Note; I will link to a lot of Jim Sterling videos in this WU. The reason why will become clear, but suffice to say that DigiHom became a special friend of Sterling's.
Welcome, humble and hopeful game developers! Are you tired of effort? Of success? Of money? Would you like to just piddle your entire business away, along with any goodwill the public may have held for you, an independent game developer? Well, have we got the solution for you! Here at ZephPRO Inc. we have developed a handy guide on how to be a successful disgrace in the world of game development! Following the steps outlined in this handy guide, you are sure leave pesky distractions like "quality" and "success" behind and embrace a new era of sucking absolute donkey nuts!
Our models in the world of self-ruination today are James and Robert Romine, brothers and co-owners of Digital Homicide Studios, an indie game developer so notorious that their litigious insanity has managed to crop onto Wikipedia! That's right, not some niche drama wiki, actual Wikipedia! Do you currently have a Wikipedia page documenting your bullshit? Not yet you don't, but follow in the steps of the Romines, and anything is possible!
Step One: Be Shit
If your goal is to drive your business into the ground, then it helps if you don't get up off the ground to begin with.
Back in the halcyon days of yore, game and sales platform, Steam, had a system called "Steam Greenlight" through which up and coming indie developers could put their games up to public vote, and if their game received enough positive attention, it would be included in the Steam sales library. While the system worked at first, with only really well done, creative, and unique games getting through, such as The Stanley Parable and A Hat in Time, eventually it turned to shit with people throwing up a deluge of garbage games, then somehow convincing Steam users to upvote them in (usually via bribery in the form of free Steam keys-- codes to download games off Steam).
This is where our models come in! The Romine bros, savvy non-trepreneurs shoveled their hot, steaming piles of code onto the Steam storefront in the hopes of getting them passed through. The games themselves were shameless asset flips, with no style or substance, and frequently they would throw up sequels of their own games before the original game had been approved. These sequels were unanimously the exact same as their precursors, with the only differences being in color scheme or specific sprites. Here's an archive of their now-defunct website where you can see them advertise the games they had available on Greenlight.
An incomplete list of games Digital Homicide put forth are as follows:
-E.L.T. the Extra Large Testicle
-The Slaughtering Grounds
-Six nights at Suzies
Temper Tantrum 2
-Dungeons Of Kragmor
-Starship: Nova Strike
-Mini Attack Submarine
-Wyatt Derp 2: Peacekeeper
-Winged Knights: Penetration
-Withering Kingdom: Arcane War
-The Decimation of Olarath
-Operation: Global Shield
-Attrition: Nuclear Domination
- Decimation of the Olarath
And so on. At one point, DigiHom had an upwards of fifty games cycling through Steam Greenlight, and every time one was booted off for lack of quality, they would put it back up again in the hopes that this time it would squirm its way through to the marketplace.
But it's not enough to just shit games out. If you do that, you run the risk of people recognizing your brand! So it's best to have a bunch of shell companies. The Romine brothers registered three different companies with the state of Arizona: Digital Homicide Studios, Pop Up Massacre Inc., and System Shock Media LLC. But along with those, it came out that they also published games under the names Bundle Blitz, Loot Toot Games, Imminent Uprising, and ECC Games. ECC Games was and is also the name of an actual game developer in Poland who did not take kindly to the Romine bros. using their name (more on that later).
It also helps to have a company Facebook account where you attempt to generate income by embedding Amazon links so that if people purchase an item, you'll get a kick back.
Step Two: Reject Criticism
Everybody knows that the opinion of the creator is the only one that matters. Everyone also knows that the only people who disagree are internet trolls whose badthink needs to be silenced. That's why it's best to file DMCA takedowns on anybody badmouthing you on Youtube, delete negative comments off your steam page, and create loads and loads of sock-puppet accounts to give positive reviews to your games instead.
"Now Zeph," you may be saying. "There are all excellent tips! But what happens if a really popular Youtuber plays one of my games and doesn't like it? Do I ignore it? Do I embrace it and let his fans purchase my game out of morbid curiosity? I mean, they say all publicity is good publicity--"
To which I say, shut the fuck up, idiot! Of COURSE you don't do any of that! Let's take a look at what our intrepid heroes did instead.
Our beloved Romine brothers were innocently peddling their garbage along when the mean internet critic, Jim Sterling decided to feature one of their games, The Slaughtering Grounds, in a "Squirty Play" video. Squirty Plays were a series of videos Sterling did wherein he played blind (not having researched it at all beforehand) games that looked "squirted" onto Steam with no effort or skill. His video can still be found here.
While playing the game, Sterling laughingly critiqued the mish-mash art styles of the game (as the Romine brothers hadn't bothered creating any kind of cohesive style with their store-bought assets), the weapon reloading system, the unintuitiveness of the GUI, the crappy enemy AI, the environments, and basically everything else that comprised the game.
