Nexon Is Right to Sue Dark and Darker Developers

A party of characters from the game Dark and Darker.

Many players have heard of Dark and Darker by now, the Hardcore Dungeon Explorer/Battle Royale that took Twitch by storm when its playtests first went live. The game won over fans with its gritty visuals and intense PvP, but many hopes for the game’s release were dashed when lawsuits were brought against the developer, Ironmace Games.

Ironmace Nexon Lawsuit

A few days ago a new lawsuit was filed in the U.S. Court system. Ironmace and Nexon are based in Korea, but the suit was allowed to continue due to the focus on marketing to American audiences. In the suit, Nexon makes its case for the alleged theft of P3 material to be used in Dark and Darker.

What the Nexon Ironmace Lawsuit Is About

Perhaps the most damaging new information is their allegation that Choi saved private P3 files on a home server, and originally agreed to have them verified that no content was stolen, but later backtracked and said he had deleted all P3 content off his computer at his discretion, and with no outside confirmation.
Employees had originally been allowed to store this content on a home server in some cases due to Covid procedures Nexon had in place.

However, Choi participated in “twenty separate downloads of stolen P3 source code and art resources” without Nexon’s knowledge, with 18 of these downloads “occur(ing) after Nexon lifted its COVID-19 work-from-home policy on June 2, 2021.”

While Choi claims all data was deleted and is unrelated to Dark and Darker’s development, Nexon does point out that Ironmace claims to have built the game from the ground up after the employee’s departure from Nexon in only 10 months.

Creating this game in only 10 months, with no stolen materials or assets, seems next to impossible, especially given that the original team that defected from P3 was only 10 members strong.
This fact, combined with Choi’s horrid decision to delete the possibly sensitive server data without proof, paints a more grim picture of Ironmace than first thought. Of all the points Nexon puts forward in its lawsuit, this one, in particular, seems the most damning.

Copyright Infringement

The next points Nexon put forward seem weak on the surface, but could be interesting from a legal standpoint. They state that almost all of the assets, mechanics, design choices, and animations came from, or are incredibly similar to those of P3.

Ironmace had already responded to this, stating that every asset and every piece of code was either made in-house or purchased from the Unreal Engine marketplace, which a third party had verified. This would seem to be the end of this point for Nexon, as this would put Ironmace completely in the right.

There is nothing legally wrong with making incredibly similar games, with incredibly similar mechanics, or even sometimes using the same assets when purchased from a third-party provider. The game could look incredibly similar, but would still be completely free from legal repercussions. This article from the ABA explains why this point would be moot.

Nexon goes further in their filing, however, stating it is not just the assets that are too close, but rather the arrangement of them. This is where the case gets murky and will require the law to take a look. They allege that many of the animations, dungeons designs, and mechanics are incredibly similar if not the same, and ask that these assets be looked at as a collective whole rather than as individual pieces.

Screenshots of P3, when compared to Dark and Darker, are incredibly similar, though it ultimately depends on how this ends up being viewed in court. Ideas can’t be copywritten, so it doesn’t matter if the games look close to the same. What matters is that the idea seems so similar, so close to the original, that there was obvious intent to copy it. This is all much less easy to prove, as mentioned in Plagiarism Today, but does still provide an interesting discussion.

Is Ironmace Guilty?

We don’t know, no one does. However, this new filing brings enough new evidence to light that Nexon may have a case. Ironmace looks much guiltier than they did before, and Nexon was right to bring this case against them, at least based on the evidence we have now.

While the jury is still out on who we think is right, we might have to let an actual jury decide now. Choi’s decisions regarding the destruction of the data he may or may not have had don’t look great, and the speed with which Ironmace built the game seems suspect.

While the use of similar assets and mechanics normally wouldn’t warrant any interest, the fact that Nexon thinks that the games are so similar that the evidence may hold up in court is worrying.

With all this new information coming forward, things are looking much worse for Ironmace games. It was easy to get behind them before this filling; a small, new developer being bullied by a vindictive former employer is exactly the kind of story we want to rally behind. Now though, things are less clear.

Ironmace hasn’t had the chance to respond yet, so we’ll see if they have rebuttals to these points. While it’s possible that they will, all I can say today is that I’m nowhere near as certain about the outcome of these lawsuits as I thought I was.

We’re hoping that Ironmouse clears their name in upcoming filings and we all get the chance to play Dark and Darker on Steam in the future, but for now, this may just be a game that fades due to justified legal scrutiny.

Ironmace Nexon Backstory

Many of the employees from Ironmace had originally developed an experimental title for Korean developer Nexon under the codename P3. P3 was eventually scrapped, with some ideas taken to build a more modern survival title, codename P7.

This may have been caused by an exodus of unhappy employees who either left or were fired, with many of them joining up again to create Ironmace Games. The dev to pay attention to here is Ju-Hyun Choi, one of the main developers at Ironmace and the first to defect from Nexon.

Development had originally gone on without issue, at least until the game gained popularity. Upon seeing Dark and Darker, Nexon accused Ironmace of stealing the code and assets from P3 to build the new title and began to hit them with DMCAs and Cease and Desists.

Now the game sits in an awkward limbo, having been taken off Steam, but still existing and allowing playtests through torrents on their Discord, giving fans glimpses of a game that, legally, may not be allowed to exist for too much longer.

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