Dark & Darker’s Bizarre Steam Removal Has the Internet Up In Arms

Dark and Darker has been removed from Steam following claims developer Ironmace stole assets from Nexon, but Nexon's claims just don't add up.

Dark and Darker
Photo: Ironmace

One of the most popular demos during February’s Steam Next Fest was for a game called Dark and Darker: a PvPvE dungeon crawler that let players pick one of six fantasy classes and journey into lost catacombs for gold and glory. Many who played the demo described it as a fantasy version of Escape from Tarkov, which is high praise given that game’s popularity and influence. But you won’t find Dark and Darker on Steam now. The game has seemingly been swallowed by a digital black hole. You might think that someone must have a great reason for removing a runaway Steam hit from the platform, but this story is a little stranger than that.

On March 22nd, Nexon (the company behind MapleStory, Dungeon & Fighter, and other titles) filed a DMCA takedown that got Dark and Darker removed from Steam. The company claimed that Dark and Darker’s developer, Ironmace, built the game “using trade secrets as well as copyrighted information copied and stolen from Nexon.” Specifically, Nexon claimed that Ironmace had stolen assets from a Nexon project known as P3 Game (not its final title, obviously) that they allege were acquired from 20 ex-Nexon employees who went to work at Ironmace. To back up these claims, Nexon provided a list of allegedly stolen assets. Sounds cut and dry, but as you know, there are always two sides to every story. In this instance, Ironmace’s side is starting to sound a lot more compelling. 

A few days after Nexon issued the DMCA takedown, Ironmace posted a response that countered nearly every one of Nexon’s claims. For instance, Nexon suggested that Ironmace couldn’t have developed as much as it did in 10 months and that many files in Dark and Darker are identical to those used in P3 Game. By Nexon’s logic, Ironmace used knowledge and assets acquired from ex-Nexon employees to create Dark and Darker. Moreover, Nexon alleged that Ironmace couldn’t have otherwise known about the P3 idea and assets because Nexon never disclosed P3 to gaming outlets.

According to Ironmace, though, they just used Unreal Engine Marketplace assets to speed up the development process. Ironmace’s statement even linked the specific assets purchased, which certainly lends credence to their claims. As for the “coincidence” of ex-Nexon employees working at Ironmace, Ironmace’s statement claim that the whole thing started with the P3 Game‘s lead developer, who left Nexon due to what they viewed as “a breakdown of trust” and “the uncertain atmosphere at the company.” After that employee left, other P3 Game devs followed suit because they were part of a tightly-knit group (and because the lead developer encouraged their team members to join them at another studio). Ironmace even pointed out that Nexon had teased P3 Game in 2021 despite the claims the project had not previously been publically shared.

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The evidence really seems to be in Ironmace’s corner. Even if it wasn’t, the extreme lengths that Nexon has gone to thus far are catching a lot of people by surprise.

For instance, Nexon ordered a police raid on Ironmace’s HQ earlier this month, and, according to the police report (translated by PCGamer) “nothing was found.” Even though the police assured them Ironmace hadn’t stolen anything, Nexon filed the DMCA anyway and successfully got Dark and Darker delisted. Because of that DMCA, Ironmace can’t even work on Dark and Darker until dealing with a legal battle that Nexon might win since it’s got millions of dollars to throw at the situation and Ironmace doesn’t.

Furthermore, Nexon’s own DMCA notice mentions numerous copyrights, yet many of those copyrights were filed in February: several months after Ironmace’s Dark and Darker gained traction. The DMCA even includes images meant to compare classes from P3 Game and Dark and Darker, but they all look so generic that you could intentionally mislabel them and claim they were concept art for Diablo or Black Desert, and few would likely be the wiser. The DMCA notice even mentions how P3 Game and Dark and Darker are similar because they both take place in dungeons, and players have to light the way with torches. Put it all together, and parts of Nexon’s lawsuit reads as though the company is trying to copyright the very concept of a dungeon crawler.

To make matters worse, this DMCA is the latest instance in what is becoming something of a trend with Nexon. As previously stated, the former P3 Game project lead claims he left Nexon because he was losing trust in the company. In response, Nexon assigned an Internal Audit team to investigate them and accused them of stealing project files. This was back in 2021, and the investigation, which is separate from Nexon’s lawsuit with Ironmace, is still ongoing. It’s not hard to understand why the P3 Game lead may mistrust Nexon, though it will be interesting to see if the idea of that mistrust is at all used to cultivate a potential motive for the designer’s alleged actions.

The emerging new details of this case have the internet up in arms against Nexon. Some gamers are even accusing Nexon of only copyrighting P3 Game and filing the DMCA because they were jealous of Dark and Darker’s success. I would not be surprised if Nexon is using the DMCA as a roadblock to force Ironmace into spending all of its money on legal fees instead of game development, but that is neither here nor there. The full details of this situation have not yet been revealed, and official courts will ultimately settle this matter rather than the court of public opinion.

Should Ironmace’s evidence hold up under scrutiny as much as the internet thinks it does, then ideally the company will come out of this with the time and resources needed to fund Dark & Darker and keep the promising game’s development going. At the moment, though, the game’s fate is very much up in the air, and Nexon’s public reputation may not survive this case regardless of the outcome unless some compelling new evidence in their favor is introduced.

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