In Space, No One Can Hear You Threaten Lawsuits

I like computer games, and I like defamation law, but when the two collide the result is never your-chocolate-in-my-peanut-butter goodness. Whether it's flailing developers or consumer movements apparently schooled in jurisprudence via a distracting hand gesture and a shovel, game culture makes bad legal culture.

This story is not a departure from that trend.

Star Citizen is an ambitious crowdfunded space sim under (lengthy) development. Like many highly anticipated games, it has fanatical devotees and critics. Recently it drew the unwanted attention of Derek Smart, a name familiar to old gamers like me.

Who is Derek Smart? He's the Orly Taitz of computer gaming. He's a game developer — technically — and a career lawsuit-threatening troll. His team of lawyers is like a fundamentalist preacher's God: they're frequently invoked to terrify, but their existence mostly taken on faith. He's a multi-millionaire, apparently, but then so are Carrot Top and that awful TV woman with the eight cute kids. It's been a long time in American culture since self-made wealth signified someone to be taken seriously.

Anyway, hearing of crowdfunder complaints about the awaited Star Citizen, Smart criticized it. He invoked his vast experience in having produced the Howard The Duck, the Edsel, the New Coke of space sims, a monstrosity called Battlecruiser 3000AD, which is distinguishable from a computer virus in that it was promoted more douchilly. When Star Citizens' developers failed to respond with the adulation to which he is entitled under natural law, Smart characteristically waded in with extravagant and self-promoting lawsuit threats. Smart styled himself a crusading consumer advocate, which would be an apt label if Ralph Nader had appeared before Congress and said "Mr. Chairman, these vehicles are unsafe at any speed. And now, I invite Congress to admire my balls. RELEASE THE LAWYERS."

Controversy and flamboyant figures mean clicks, and gaming-website The Escapist wanted some of that action. They published a hit piece portraying Cloud Imperium Games (developers of Star Citizen) as awful employers driving a doomed project, and sourced it to both unnamed and anonymous sources.

Chris Roberts, CEO of Cloud Imperium, responded by posting a five-page legal threat from his "Co-Founder, Vice-President, and General Counsel" Ortwin Freyermuth, a California lawyer. Mr. Feyermuth argues rather convincingly that Escapist has become the tool of some unnamed evil (Smart, one assumes) and has seriously wronged the company by (for instance) not grasping that more than one person can tell the same lie at once, and by taking a blacked-out ID card as proof that a "source" works for a company that does not, technically, use ID cards.

If he had stuck with the factual refutation, Mr. Freyermuth would have done well. But he had to go and (sort of) act like a lawyer. His letter is full of quasi-legal references, has a closing threat to file suit in both America and the United Kingdom, and includes a cc: to two lawyers. And so Mr. Freyermuth stepped in it.

Freyermuth is a founder, Vice-President, and in-house lawyer. He's a fact witness to what's going on at Cloud Imperium. When he writes a five-page semi-legal rant, he's just creating cross-examination fodder. Moreover, "look, I am referencing lawyers, and even cc'd them" doesn't convince anyone who knows how litigation works. If competent outside litigators are substantively involved, they write the threat letter, not the personally-involved fact-witness client. "Do what I want or I'll bring in our outside counsel" and "look at me cc'ing lawyers" is the "my brother will beat you up" of the business world. Freyermuth cc'd the head of the Litigation Department in the Los Angeles office of Cooley LLP, an 800-lawyer firm. Dropping his name signifies that (a) he's citing a big scary lawyer to seem serious even though the lawyer is not substantively involved, so he should not be taken seriously, or (b) the head of LA litigation for Cooley is involved, but has no client control whatsoever because his client is writing five-page rants, which means the client is not to be taken seriously, plus (c) if Cooley is actually involved it signifies that Cloud Imperium is going to spend a truly stupid amount of money to pursue a defamation case against a hit piece that doesn't actually impact its core function, right at the time that it's fighting rumors that it is in financial trouble. So: some messaging issues.