Now, any other foolish developer would likely ignore this, but not the Romines! Instead, they uploaded a video of them . . . putting text onto Jim Sterling's video. That is, they took the video Jim Sterling did, then added text commentary over it. The commentary is in Sterling's "perspective" and consisted of calling Sterling names, telling him he didn't know what he was doing, and trying to explain away their game's shortcoming. The first passage of the video reads, "Hello, this is Jim Sterling and I am a fucking idiot. Don't believe me? Well just watch this piece of shit video i've made." (sic)
The video was called "Review the Reviewer," and in the original description, the Romines said they would be turning it into a series, but of course that didn't pan out. The video still exists, but only with Jim Sterling's voiceover commenting on it. Sterling, upon finding out what the Romines did, decided to do it back and recorded himself commentating on their commentary.
The Romines deleted their video, changed their names on Steam to "JimFNSterlingSon," then uploaded another where they took the audio from Sterling's response video, but removed the visuals and put up text continuing to insult him. Jim Sterling uploaded this video unedited to his channel, and the Romines deleted it from their own.
During this spasmodic flailing, the Romines attracted the attention of people who looked into their company and found out about the aforementioned shell companies they owned. Jim Sterling started looking into the Romines' other games in his "Steam Geenlight Splotlight" videos, as well as giving The Slaughtering Grounds another three chances.
The Romines retaliated by DMCA striking Sterling's videos, which successfully got the Slaughtering Grounds video temporarily removed from Youtube. They implied there would be legal ramifications for Sterling calling the game "an absolute failure" and wrote, and deleted, a blog post that essentially stated Sterling's work didn't constitute as falling under Fair use because his criticism wasn't fair.
“We find the usage of the terms ‘WORST GAME OF 2014 CONTENDER!’ and ‘Absolute Failure’ to describe the entirety of our product while not actually evaluating it in its entirety unfair and unreasonable use of our copyright material,”
In response to that, Sterling uploaded a video explaining the entire situation up to that point titled "The Slaughtering Grounds: A Steam Meltdown Saga."
In response to that, Robert Romine -- who appears to be serving as the face of the company-- decided to hash things out with Jim mano-a-mano in the infamous Digital Homicide-Jim Sterling interview. What could have been an insightful conversation between two learned gentlemen of the gaming industry instead devolved into a one-sided ad-hominem driven screed as Romine insulted Sterling, accused him of sending an army of trolls to give DigiHom's games negative reviews, and once again issued a thinly veiled threat of litigation. Sterling, for his part, kept composure despite being obviously bemused and entertained by Robert Romine's nonsense, and in the end of the interview nothing of value was gained for either party except a hilarious Youtube video documenting the entire thing.
Now that is how you respond to criticism!
Step Three: Litigate Your Fee-Fees
Several months later, on March 4, 2016, James Romine followed through with the legal threats and Romine V. Stanton was filed Pro Se. The nature of the suit? Assault, libel, and slander. The recompense the Romines were seeking initially?
According to the documents, the breakdown was:
Direct Product Damage: $2,261,000
Emotional, Reputational, and Financial Distress: $4,300,000
Punitive Damage Request: 5,000,000
The first and most "grounded" of all their accusations, weak as it was, was that Sterling said in an article he had written (archived here) that they had used stolen artwork for the game Colonial Marines. Digital Homicide did use stolen art in some of their other games, including The Slaughtering Grounds, but for Colonial Marines, they bought the artwork off Shutterstock. Sterling corrected the article 40 minutes after publishing it, and there are no archives of a version of the article with the mistake. Romine himself eventually admitted that he was unable to procure a copy of the article for the court. In the words of Sterling, "the only proof it exists is the fact I admit it once existed."
In any case this example of what others would call "due diligence" and "correcting misinformation" was cited as being libel.
Also included in the lawsuit was the fact that sometimes Sterling referred to them as the "Romine Brothers," which they argued was him trying to associate them with a mafioso family, as well as blaming him for their games receiving negative reviews on Steam, getting mad that he compared them to the thieves from Home Alone, and getting even madder when he tweeted out his amusement that the real ECC Games from Poland found out about the Romines using their company name.
Despite claiming on their website that they had a lawyer on retainer, The Romines tried unsuccessfully to raise donations towards their legal representation.
I have an excellent lawyer very interested in this case but they only take retainer. Very few lawyers take contingency now for defamation lawsuits. For this reason I will also be documenting the process of this lawsuit(not the contents or personal information) and making it publicly viewable after the case is over so that others in similar dire situations can figure out how to defend themselves from online harassers and defamers. This is the main problem with defamation is the people who are destroyed by said harassment and defamation are left without the financial means to seek damages and this leaves the doer's believing what they are doing is ok(or motivating them to ensure total destruction to avoid retribution as in this case). By donating you are helping indie developer's show that we are people and we will not stand for being harassed and lied about.
