The developers of StandPoint were surprised to wake up on Monday and discover their game was being sold for $US1 on a flash deal site. They have tried to end their publishing contract for months, alleging they haven't been paid. Suddenly, that same company was apparently trying to cash-in.
"Oh my god..." Unruly Attractions co-founder Nathan John wrote on reddit yesterday. "We didn't authorise this! We weren't informed of this... This is my worst nightmare... We've been having a legal disagreement with our publisher and were petrified they would do something like this."
StandPoint, a first-person puzzle game, was developed by Unruly Attractions and published on Steam and other platforms through Bulkypix in early March for $US12.99. Bulkypix has published hundreds of tiny games, most of them on mobile, and StandPoint is just one among many. So far as I can tell, Bulkypix doesn't have a bad reputation amongst developers it's worked with.
Unruly Attractions tried to raise funds on Kickstarter for StandPoint... but failed. They wanted to get on Steam through Greenlight... but failed. A publisher who could offer them money and a path to Valve's storefront was suddenly incredibly attractive, so they signed with Bulkypix.
But when John learned about the sale, which came as his company was trying to negotiate an exit strategy, he flipped out and went public.
Within 24 hours, Bulkypix had tweeted about the situation.
"BulkyPix NEVER agreed to put Standpoint in a $1 deal. We NEVER sought to intentionally harm or abuse Standpoint's developers. We ALWAYS ask studio permission before putting their game in bundles - and we're all the more vigilant about that w/ recently released games. It seems like there has been been a misunderstanding with one of our partner on this. We're trying to sort eveything [sic] out as we speak."
The company who handled the actual sale, Plug In Digital, echoed a miscommunication.
There has been a miscommunication between Plug In Digital and @BulkyPix regarding the IndieGameStand deal. The promotion proposal didn't go through the usual process, resulting in BulkyPix not being aware nor validating this promotion. We apologise to @PlayStandpoint @prod_GOLD regarding any harm this issue may have caused.
Despite these public apologies, the developers have yet to be personally contacted by anyone.
"We've not been e-mailed, and haven't heard anything from lawyers as yet," John told me today, not long after Bulkypix's statements. "From my perspective, it's just made a bad position far worse, even if it was just an accident. These last few days have been exhausting."
As of right now, the deal seems to still be online and available.
And there is more to the story, according to all parties involved.
The game hasn't sold very well, and the relationship between Unruly Attractions and Bulkypix has apparently been toxic for months. John told me his studio has received "some" of the money it's owed by Bulkypix, but only "half" of what was guaranteed.
"They don't want to pay us because the game hasn't sold well (I'm happy to admit that it's sold awfully so far)," he said over email. "The game's been reviewed well, but hasn't been discovered a lot."
Bulkypix refused to specifically respond to these or other charges from Unruly Attractions.
"We want to state that we have a confidentiality clause in the agreement signed with Unruly Attractions," said Bulkypix COO and co-founder Vincent Dondaine. "Unruly Attractions has decided to disclose certain confidential information. At this point, we can only tell you that we have very different points of view."
The reason StandPoint hasn't managed to sell many copies, is currently up for debate. John claims it's because Bulkypix hasn't lived up to its side of the bargain.
"We'd expected a certain level of marketing support from Bulkypix," he said. "The problem is, coming up to release, no-one knew about the game, and we'd been doing all the work."
Suspecting the game was about to bomb, John asked Bulkypix for an opportunity to get out of their contract a week before launch. Bulkypix reportedly offered to delay the game a few weeks, in order to let a deal come together, but backed out for reasons unknown, according to John.
"They said this would be impossible," he said, "and we'd either have to do the deal immediately, and not have time to re-market the game, or continue as-is. We decided to continue, and then they stopped paying, and blamed us for the poor sales. At this point the disagreement just got worse."
Bulkypix disagrees, even if it's unwilling to spill the beans.
"Sometimes, it can happen that partners don't share the same vision of a situation and it has been the case between Unruly Attractions and Bulkypix," said Dondaine. "Unfortunately, Unruly Attraction has decided to disclose information, while we were discussing to find a solution to our disagreement suitable for both parties."
John admits their studio isn't blameless. They often fought over basic points about the game's release. He can see how Bulkypix might have balked at his demands, which were often heated and reflective of a developer still learning the ropes.
"Putting myself in their shoes," he said, "I was emailed a lot trying to keep track of their marketing plans, etc. When they missed their first milestone payment, I sent an incredibly strongly worded letter, rather than being personable. Asking them about leaving the contract one week before release would no doubt have been a huge surprise. We had a big debate about the game's price point. They thought my target was too high, I thought theirs was too low. After we decided to continue with the current contact negotiation about an early exit [and they] fell through, I immediately demanded the rest of our advance. From their point of view, that probably looked like I was planning to dump and run."
As it stands, John said the two companies find themselves at a standstill.
John said his lawyers have sent a contract termination letter to Bulkypix, "informing them that the contract is terminated due to their previous breaches." This would prevent Bulkypix from profiting off any StandPoint sales. As for where that letter stands, Bulkypix wouldn't say.
"On our side, we have a strict policy regarding contract obligations (especially when it comes to confidentiality terms)," said Dondaine. "Telling you more would be breaking those terms and putting us out of law. That's why we won't enter into any more detail regarding the current situation."
Though the bundle has been sold to more than a thousand people, the StandPoint developers aren't upset, nor does they blame players for taking advantage of it.
"Best case," said John, "People know who we are, follow our next game, play StandPoint, and we're going to write a blog about the whole ordeal when it's over. Hopefully others can learn from us."
Heck, he doesn't even think people should raise pitchforks at Bulkypix.
"I see a lot of people thinking bulkypix are evil," he wrote on reddit. "They're not, we're just disagreeing. It happens."