have done it exactly the same way again.

I think to be honest, sometimes you're fated to come head to head with an asshole, and I don't know how much I really want to prepare to stave off future assholes. Life is short, and I don't think preparing for that is any kind of way to live. The vast majority of the contracts I've signed, folks I've met, it all works out great, but you essentially need to do a lot of extra work for the handful that make life suck. If this were some inconsequential game I didn't care about (and I've worked on a few of those too), I just wouldn't have bothered with any of this, but when it's your baby, it's your baby, you know? I know this isn't going to pan out for me financially, but love is like that...

We got some pseudo-justice, I guess. Not expecting to see a penny from The One Who Can't Possibly Be Wrong, and I won't blame those who bought Alien Abuse if they don't want to repurchase Abuse Classic, because they're very similar games, but I'm glad to see it taken down and to at least have an opportunity to pay the actual authors of the game what they're owed, however modest those revenues may be.

That said! I know I speak for myself and the team in saying that we'd really appreciate your patronage and would be thrilled if sales were a titch more than modest. :)

Abuse Classic is selling for $2.99, which is rather a discount on the original, which went for $35 once upon a time.

22 comments:

  1. Wow... that was quite a mess.... i'm really glad you won out in the end. If i owned an iPhone i'd pick up a copy. :)

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  2. What a horrible experience, the thief is a dickhead. Just bought your version to show support and left a review mentioning this post.

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  4. Wow, I'm sorry to hear some thief got away with profiting off of your work in the name of 'abandonware'.

    I loved Abuse and I think you should bust out a remake or even a sequel on XBLA / Steam. You'd make a boatload of money - Abuse is a classic and everyone who gamed on a computer in the 90's remembers & loved it.

    Also, can we get an Abuse Lite version to test out on the App Store? Even though it's only $3, I love to be able to try something before I buy it.

    Thanks.

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  5. How about an Android version? We're desperate for decent games.

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  6. Abuse was a big favorite of mine for the pc. I'd gladly show some support and buy the game if you ported to Android.

    How about it? Possible android port in the works?

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  7. Wow the gaul of some people who think that they can make a quick buck off of someone elses work. I am glad that you served him up a nice chunk of humble pie for his efforts.

    Do you know if Apple made him refund all copies of the product and killed it from devices?

    Best of luck with your authentic Abuse App for the iPhone.

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  8. Sam/Chris, I chatted with Google about Android. It would require a full Java port and conversion to OpenGL ES. If you know a tasty Java coder willing to do it for a rev split, I'm down to talk.

    John, it's exactly the same game as you played back in the day on the PC. Only the controls are remapped.

    Logan, don't think so. Apple's policy appears to be to make sure they're not breaking the law and then to let the two feuding parties duke it out w/ each other for stuff like refunds/reimbursement/etc.

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  9. I stand on your side completely on this case. Not only as a fan of the original game which I played back in the days on my Mac. But because of my encounters with this greedy french s.o.b.

    What can I say, HE LOVES TO STEAL (and preferably getting away with it).

    Serves him right what you did there. I applaud you!

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  10. That guy has been up to it forever. He did the exact same thing with zelda 3 at graalonline.com.

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  11. Amazing article. I agree with you completely. I know this guy for different reasons and hes a cocky moron.

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  12. Stephane is a scourge on the gaming community. Why he hasn't landed himself with enough fines to make his head spin or found himself in a jail cell is beyond me.

    What cracks me up is that he has no trouble stealing shit from other companies, he chucks DMCA letters like spam to groups who "reverse-engineer" (for lack of better term) his products in ways that are 100% -legal-.

    He's a thief and a hypocrite. I only wish there were a way that he could be barred from such activities.

    Isn't justice f**ked up?

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  13. Found official web of Stephane Portha:
    http://portha.com
    http://www.cyberjoueurs.com
    http://www.doyoubuzz.com/stephane-portha

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    1. Funny how virtually everything on those sites is either a lie or extreme distortion of reality. Stephane has virtually no skills and can't even maintain a PostgreSQL database of vBulletin forum and can't even make a basic PHP script or html page without using someone to do it for him.
      He was a low level France telecom employee that ripped people off then started cybersquatting, then started ripping off children and stealing other peoples games. That's about the extent of his "work skills" the rest is just fabrication.

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  14. Stephane Portha is a lunatic, through and through. He managed to steal a domain name from me in 2001 when I was a teenager by using some shady registrar to steal it from the poorly-managed one I had used.

    Good to see some things never change.

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  15. Stephane Portha is incapable of any level of honesty, civility or truthfulness. The only thing this french sewer rat is capable of doing is lying, stealing, threatening and attacking innocent people and children. There are no positive, good or hardworking qualities to this french troll and he has virtually no talents in IT. All he can do is scrape by ripping off naive people through lying and threats. He has even posted lies about me on his forums combined with my private address when I was under 18 and told people to "report me to fbi and police" when I committed no crime and did nothing wrong. He has also spread around a disgusting rumor about "sharing picture of my dik" when I was like 15 years old. He has even paid people like black hat terrorist and NovaNET webhosting thief Benjamin Kerensa to send bomb threats to places using my name to try and frame me. He does all this just because I was a notable player on the game Graal back in 1998 that criticized his egregious actions; and he has done the same to many others. That guy is sick and deranged and everyone needs to know to avoid doing business with him and to fight him if he steals your work.

