Russian MMO Project Genom is back on Steam, disagreements “legally resolved”

Project Genome

Update November 28, 2016: Project Genom is once again available on Steam.

NeuronHaze, makers of sci-fi MMO Project Genom, have contacted us to announce that their game has today been restored to Steam.

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You can take a look at Project Genom here. It’s still in Early Access and will cost you £14.99 (or $19.99 US) for the base version.

Its premise is that humanity has managed to ruin the Earth and has settled a planet called Avalon instead, where they discover the Almers, another invasive species with their own plans for the planet.

The developers say they “have done a lot of work” in the past few weeks. They promise that the game is now stable and will run smoothly even with a high load.

These seemingly innocuous comments possibly hide a dig at the work of their former programmer. The development of this game has been fraught to say the least – read our previous coverage below to learn more. Hopefully, marketing manager Stan Pleshchev’s assurances that NeuronHaze have settled these disagreements means that the game won’t be pulled again.

Update November 24, 2016:NeuronHaze contacted us today to inform us that Project Genom would be returning to Steam “soon”.

It seems the developers and their coder,Artem Stekhnovskii, have come to some sort of legal agreement, though the details of that agreement are bound by an NDA.

“NeuronHaze is pleased to announce that Project Genom will return on sale on Steam soon! All questions regarding disagreements on intellectual property rights have been legally resolved in the pretrial order,” NeronHaze marketing manager Stan Pleshchev tells us via email.

“We want to express our gratitude to all of you for the support and criticism. But, first of all, we are incredibly pleased that our game will continue to exist on Steam and we can once again fully engaged in its development.”

We were told about the NDA in a separate email, where Pleschev explains, “Sorry, but we signed NDA for this info and unfortunately I can not reveal to you the details of the agreement.”

We reached out once more toStekhnovskii, but we’ve yet to hear back.

Original Story November 23, 2016: You might not have heard of Project Genom, a Russian MMO that hit Steam Early Access recently, but its community has been embroiled in controversy over the last few days after the game was unceremoniously removed from Steam. Currently, only those who already paid for the game can access it, and even if you follow the link to the game’s page from Google, you’ll be redirected to Steam’s front page once you click. That’s because some drama has been going down within the development team.

The Project Genom team took to their forums today and explained the situation from their point of view, in which the blame laid at the feet of on individual. “Friends, we are writing this letter with great regret – Project Genom was removed from the sales on Steam,” said PG community person Bacterial. “But we know whom to thank for this! Thank you, Artem Stekhnovskii, better known under the nickname CodeSpartan.”

According to Russian development teamNeuronHaze, the game’s coder, Stekhnovskii, was taking home 100,000 rubles a month, which is a little over $1500, for his work on the MMO, which made over $200k in its first three days in Early Access. NeuronHaze say “the rest of the team received much less or didn’t receive any at all”, which itself seems a bit off when the game is pulling in hundreds of thousands of dollars in a few days.

NeuronHaze go on to say in the post that Stekhnovskii suddenly pulled out of development due to a house repair. They claim that 240,000 rubles were put together so the coder could get workers to help with the construction and continue to code.

“After receiving the money he disappeared without doing virtually nothing on what was agreed,” NeuronHaze continue. “So a month before EA release the team had to find a new programmer quickly.”

Allegations then escalate in the post, and NeuronHaze accues Stekhnovskii of blackmailing the team, saying “if he won’t take 10% of sales income, he will lodge a complaint with Steam.” It isn’t shown, but NeuronHaze say there is correspondence to prove this claim. Valve policy, when something like this arises, is to remove the game from sale until legal disputes are settled, hence the game’s removal from Steam.

According to the studio, Stekhnovskii agreed to be paid 1,500 rubles to carry on working until just before Christmas, and an agreement contract was prepared, “but Artem has never signed it”, they say. “As of today, the conditions of the agreements are not violated by us, and we received the notice of removal the game from Steam, based on a letter received from Artem.”

Below this list of grievances, they urge people not to work with Stekhnovskii, and they claim they have sued himin connection with violation of the DMCA and will demand compensation for all damages, as well as suing him for extortion.

Rather than take this as gospel, we decided to reach out to Stekhnovskii, after seeing his post on Reddit, and he had some very interesting things to say. In our correspondance, the coder supplied us with access to an Imgur link (one we can’t share) which showed the game’srepository’s history – it’s clear by looking at the entries that Stekhnovskii, under his alias CodeSpartan, had contributed a huge amount to the project. He claims “90% of the game code” is his work alone.

That repository is also hosted on Stekhnovskii’s server, as he was the only one who knew how to set it up, which he provided proof of, along with a screenshot of the game’s opening area from inside the editor.

“I wrote them a lengthy message back in May informing them of my desire to leave the project, because I burned out,” Stekhnovskii tells us in a message. “I coded the entire game myself – an MMO is a huge endeavour code-wise, with networking, various C# socket servers that manage server instancing, player communication, database, etc, basically a lot of complicated mechanics, so I worked too much and too fast, and burned out as it sometimes happens to programmers.”

He goes on to say that he asked them to find a replacement, but they offered to do anything to make him stay. “I didn’t ask for anything on top of our previous agreements, because that wasn’t the point,” he continues. “The point was that I couldn’t code anymore, I was having problems even with seeing Visual Studio at that point.

