The developers for Project Genom are NeuronHaze, and they have recently been caught up in an internal dispute over finances and the ownership over the intellectual property for their new game.
For those of you that don’t know what Project Genom is, I’ll link the official trailer for you to see what the game is like.
Project Genom is like a mix of Defiance, Firefall and Destiny all rolled into one, and for that, it looks amazing!
Russian developers NeuronHaze hired an off-site long distance Belgium lead developer named Artem Stehnovsky (AKA: CodeSpartan, AKA: Cacofiend) to help them make their MMORPG game Project Genom. As luck would have it, he had previously made a MMORPG developer starter kit and was familiar with how things should be setup to get the project going. And thus, Project Genom was born. Mr. Stehnovsky was promised around $1,000 a month for his work, plus 10% of total sales revenue after the game went into Early Access.
Together, the team went on to launch a successful Steam Greenlight campaign, was quickly accepted by the community and they proceeded to go into Early Access on Steam shortly after that. This got the attention of Epic Games, and NeuronHaze was then given a grant from Epic games for $19,000 to help them complete the game. Finally, they went on to receive $230,000 from Early Access sales. Everything was going great, except for the drama unfolding behind the scenes.
The game development came to a stall, the lead developer stopped developing and suddenly the game was now missing from the Steam store page. So what happened?
Like everything, there is always two sides to the story. To sum it up, this is how NeuronHaze tells their side of story.
“This Guy: Was receiving salary 100k rubles monthly, when the rest of the team received much less or didn’t receive any at all When the game was close to EA on Steam – he stated that he couldn’t work because “suddenly” a house repair was started. In this regard, the team allocated 240k rubles so he could hire workers and continue to write the code.
After receiving the money he disappeared without doing virtually nothing on what was agreed. So a month before EA release the team had to find a new programmer quickly.
“After the release on Steam he began to blackmail the team, that if he won’t take 10% of sales income, he will lodge a complaint with Steam (there is correspondence). Unfortunately, Valve policy is when filing a complaint to resolve the issue (in court or otherwise) so Valve takes the game from sale, and thats what the scammers use.
Artem had agreed (there is correspondence) that we will pay him 1.5kk rubles up until 20.12.2016. We have prepared and agreed with the text of the agreement with him, but Artem has never signed it.
“As of today, 22.11.2016, the conditions of the agreements are not violated by us, and we received the notice of removal the game from Steam, based on a letter received from Artem.”
The developer studio went on to say–
“We do not recommend you to work with Artem Stehnovsky. We will do everything we possibly can to bring back the game in Steam in the nearest future. You do not need to worry about the fate of the project. All copyrights belong to NeuronHaze.
“We will continue to work on the project, and prepare the new version. We sued Artem Stehnovsky in connection with violation of the DMCA 512f point and will demand compensation for all damages. We sued Artem Stehnvsky under article 163 of the Criminal Code : “Extortion” We apologize to all the users who want to buy the game – currently it is impossible to buy the game on Steam, but it is available to users who have purchased it before.”
I went looking into the matter further, and found that Artem Stehnovsky posted his version of the story on Reddit under the name of Cacofiend. He wrote a “Too long; Didn’t Read” version, as well as the full story leading up to the game being pulled from Steam. I highly recommend you follow the link to read it all as he goes on to explain everything in quite a bit of detail.
“The story is old as the world. TL;DR: the project lead is from Russia and he scammed me out of my 10% revenue shares. But was stupid enough not to sign any contracts with me, which makes me the sole author of 90% of game code according to both US and Russian law. And so since I’m the author of this intellectual property being used in a game without my permission, Steam took the game down.”
Mr. Stehnvsky goes on to explain the details of the matter with the below quote, saying–
“October 12 this year, we release Project Genom on Early Access. In the first 3 days, we make over $230’000, which exceeds by far everything we have received before through preorders, etc. The next day I get informed I’ll receive nothing for my efforts. The reason: simple, I didn’t work enough in September, so I’m “fired”. The 10% I’m owed will go towards the next programmer, I’m informed.”
So Mr. Stehnovsky started going through the process of filing a DMCA claim with Steam to claim the property for his own. And thus, Steam pulls the game due to the legal crap storm that is brewing.
Mr. Stehnovsky seems to try to pin the developers at fault for scamming him out of his 10% and attempts to use the “Russian Scammer” card. However, according to a few of the Reddit post comments, Artem Stehnovsky is also Russian but he emigrated to live in Belgium.
Stehnovsky went on to say in his Reddit post that-
“I don’t know whether the money is “frozen” by Steam or not. I hope it is, because otherwise the guy will cash it all out and walk away. It’s not like he cares about the game at this point, considering that right after release he’s “not working on the project”.”
Looking at things from a development point of view and putting the “Russian scammer” stereotype aside, in total they made about $250,000 within the first few days of Early Access. As promised, Mr. Stehnovsky was paid his $1,000 a month, then they proceeded to pay him 240k rubles (around $3,700?) for his house troubles. Mr. Stehnovsky stopped working for a month and was fired as a result; ending his pay. These events were then followed by the legal issues over property rights.
The developers say they now have to hire a new lead developer, they are re-writing majority of the code to get out of the current legal problem, they have to fix the current bugs that were never fixed, and proceed to still add in more content to the game for the next major update. We can assume that they also have to pay fees and taxes, pay off any debt or loans they might owe, and we have to throw in their own living expenses, and now lawyer fees for the lawsuit.
For those of you that aren’t familiar with NeuronHaze, these are the same developers behind the game Vigor Roads. After the Kickstarter campaign failed for Vigor Roads, they mentioned in an interview with Massivelyop.com that they did, in fact have to take out a loan to cover the expenses to finish the game.
“But we do not despair. We were able to take out a bank loan, and at the end of Summer/beginning of this Fall we will hopefully reveal the pre-alpha build of Vigor Roads. We’re seeing a great interest in the project and we have ‘Greenlight’ in the Steam, and we are confident that this build will help us find an investor or publisher. Plans for the release date of Steam Early Access stay the same – 2017.”
Then there is the fact of marketing, because if no one knows about either game it will be hard to keep funding coming in for the future. If you look at it reasonably, it isn’t that unrealistic that Project Genom is currently on hold since it first launched back in October. It would also make sense that as an indie dev team they are being a bit frugal with their income since they are working on an ambitious MMO project that will take years to finish. With everything going on over the past couple of months, is it really unreasonable for them to put the game development on hold while they hire a new development team to fix the code and deal with the current legal issues?
Based on what I’ve been researching, Stehnovsky may own 90% of the code for Project Genom, but I don’t believe that he helped with the story, the artwork, or the other graphical assets, it sounds like there was a team of people working on the game. If he were to get his way and claim the code for himself, the project would inevitably die due to the fact he doesn’t own the rest of the game. That causes some major complications for everyone that paid for the game.
Mr. Stehnovsky claims that NeuronHaze will take the money and just walk away, but the NeuronHaze team has been communicating with their members quite a bit on the Project Genom forums and posted a public message to reassure their current fan base that after all legal matters are settled they will try their best to release the game back on Steam soon and continue working on the game. It seems unlikely that they will drop a passion project like this that fast.
Furthermore, when the team was asked directly when the game would be back up, they gave a confident response that it would be back up in “Approximately 10 days”.
Now we will wait and see how things pan out for the next week and a half to see if the game returns on time, but it looks like they are on track and have settled things rather quickly to get the game back up and running.
Of course, there is still no link currently available for the game to go to the Steam Store page, but you can head on over to their official website to learn more about the game if you are interested.