If you know what you're doing, you bring in the litigators before you start running your mouth. The litigator is there to tell you, in the most supportive and affirming way possible, to shut the fuck up. That way your CEO and key fact witness isn't writing long, angry emails about the facts of the situation, probably getting some of them wrong and probably saying things the legal significance of which he doesn't know. It's not easy to tell the CEO to shut up and stop writing things if you're his underling. Some people get to be CEO by having a Trumpian level of self-regard that makes Derek Smart look like Dobby the House Elf. If you're a sensible GC, you use your outside litigator as the bad cop to control your difficult executive. That way your executive doesn't do don't-take-me-seriously things like post angry messages referring to written statements as "slanderous."

Plus, while Freyermuth makes a fairly convincing case that the Escapist was gullible and incompetent, that's not the relevant standard. The company, and Chris Roberts, are almost certainly public figures, or at least limited-purpose public figures in the gaming world. That means they'd have to prove actual malice to win a defamation case. Constitutional "actual malice" doesn't mean ill-will, as Freyermuth's letter seems to imply. It means knowledge that the statement is false, or reckless disregard for the truth — that is, publishing despite serious doubts about its truth. Cloud Imperium isn't going to satisfy that standard.

Finally, the threat to sue in the United Kingdom is an empty one unless the Escapist has assets there. It's much easier to get a defamation judgment in the UK, but fortunately under the SPEECH Act such judgments aren't enforceable in America unless the plaintiff's case satisfies the requirements of American law — which it won't.

Look, Cloud Imperium, here's some free advice: leave the next-I-call-my-lawyers routine for Derek Smart. Stick to factual refutations without legal bluster, or else shut up and get your scary lawyer to write the letter. The middle ground makes you look foolish.

Gamer Gate vs Anti Gamer Gate A Civil Discussion on Inclusiveness

Consider this post a teaser trailer. Randi Harper, author of a Gamer Gate block bot and I will be debating discussing the thesis

"are the virtues of an open society / inclusiveness / debate best served by excluding those who are not in favor of full inclusiveness?"

(I think the answer is "no").

Randi's busy for a week or two (and so am I), but hopefully next week she and I will have the email discussion, which will then be tidied up for formating and posted here.

In Randi's words:

this is going to be fun. ;)

Roosh V's "Reaxxian" Website Kicks Off Exciting Era Of Gaming Ethics And Innovation

[PR NEWSWIRE: IRC CHANNEL "CHATEAU ROISSY"] The worldwide computer gaming community reacted with excitement this week at news that gender relations expert Daryush Valizadeh has launched "Reaxxian," a bold new online platform for game journalism.

Valizadeh, best known by his scholarly pen name  "Roosh V.", built a global publishing empire with philosophical works including the best-selling "Bang Estonia: How To Sleep With Estonian Women In Estonia." He is both the financial backer and editor-in-chief of Reaxxian, which aims to combine the gender-equity social-ethical ontological-literary activism that made his name with his devotion to cutting-edge games such as "Starcraft," "Oregon Trail," and "SimPlaymate." "I see this project as a way to overcome inequities and barriers to traditionally excluded groups," said Roosh. "I want to create a safe space for heterosexual males who play video games."

Roosh V. says he's prepared to invest substantial amounts of his Bang earnings to achieve that goal. "I have hired some of the most cogent and disciplined minds of, and they're coding like mad," Roosh explained. "This is a team of the iron-willed. Blue-pillers need not apply." Planned innovations include a commenting system codenamed TOGTFO, which promotes comments supporting masculinity by bombarding Twitter and Facebook with their content, and sends messages of affirmation, acceptance, and brotherhood to their authors. TOGTFO identifies preferred comments through a complex algorithm that assesses spelling, grammar, capitalization, and frequency of use of common dialetical terms including "cunt" and "panties." TOGTFO's media uploading application will make it easy for female readers to comply with Reaxxian's commenting policy.

