The official stable release of the first person shooter game Dark and Darker is eagerly awaited by hundreds of thousands of fans.
Whether the full game will actually be released is uncertain, however, as the game is at the center of a legal dispute.
Last month, police in South Korea raided the offices of Dark and Darker’s developers, local game studio Ironmace. The legal action was triggered by a complaint from game publisher Nexon, which accused its rival of copyright infringement and stealing trade secrets.
Ironmace was founded by former Nexon developers who allegedly took thousands of files with them. The game publisher believes that these files were used to develop Dark and Darker, which is similar to the “P3” game project Nexon is working on.
Following the raid, the disgruntled publisher also complained to Steam, which banned Dark and Darker from its platform. And when Ironmace released its latest alpha test via BitTorrent last weekend, its adversary pulled out all the stops to slow down distribution.
Nexon Sues Ironmace in U.S. Court
The recent actions show that Nexon is serious about protecting its rights. This isn’t limited to sending takedown notices and legal threats either; the company also filed a lawsuit at a federal court in Seattle, Washington, last Friday.
The 55-page complaint accuses Ironmace of copyright infringement and misappropriation of trade secrets. In addition to the Korean game studio, two former Nexon employees – Ju-Hyun Choi and Terence Seungha Park – are personally listed as defendants too.
Choi is currently employed as Ironmace’s Managing Director but he used to work as the director of Nexon’s P3 game project. Park, who is a US citizen, is the CEO and co-founder of Ironmace and was previously employed as the head of a design team for Nexon’s P3 project.
“In flagrant breach of their obligations to Nexon, the individual defendants stole P3 source code, audiovisual, and other materials that Nexon developed through a substantial expenditure of time and money,” Nexon writes in its complaint.
The complaint alleges that Choi started requiring people from the P3 team, while working at Nexon, to recreate the game project outside of the company. He eventually took roughly half of the team with him to start Ironmace and develop the Dark and Darker game.
“Choi succeeded in recruiting nearly half of the P3 team, including, Defendant Park, the former director of game development at Nexon. Choi and Park formed Defendant Ironmace as the corporate vehicle to exploit the assets Choi stole,” Nexon alleges.
Similar Look and Feel
The stolen content includes more than 10,900 visual data source files, Nexon claims, while protectable source code was confiscated as well. These assets were allegedly used to create Dark and Darker, which shows several similarities to Nexus’ unpublished P3 project.
According to the complaint, visual elements weren’t directly copied. Instead, the “look and feel” of both games are similar. The same also applies to characters, movements, settings, and other elements.
The complaint provides a visual comparison of several of these similarities. For example, Nexon mentions that both games contain identical monsters, including the “Mimic” chest, “Wraith,” and a cave troll, shown below.
Assets Purchased from Unreal
Ironmace previously contested the copyright infringement claims by pointing out that it did nothing wrong. Among other things, the developer said that most Dark and Darker assets were purchased from the Unreal Engine marketplace.
“Our code was built from scratch. Most of our assets are purchased from the Unreal marketplace. All other assets and all game designs docs were created inhouse. […]. As far as we know you cannot copyright a game genre,” Ironmace said in a public statement.
Nexon disagrees with this conclusion. While the assets may have been bought from Unreal, the “look and feel” and the similarity in the “arrangement” of the assets could still be considered copyright infringement.
“No matter how creative a developer’s selection of assets, the selection could be copied at will by any other developer. Works of enormous creativity would be left unprotected by copyright simply because the building blocks of the work came from the Unreal Engine Marketplace,” Nexon writes in its complaint.
Based on these and a variety of other arguments, Nexon asks the court to put a stop to the alleged copyright infringements. In addition, it seeks damages for the unauthorized activities, including the allegedly stolen trade secrets and other ill-gotten gains.