Day One: Garry’s Incident is an open-world survival game created by Wild Game Studios and recently released through Steam Greenlight, the indie development platform that introduced gamers to titles like the harrowing bureaucracy simulator Papers, Please and the utterly fantastic HD remake of The Stanley Parable. There have been some really great games brought to the table by Steam Greenlight, but they can’t all be winners and Day One: Garry’s Incident was decidedly on the non-winner pile.
A brief look at any of the currently available gameplay videos will quickly illustrate the problems with the title, though we’d recommend “I Broke Day One: Garry’s S****y Incident” by BirgirPall as the most entertaining one. Not only is the game’s combat system awful, its graphical performance poor and some of the basic systems baffling), Day One: Garry’s Incident appears not to have been play-tested before release, and as such features a frankly impressive range and frequency of bugs and glitches that include floating enemies, predators that appear out of thin air and characters getting stuck in bizarre animation loops.
In short, it’s probably not worth shelling out $19.99 for Day One: Garry’s Incident, but making a bad or broken game isn’t a crime and as a young independent company, Wild Game Studios might have been forgiven for releasing such a dud. Where things got nasty however, was the way in which the company responded to the negative criticism of the game.
The word “censorship” gets thrown around a lot and is often misused, but it’s hard to think of a more accurate term for Wild Game Studios filing a copyright claim (exclusively) against YouTube reviewer TotalBiscuit that led to his “WTF is…” first impressions video being taken down from the site. When asked about the incident, lead designer Stephane Woods defended the decision, saying on the Steam message board that, “We protected our copyright because Total Biscuit has no right to make advertising revenues with our license.”
Putting aside the fact that the use of copyrighted material is covered by fair use when being displayed for the purposes of criticism or review, it’s notable that several other YouTube videos also contained footage from Day One: Garry’s Incident and were also monetized, yet these were not hit with a copyright claim.
It also seems that the studio made further attempts at dampening the bad publicity, which also backfired. The user reviews of Day One: Garry’s Incident on Metacritic are overwhelmingly scathing, even more so since the censorship story flared up in the news, but there remain a small handful of transparently copy-pasted positive reviews that seem to have been created as part of an astroturfing effort.
After having a firestorm of criticism blow up in its face, Wild Game Studios has hastily retracted the copyright claim after just a few days and sent out a general statement of apology through Kotaku, in which Woods maintains that the video was removed due to the fact that the video was taken down purely because of the monetization issue and that any resulting censorship of opinion was purely accidental:
“We sent TotalBiscuit a Steam key on September 26th, giving him permission to evaluate Day One: Garry’s Incident. Monetizing wasn’t mentioned in our communications and it was an error on our part to not have clarified the issue. It was for that particular fact that Wild Games Studio had asked the video’s removal.
“After the video was made unavailable, we have taken seriously the reaction from the community concerning freedom of expression. We strongly believe in the freedom of expression of people and medias [sic] and have removed our copyright claim. Wild Games Studio didn’t intend on preventing anyone from using their right to freedom of expression. For this reason, Wild Games Studio sincerely apologizes to TotalBiscuit and anyone who felt that their freedom of speech was denied.”
The question of monetization rarely if ever comes up when arranging review copies of games, because usually it’s implicit that some kind of monetization process is set up for professional or even semi-professional sites and channels. Copyrighted material in reviews, whether it’s actual footage or just screenshots, is almost certainly going to be somewhere in the vicinity of an advert, because news and reviews sites are businesses and need to monetize their content in order to keep running. Game Rant has adverts as well – look, there’s one right there. TotalBiscuit’s reviews have long been monetized and a brief visit to his channel would have been enough to make Wild Game Studio aware of this.
In short, no one is particularly convinced by the excuse offered in the apology statement, and while the controversy will likely burn itself out now that the video is back up, Wild Game Studio’s reputation has taken a lot of damage over the last few days that it may not be possible to repair. TotalBiscuit has since pointed out the flaws of YouTube’s copyright claims system as being largely culpable for obliging the company’s trigger finger so quickly and without fair trial. It’s been an unpleasant situation, but hopefully it will spark conversation and change regarding the way YouTube handles similar copyright disputes in the future.
Day One: Garry’s Incident is available now on Steam.