Reaxxian also promises to be an innovator in trigger warnings. "As part of our safe space policy, we'll have customizable pop-ups that warn readers of potentially upsetting game content, like flat-chested female avatars, implied universal suffrage, pepper spray, or creepshaming," said Roosh. "When you think about it, the entire concept of 'wandering monsters' in computer role playing games is a form of creepshaming."

Reaxxian emphasizes that this project is not intended to denigrate women, the traditional consumers of video game content, but to promote acceptance of men. In the words of Reaxxian team leader "DieFagsDie," "Isn't it time we had a safe gaming space of our own, without outdated and judgmental socio-gender concepts such as 'stalking?'"

But Reaxxian's lofty goals are not limited to merely reviewing games. "We're going to crowdfund male-positive and heterosexual-affirming games too," confirmed a Reaxxian administrator who goes by the handle "StoP3nis3nvy." At launch Reaxxian unveiled an early version of "Alphas of Gor," a massively multiplayer online role-playing game set in the universe created by noted philosopher John Norman. Reaxxian's readers have eagerly stepped in as game-testers, and Reaxxian forums are busy with constructive criticism of the game's intricacies like "OMG who nerfed negging" and "lolconsent spell cool-down is too long" and "fm merchant npcs standoffish."

Concept art from early build of "Alpha Males of Gor" by Reaxxian Game Studios.

Concept art from early build of "Alphas of Gor" by Reaexxian Game Studios.

Roosh promises that Reaxxian will feature regular strategy guides for its promoted games. "Theodore Beale — Vox Day himself — is working on a newbie guide to selecting the best race during character creation," an enthused Roosh revealed. "Alpha Males of Gor" is not the only game Reaxxian is promoting; there is also talk of Kickstarting a first-person-shooter to be titled "Divorce Court," a remake of "Custer's Revenge," and a children's game under the working title, "Strawberry Shortcake Gets What She Deserves."

The timing of Reaxxian's launch is no coincidence; it will draw traffic from the game-industry controversy referred to as "GamerGate." Roosh joins other prominent thinkers like Adam Baldwin, Milo Yiannoppouos, and Pat Robertson who have recognized GamerGate as an opportunity to explore the important social and political issues raised by modern gaming.

"We're just very excited that another powerful voice has joined our call for ethics in journalism," said ardent GamerGate supporter and Reaxxian fan Kajira Lisa, speaking with the permission of her master, Chad of the Free City of Bakersfield.

Ken White and Patrick Non-White contributed to this article.

"Digital Homicide Studio" Abuses DMCA To Lash Out At Reviewer Jim Sterling, Gets Fair Use Wrong

Frivolous abuse of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is nothing new. We've seen fake poets, manufacturers,purveyors of anatomically impossible boobs, sociopathic revenge-pornsters, and legbreakers for totalitarian governments make false claims of copyright violations in an effort to censor online criticism.

So why should we be surprised that a computer game designer would abuse a DMCA takedown request to silence a negative review?

[Read more…]

Ten Short Rants About #GamerGate

If you know what #GamerGate is, I don't have to tell you. If you don't know what #GamerGate is, any description I give you will be attacked by hordes of partisans saying that I have described it unfairly and that the sources I have linked are biased. So I'm going to treat you, dear readers, as if you know what it is. Clark wrote a post about it last week. My take is different. I'm not going to offer you a timeline or an attempt at a definitive "what happened" or "who is right." Instead I'm going to rant about ten ways that this controversy illuminates how we're screwed up.

[Read more…]

Gridiron Solitaire is live!

On 16 November, I told you about Gridiron Solitaire, an indie game developed by Friend-of-the-'Hat and all-around nice guy Bill Harris of Dubious Quality. At that time, Bill had submitted the game to Steam for possible greenlighting and I asked for votes in support of that effort. Alongside some Popehatters, friends of Bill from all around the 'verse joined in, and pretty soon afterward the game was approved.

Well, Gridiron Solitaire is now officially available on Steam! I'll bet it's a great way to spend a snowy evening….

Taffer Style

This is a relatively self-indulgent post, but hey– blog!