The Gofundme page can be found here. In it, you'll see that they only managed to raise 450$, which at the time was believed to have been put there by themselves in order to act as seed-money.
Then, feeling confident despite the complete lack of support, the Romines also decided to sue 100 anonymous Steam users for leaving negative reviews on their games. The lawsuit against steam users made it into the Romines' local newspaper, which is funny to me. They tried to explain themselves on their website, trying to appear as though this was a good and noble thing to do, as though they were standing up for poor beleaguered indie creators everywhere. In the course of filing this lawsuit, they attempted to subpoena Steam into forking over the identities of those 100 users for servicing, to which Steam said "no."
Not only did Valve, the parent company of Steam, fight them in court, but they also removed them entirely from the platform. This is also, by the way, why I haven't been showing many screenshots of the Steam storefront when talking about DigiHom; There's nothing to show anymore. Searching for any of their games or the name of the developers gives no search results.
Soon after, in January of 2017, The judge for the Sterling case dismissed them; they had filed a lawsuit as Digital Homicide LLC against Sterling for damages to their company, but they would need a lawyer in order to do that, as a representative of a company couldn't file pro se. Considering their lack of funds, the brothers elected to refile the lawsuit so that it was now James Romine the individual against Jim Sterling-- without changing anything else in the lawsuit. He literally just changed the words "Digital Homicide LLC" to "James Romine," which made the lawsuit nearly incomprehensible. They also upped the amount of recompense they were seeking to 15 million, added a bunch of accusations against Sterling that had nothing to do with him (including blaming him for Steam taking their games off the platform), and included into the lawsuit Tweets from Jim Sterling that were accurately connecting Digital Homicide to several of their shell companies. I shouldn't have to say this, but the truth is an absolute defense against defamation cases, meaning the Romines were just wasting more time and printer ink.
According to Sterling, it was at this point where Sterling's lawyer, Hartman, had to meet Romine in person. After the reality of speaking with an actual lawyer who is going to take him to court, Romine agreed to drop the case with prejudice. The court even included a little note to James Romine that he should consider Fair use before filing another lawsuit.
Jim Sterling has an amusing video wherein he talks about the entire situation from his perspective, as well as an entire playlist of Digital Homicide related videos.
So there you have it! In order to completely derail your entire scummy business, you need to have at least two aborted cases of spurious litigation. That will free you up for. . .
Surprise Step Four: Hide. Return. Hide. Own It.
Because lying is part of the process, we at ZephPro have lied to you about how many steps there are!
To ensure the complete annihilation of your business, you have to erase all traces of it from the internet.
Then, upon finding out that complete vanishment isn't paying the bills, you need to return under a new name. Our heroes, the Romines, chose the Loot Toot Gaming shell company. They created a Twitter account that bought 127k followers overnight. Initially, the account was used solely for linking games and steam codes to their shitty products, now hosted on G2A and Kinguin. A few games were put on Steam under the Loot Toot name, but people reported them to Valve, and they were taken off of Steam. Loot Toot also linked to the old Digital Homicide website, and the Digital Homicide Youtube channel, but eventually the Romines purged the DigiHom site and started a new, Loot Toot website . . . that was essentially the exact same.
Around the time they were erasing any connection with the old Digital Homicide name, Loot Toot also started outright denying any connection when brought up on Twitter or Facebook. At first.
Eventually, they broke cover and it was revealed that this time it wasn't James running things with Robert at his patsy/face, it was Robert himself running the company. In another post, he claimed to have lost $500,000 when Digital Homicide when down the tubes, which I am personally pressing X to doubt.
Then, for years, nothing. They quietly faded into obscurity.
. . .
Until January of this year! Yes, January of 2020, the Romines opened another website, Digital Homicide Uncensored. Because the only way for them to claw together any kind of relevancy is by dropping Jim's name, their website -- which is currently using an obvious default template, complete with stock images that have nothing to do with the articles written there-- contains such articles as "What Happened to Digital Homicide?" which is an FAQ with a blatantly incorrect recollection of events, painting DigiHom as the poor innocent developer suffering targeted harassment, and "What is an Asset Flip?" where they try to defend their practice of asset-flipping by stating they are not asset-flippers (which Jim Sterling, creator of the phrase, disagrees with). Also included is "Why Was Digital Homicides Lawsuit Thrown Out Of Court?" where they emphasize that they agreed to end the lawsuit, okay??! Jeez, get off their backs! They also try to throw Valve under the bus in "Valve Reviews Own Product Uses "Deceptive Tactics"" wherein they try to accuse Valve of unethical business practices because Valve had the gall to ban their crap.
As of this writing, the website appears to be dead, with the last post being from April of 2020.
Whether or not this is the last dying gasp of the Romines, or if they will once again rise from the grave is yet to be seen.
So that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you ruin a game company.
May you go forth and, with the guidance of these two brilliant minds, ruin many a company and shell company of your own!