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Dark And Darker Removed From Steam Following Dispute With Nexon

Developer Ironmace has since responded, saying Nexon has provided no actual evidence of wrongdoing.


Dark and Darker, the upcoming medieval extraction shooter that saw more than 100,000 concurrent players during its most recent playtest, has been pulled from Steam following a DMCA takedown and cease and desist notice issued by Korean gaming giant Nexon.

It's the latest escalation in a legal battle between indie developer Ironmace and Nexon over the origins of Dark and Darker. Nexon claims that Dark and Darker uses stolen code and assets from a similar-looking Nexon project called P3 that was eventually scrapped, a project many members of Ironmace formerly worked on. Ironmace denies those accusations and has insisted that Dark and Darker was built from the ground up.

Nexon in its takedown notice cites that Ironmace is making "unauthorized use of Nexon's trade secrets and copyrighted material," and that based on its own investigation, is using "source codes, art resources, build files, and other company intellectual property." The notice also takes aim at a former Nexon employee and the former team lead for project P3, who now works for Ironmace. Nexon confirms that the employee in question was "disciplined and terminated" for storing code and assets related to P3 on a personal server in July 2021, and was later sued by Nexon over the issue. That lawsuit is still ongoing.

According to Nexon, the employee in question recruited various P3 team members to leave Nexon and create a similar game, which turned into Dark and Darker. According to Nexon, 10 out of the 23 employees working on P3 left Nexon and are believed to be now working at Ironmace. Ironmace founder Terence Park was aware of the terminated employee's actions, according to Nexon, and therefore benefited from the misappropriation of Nexon trade secrets.

Nexon states that "it is impossible for Ironmace to have developed Dark and Darker in such a short timeframe without using Nexon's trade secrets and confidential information," and states that the similarities between the two games "are so striking that they cannot be reasonably explained through independent development." That is partly because Nexon claims that P3 was never "disclosed to a third party," and that prior to Dark and Darker, no other game had the same "concept, genre, and plot as the P3 game."

In a lengthy statement on Reddit and the official Dark and Darker Discord server, Ironmace attempted to refute Nexon's various arguments, going so far as to say using stolen assets or code from project P3 would have been "a hindrance rather than a benefit to the development of Dark and Darker," as many of Ironmace's developers worked on P3 and knew how "haphazardly" the project was built.

Dark and Darker was slated to receive its final playtest in April prior to Nexon's takedown notice.
Dark and Darker was slated to receive its final playtest in April prior to Nexon's takedown notice.

Ironmace refutes Nexon's argument that Dark and Darker couldn't have been built from the ground up in such a short period of time and therefore must have used aspects of P3's assets, code, and design. In its statement, Ironmace had strong words for Nexon.

"Just because it may be difficult for a large bureaucratic company such as Nexon to develop games in such a short time frame does not mean it is impossible for another studio, big, small, new, or old, to develop games quickly," Ironmace's statement reads.

The indie developer explained that the vast majority of Dark and Darker was built using 3D assets bought from the Unreal Marketplace, which helps to explain the studio's ability to create a demo version of Dark and Darker within 10 months of the studio's founding. Ironmace says it has videos of various milestone builds that show the project over the course of development, and that it will be sharing the logs and file lists from its Git version control repository to further show its work.

Nexon claims that Dark and Darker features numerous identical file names to P3, another point that Ironmace refutes. Out of the resources listed by Nexon, Ironmace says 950 share a name due to them being identical store-bought assets or plug-ins for the Unreal Engine. Ironmace says the remaining identical file names can be chalked up to generic file-naming conventions and the fact that both titles are first-person fantasy games.

Ironmace's statement also attempts to clarify the actions of the employee mentioned in Nexon's takedown notice, stating that the employee was authorized to use the personal server for over a year between 2020 and 2021. The employee was later asked to stop using the personal server, but continued to do so due to the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. Ironmace argues that since all company machines are monitored, that the usage of the personal servers must have been known to Nexon, but the employee did not receive any kind of warning. The employee was eventually fired, with Ironmace claiming the action was only taken after Nexon became aware of the employee's intention to leave the company. Ironmace says the employee has been fully cooperative during the ongoing investigation and has been as "accommodating as possible to speed up this process and prove no wrongdoing."

The similarity of the two projects is a key reason for Nexon's attempted takedown, which notes the game's dungeon setting, use of torches, and various character classes like Barbarian, Ranger, and Wizard are identical. Ironmace, however, states that Dark and Darker is "purposely traditional and generic." It refutes Nexon's claim no third parties outside of Nexon knew about P3 by pointing out that Nexon announced P3 as part of a public media showcase in August 2021 and that there are numerous articles about the project online.

Ironmace has previously said that Nexon cannot copyright a genre, and in its latest statement, claims that Nexon's copyrights related to P3 were only registered in the last month. Dark and Darker's genre, concepts, and characters, Ironmace argues, can be found in many fantasy RPGs, including tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons. The basic framework for Dark and Darker (a party of adventurers enters a dungeon to battle monsters and find treasure) is so common, according to Ironmace, that the developer had ChatGPT come up with a description for a PvP-focused dungeon crawler, and the answer it gave was extremely similar to Dark and Darker and P3.

Ironmace concludes its statement by saying Nexon's evidence is based purely on circumstantial claims and that Nexon's actions have negatively impacted the studio's ability to do business. The developer is requesting that Nexon "renounce their baseless claims."

"If they would like to compete on merit, we welcome Nexon to promptly accommodate the comparison of source code, custom assets, and design documents with the police to quickly and decisively put an end to this matter," Ironmace's statement concludes.

Prior to Nexon's takedown, Dark and Darker was slated to receive a final playtest in April, after which the title was scheduled to launch on Steam in Early Access before the end of the year. Future playtests and the game's eventual release are now up in the air until further notice.

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