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License dispute between Frogwares and Focus Home Interactive sees developer in tough times

The Sinking City

A deal between mystery and detective games developer Frogwares and publisher Focus Home Interactive has ended, leaving developer Frogwares high and dry thanks to a new policy about rights control that Focus appears to have implemented. “As it stands right now, the only game left is Sherlock Holmes Crimes & Punishments which only has until September 29th,” Frogwares said. There’s also the possibility that other games will be pulled down in the future, or have already been pulled from various storefronts.

In particular, there’s only a certain subset of Frogwares’ games on the chopping block so to speak. And don’t worry if you liked their most recent game, The Sinking City, it isn’t affected by this bit of insanity. The full list of games is pretty extensive, and covers the digital storefronts for multiple console ports and the PC. So far, it only appears as though the Sherlock Holmes games that Frogwares worked on are affected, as those are the titles covered by the publishing agreement being disputed.

Frogwares has been seeing some support from the wider games industry over this, although it’s unclear what they can do to regain control of their games, if anything at all.

In addition to the Steam, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, and Xbox 360 versions of Crimes & Punishments getting pulled, there are three affected games. The Testament of Sherlock Holmes has been removed from sale for PS3 and Xbox 360, while Magrunner: Dark Pulse and Sherlock Holmes versus Jack the Ripper have been pulled on Xbox 360.

Here’s the full content of their statement, as posted on Twitter:

Hello,

This letter is addressed to everyone who is interested in the video game industry, and wants to take a look at what’s happening behind the curtain.

We are Frogwares, the developer of the Sherlock Holmes video games, and The Sinking City. We make detective games because it’s our passion, and because it allows us to live off it.

But today, that is under threat. Some of our games are being removed from Sony’s and Microsoft’s storefronts, and even maybe from Steam. This list includes our titles like Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments, The Testament of Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes Vs. Jack The Ripper and Magrunner: Dark Pulse.

Why? Because Focus Home Interactive, the licensee (or “publisher) that was in charge of commercializing these games on these platforms, refuses to transfer the title IDs to us, the creators and IP owners of those titles, even though our Publishing and Distribution Agreement agreement has ended.

Because, according to their official statement, sent to us only last week, “Focus has put in place a policy in accordance with which they will not transfer any title – the content ID or title ID – belonging to any developer which has removed all of their games from the Focus catalog”.

A policy that is not in any of our previous or existing contracts with Focus and that has never been applied to us in the past.

Because of that policy, our games will be taken down from all storefronts.

So whether this gets resolved at all is currently unknown. These kinds of rights disputes are pretty common in the entertainment industry, and gaming studios have regularly lost out in millions of sales collectively because of them. It remains to be seen if Frogwares can survive this controversy, and with players being outraged by the move, it seems like there may be a chance for Frogwares to make it out OK.

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