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  16. I can confirm all of that, he did the same to alot of people, including me.
    Because I started a project with his former "partner" Stefan Knorr, he started to ban my account on the Game Graal Online completely.
    This guy is dangerous, and I hope he will get what he deserves very soon.

    Here is something interesting to read:


    "
    My young daughter "10 years old" Sue got an iPhone and I wanted to get her some nice fun and positive games to play. GraalOnline Zone looked nice enough as advertised. I thought "Gee this looks like a zelda style game with nice fun happy people that play together and help each other!" and it's only a few dollars from iTunes account to purchase the app and a few more to buy something called "Gralats" the in game currency to get fancy stuff, so I buy them spending about $8 total. Almost immediately my daughter's character gets sexually harassed by strange men speaking german and people are publicly saying and doing obscene things with admins doing nothing to stop it. I complain and file a support ticket to GraalOnline staff. Nothing happens for about a week then my daughters account is banned for "Sexual harassment" At this point I am furious and contact the head admins, this time by email demanding that either my daughter be unbanned or my money refunded and admins do a better job at keeping the game clean and playable... about another week passes before I get a very creepy reply that makes no sense from a creepy french person called Stephane Portha

    "Dear Sir or Madame,
    I am the manager of Graal and I don’t like what I read. If I understand well you are threatening us to get what you want.
    So I will ask everyone in the team to stop speaking with you and I will personally take care of this.
    I have just contacted our attorney and we are prepared to go on court against you if you don’t stop. You will never get anything from us this way just problems. Graalonline is trademarked in all countries and using our name like that is completely illegal. So I give you 3 days to stop annoy us, pay us $100 USD annoyance fees and pay for new account ! If you want to play my game you will buy more account, pay us monies, let us talk to you and your daughter way we want and enjoy it !."


    I am of course immediately confused, shocked, appalled and disgusted over this bizarre unproffesional reply and threat.

    I am now getting hundreds of dollars in weird charges charged to my iTunes and credit card accounts and am getting strange spam, threats and sexual messages from random european people...

    I am in the process of contacting my attorneys, police, state attorney general, FBI, and others. It seems these people are located in France and think they are immune to U.S. laws or any common decency. I have done some research and they also have other scams going on and countless aliases, shell companies and fake addresses. I am not the first victim of these criminals.

    These people are sick and disgusting scammers that need to be stopped! Avoid GraalOnline, Stephane Portha and all things connected to them. They will rip you off, steal your money, sexually harass you and abuse your children.
    "


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  17. NIco VImes was just fired recently from GraalOnline from stealing from the company. Grow up, you got fired no need to pour out lies and cause all this drama. Learn from it and move on.

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  18. No lies sadly, the blog of Dave Taylor proves it very well. And the case with Stefan Knorr again confirms what kind of guy Stephane Portha is.
    You will soon understand it aswell. It is in his nature to fuck over his own people.

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  19. I was a victim of Stephanes lack of professionalism and his abuse. I have been playing Graal on and off frequently since late 1998 and do enjoy the players and game. In 2001 I was the same position as unixmad as Game Master and always provided the highest level of customer service I could and tried to stress it's importance then and still do now. Anyway, the reality is every game has trolls, the problem is the lack of service and accountability from the ownership. That certainly sounds like unixmad aka Stephane Portha to the T with the exception of the following:

    "pay us $100 USD annoyance fees and pay for new account ! If you want to play my game you will buy more account, pay us monies, let us talk to you and your daughter way we want and enjoy it !."

    I find it very hard to believe he would EVER do this. He is a cruel man and ignorant to his ways but having said that I think the above quoted part was grossly exaggerated or more likely fabricated.

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  20. Graal was once a Zelda clone, and Bomber's college project. The developer tools were free; at the age of 14 I took the tools and started creating creatures, characters, and worlds. I came up with the NPC Server and had a huge vision for a good game, & they incorporated my ideas then Unixmad took my server world and started selling people the right to play it. My content earned thousands of dollars which he kept all to himself then invested to build a million dollar company. I was verbally abused, called a liar, and banned. There you have it; the entire kingdom is my bloodline—and instead a grown man used a child's inheritance to pretend he did something. — Antago

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  21. I was ripped off by Stephane Portha to. I worked hard on a Graalonline game called Atrius developing it on his servers. We worked out a deal to split the revenue and he would host it on his servers.

    We finished the game and it was ready for release. A week before the release he started to come up with new ways to 'pay' me and said I would be paid in a bonus fashion in about 6mos to 1 yr. I told him this was unacceptable.

    He then banned me from the development and took over my Facebook page for the game and started to release it on his own. I had my lawyer reach out to me and he finally stopped.

    Now I have an entire game with nowhere to host it and am still banned/cannot contact this ignorant idiot.

    Beware!

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