“Anyway, I offered them to find a replacement, but they begged me to keep working, so I did keep working – I worked through all of May, June, July, and August. In September I took time off the project, as I said I would a few months earlier, and started working in a different area entirely – I started building a house in real life as a business. It helped a lot with the burning out on programming, and I love construction.”

However, NeuronHaze could not find a sufficient replacement and Stekhnovskii was actually losing money by coding instead of working on the construction business, at a rate of around $3000 a month.

“I told that to Ilya, [a contact at NeuronHaze], in passing and he said he would compensate me if I stay at home in August and keep working,” explains Stekhnovskii. “That’s what I did. Maybe he expected me to perform some miracles in one month because he was paying me more that month, I don’t know, but miracles didn’t happen, and I did what I could, i.e. a realms system without which the game wouldn’t have come out.

“In September, I finally started working on my construction business full time. I knew that I left the game in a good state, and it’s in this state that the game came out a month later. And it performed well. It had positive reviews and sold well, even though Ilya is trying to say that my code is crap. If it’s such crap, how come I made your entire MMO single-handedly and it works? Anyway, my code may be the biggest crap of code in the world, it doesn’t change the fact that I’m the author and it’s my intellectual property.”

This is when NeuronHaze claim Stekhnovskii began blackmailing them. For the coder, the story is different entirely, and he says he helped fix the servers on Project Genom, getting them working so they could each support 1200 people, with each location to a server.

“I worked ten hours with a shovel on my construction site, then came home and worked on Genom because they were having difficulties and I didn’t want to leave them hanging,” he continues. After work on the servers was done, he asked about his 10% cut for October, to which he was apparently told was “something that should be discussed on voice chat and not in writing”.

“I sensed something was wrong, so I kept our communication in written chat,” he explains. “Then he flatly said that I wouldn’t get my 10%, because I ‘wasn’t working on the game anymore’, and so I lost my 10% according to him.”

We were sent screens of the chat logs in Russian. Here’s the first one. We had someone translate them for us (thanks Idiot) and they say the following:

Stekhnovskii:“You offered me 10% from the project and I “tore my ass apart” programming, translating texts, putting my soul into it as hard as I could. And now, suddenly, I’ve got 0%.”

NeuronHaze:“Artem, 10% – is the income from the game WHILE you are working, no? I didn’t lie to you once.”

“So to sum it up, I worked a year and a half, and because I didn’t work in September, he considers our agreement suddenly void and my contribution to the game unimportant,” Stekhnovskii says. “It’s a convenient point of view, when you want to keep a good sum of money for yourself.

“I got drunk that day, talked to my friends, and they’re in game dev, so they know about this stuff. They told me I own the code I wrote if I didn’t transfer it explicitly in a contract. I researched the subject extensively and it turned out to be entirely true. I do own it. So the very same day, I inform Ilya of this fact and he starts getting worried. Offers me a contract, through which I transfer all my rights to him in exchange for the 10%. I find it agreeable of course, that’s all I wanted in the first place.”

Project Genom

So everyone’s happy, right? Well, no, not really. “We drew up a contract in Russian, agreed that it needs to be translated to English, and then he vanished,” claims Stekhnovskii. “For three weeks he jerked me around with false promises.”

Again, we were provided with a screenshot of their correspondence, which was translated for us.

[7 Nov] Stekhnovskii: “Hey, are there any news on the agreement/contract?”
[8 Nov] Stekhnovskii:“?”
NeuronHaze:“I’m in the hospital, will contact you when I get home.”
[11 Nov] Stekhnovskii:“hey, can you write (talk to me) now?”
[16 Nov] Stekhnovskii:“Just to update regarding yesterday’s sms: I require either a document (agreement/contract) scan with a signature and a passport scan or tracking number of a physical letter with the agreement (document/contract) (sent with a fast priority mail) before Monday.”
NeuronHaze:“Artem, if you are blackmailing me, then have some patience to wait for me to solve all my things, or you will receive completely nothing. As soon as I’m done solving my things, I’ll let you know what’s up.”

So Stekhnovskii waited a little while and filed the DMCA claim to his work, getting the game removed from Steam.

“Ilya is having fun thrashing my work right now all across Russian media,” Stekhnovskii tells us. “Like if my code is bad, I’m supposed to lose my rights to the code. If my programming skills are so bad, why did you keep working with me? How come I programmed your entire game in 1.5 years? I received nothing but praise from him in Skype for almost two years.

“And the results speak for themselves, i.e. Steam Greenlight, Epic Grant for 19k, good sales, everything is perfect, except that I’m not getting paid.”

We reached out to NeuronHaze and got the following reply: “It’s simple – we have info about transfer from bank account to Artem. Is about money. From August [a] new programmer [works with us] and he do new code for game. We can prepare for you info how many bugs we fixed in the code.”

So, again, NeuronHaze’s comments in the end come down to Stekhnovskii’s code.

It seems like Stekhnovskii made the right decision in the end. If the game is indeed built from so much of his labour, and it’s clearly selling well on Steam, why should he not get a fair wage? $3000 isn’t exactly the best salary in the world, after all.

We will update if anything changes, or if any new information comes to light.