This is fundamentally a gaming site, founded and sustained by gamers, and I was once, and remain, a rabid fan of the gaming franchise that began with Thief: The Dark Project, continued with Thief II: The Metal Age and Thief: Deadly Shadows, and will soon resume with 2014's Thief. These are the high water mark in first-person, hybrid, potentially non-violent, stealth-based, story-rich games.

A recent discussion of satire, parody, and pastiche in the comment section of another thread here reminded me that I wrote a handful of Thief-themed pastiches back in the early aughties. To share them with others who might like them, to store them in our database, and to revisit them with wistful nostalgia, I reproduce them below. Each is set to the theme of a pop song. Note well: these are only meaningful if you've played the games, and they're best read with the corresponding tunes playing in the background. :) The songs are Barbie Girl, All Star, Mickey, We Didn't Start The Fire, Uptown Girl, Cheers, and U Can't Touch This.

In one sense, the message of this post in a nutshell is "Ain't I a clever chap!" But if you, too, love the Thief games, then in joining the nostalgia perhaps you'll revisit some fond memories of your own. Continue reading….

Open Gaming Thread

So what are you paying right now? What do you recommend?

I've recently been playing the latest Civ V expansion — Brave New World — and worked towards a culture victory to test of some of its new elements (like tourism and archeology) — but started to lose interest in the late game. I also pre-ordered the Beta of Age of Decadence but find it very challenging to stay alive.

I'd love to find a good-old-fashioned party-based crpg, something like Helherron. On the other hand, I'm tempted by Patrick's glowing reviews of Europa Universalis IV.


Gridiron Solitaire – ready for Greenlighting!

In an earlier post, I introduced you to the forthcoming indie PC game Gridiron Solitaire by our friend, the amazing Bill Harris, whose blog Dubious Quality has kept us in sentiment, insight, and stitches for many a year.

The game is one of those 15-20 minutes-per-session card-based games that are easy to play over lunch or during a break. The game models football, including leagues, seasons, and the intricacies of football strategy, but presents it all in a highly accessible, enjoyable way. I'm not a football fan, though tonight's standoff between Stanford and USC nearly converted me. But I'm looking forward to this game because I know that Bill knows what makes games fun.

(If you missed the earlier post, go read it now!)

Well, his game is ready to be considered for distribution via Steam. All it takes is enough community support through the Greenlight system. So if you're a Steamer, consider headin' on over to the Gridiron Solitaire page at the Steam Community website an' doin' what yer Mama taught ya.

Scroll down to where it says "Would you buy this game if it were available in Steam?" and make the world a better place.

Gridiron Solitaire: the first preview


From game reviewer and gaming market analyst to game… developer?! Yep. Our friend Bill Harris of the fascinating blog Dubious Quality has been creating a game for the past couplethree years.

One thing that's special about Bill is that he has an intricate understanding of all the tactical and strategic nuances of every sport that interests him. For example, whenever there was a release of NCAA or Madden in their heyday, Bill would spend countless hours on empirical testing of various configuration slider settings and then release a definitive slider configuration to make the video game as much like the live game as possible.

Another is that he has a broad and deep understanding of what makes games enjoyable. He's both analytic and intuitive, and his judgment has been honed through decades of playing, reviewing, and discussing.

Understanding and good judgment–that's a magical combination for creative endeavors, and so the anticipation is high for his soon-to-be-released game, Gridiron Solitaire.

The exclusive first look at Bill's game is now up at Red Door Blue Key. I have no interest at all in football, but I can't wait to play this game because I know Bill. I trust that his creature will not only be accessible, suitably challenging, and hugely replayable, but also that it will somehow capture the feel and the fun of genuine football. For anyone who does love football, the game will undoubtedly offer many special moments that I'll fail to intercept.

The more I played Gridiron Solitaire, the more I kept repeating that phrase: just like real football. It’s astonishing that an abstract, card-based mechanic can so closely mimic the peculiar feel of this sport. Ball control, time of possession, and clock management are crucial. The games end with realistic scores…

Check out the preview, read his designer blog installments (starting here), and watch this space for further info about when and where the game will drop!