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March 3, 2017 | by  | in Games | [ssba]

Romine vs Sterling: The Final Insult

Sometimes the most fascinating news stories in gaming don’t come from the games themselves, but the people who make a living playing them. One such story, one of the most bizarre sagas in the history of games journalism, has come to a satisfying conclusion and I’d like to offer a (perhaps belated) hot take on the situation.

In March last year, James Romine, one half of the #FucKonami Memorial Award-winning game development company Digital Homicide, sued games critic Jim Sterling for “assault, libel, and slander” related to the latter’s coverage of the company’s games. Seeking damages of US$10 million, Romine tried and failed to crowdfund his legal fees and was forced to represent himself in court. After nearly a year of wrangling in the US courts, the case was finally dismissed with prejudice on February 21, meaning Romine cannot pursue the charges any further.

It should not surprise you that Digital Homicide’s games were terrible, usually made from pre-purchased asset packs and produced in a matter of weeks. In their two years of selling games on Steam, they managed to launch TWENTY-ONE games, more than some developers have made in decades-long careers.

Digital Homicide’s first game, an awful zombie survival shooter called The Slaughtering Grounds, was discovered by Sterling in 2014 and covered as a ‘Jimpressions’ video on his YouTube channel. He called the game “an absolute failure” and stated that it was a contender for the worst game of the year.

Romine and his brother/business partner Robert lost it, launching into a barrage of ad hominem attacks against Sterling before abusing YouTube’s copyright system to have the video taken down. Sterling, undeterred, continued to cover the company’s games and shitty business practices, including how they abused Steam’s Greenlight system by uploading game projects under different names, rightfully criticising them at every turn. It quickly became clear to observers that the Romines had nothing on Sterling.

When the lawsuit was eventually filed, the legal papers were incoherent, trying (and failing) to paint the Romines as the victims of a harassment campaign orchestrated by Sterling and his fans. While there probably were some overzealous people doing just that, Sterling himself decried such tactics. His critiques of the studio were reasonable (if occasionally crude, since he mostly plays a character: an exaggerated version of himself that believes he is a prophet).

Did I mention that James Romine couldn’t get the money for a lawyer? Yeah, it was always going to be a skinny little jobber going up against Brock Lesnar.

Despite all their failings as game developers and as people, the Romines seemed to have an unusual amount of pride in their work, claiming, without a trace of irony, to work hard on every game, and viciously attacking anyone who dared to criticise them. The lawsuit against Sterling was the culmination of these efforts. Make no mistake: this was a gross attack on an individual’s freedom of expression, an attempt to ruin the career of someone whose job is legally protected. Yet, they failed. They even managed to tank their own business while their alleged destroyer said nothing about them for nearly a year!

Meanwhile, the Greenlight system that enabled Digital Homicide to exist and even thrive is being dismantled, to be replaced with one designed to keep chancers like the Romine brothers away from Steam. Whether it will succeed is yet to be seen, but what we do know is that Digital Homicide is dead, buried and rotting away in an unmarked grave, never to insult the gaming public again.

Thank God for Jim fucking Sterling, son.


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