Dark and Darker legal dispute continues as Nexon files lawsuit

Nexon, the publisher behind MapleStory and other online games, is embroiled in a series of legal actions against Ironmace Games, the developer of indie hit Dark and Darker. The conflict has led to a police raid, the game’s removal from Steam, and a developer-distributed torrent. With a new lawsuit, it seems as though this convoluted conflict may be far from over.

Dark and Darker is a fantasy game first made available for playtesting in 2022. Players take the role of typical fantasy classes like barbarian or mage, and then battle their way through fantasy dungeons, assaulted by both nefarious skeletons and other players.

The game has enjoyed interest during its playtests, but Ironmace has been hindered by allegations made by Nexon that Dark and Darker is created from stolen code and assets. Nexon has pursued legal action against Ironmace; in March, Nexon filed a cease and desist and DMCA takedown that led to Ironmace removing Dark and Darker from Steam. Ironmace prematurely published, then pulled, a GoFundMe with a goal of $500,000 to cover legal fees and continue to pay staff during development on Dark and Darker. With Ironmace unable to conduct its planned playtest through Steam, the developer made the game available through torrents instead.

Now Nexon is following up with a lawsuit against Ironmace, alleging copyright infringement. Nexon alleges Dark and Darker was built in part from one of the publisher’s projects, announced as “P3” in 2021, and that P3 and Dark and Darker are substantially the same game. Developers from Nexon would go on to be a part of Ironmace, a studio which describes itself as “a merry band of veteran game developers disillusioned by the exploitative and greedy practices we once helped create.”

Nexon filed a lawsuit on April 14 at the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington demanding a jury trial.

Nexon’s complaint names Ju-Hyun Choi, a developer at Ironmace, and Terence Seungha Park, CEO of Ironmace. Choi is a former Nexon employee and the director of the P3 project, Nexon said in its complaint. Choi is alleged to have “solicited the members of the P3 Project team to recreate P3 outside of Nexon”; “succeeded in recruiting nearly half of the P3 team including Park”; and “transferred 11,602 P3 Project files from Nexon to his own private servers.”

Nexon says that gave Ironmace a substantial leg up on Dark and Darker’s development:

While it normally takes a significant amount of time to develop a video game of P3’s complexity from scratch, Ironmace was able to release a demo of P3—renamed “Dark and Darker”—just ten months after Ironmace was formed. The reason Defendants were able to release Dark and Darker so quickly was that they took advantage of the head start given to them by stealing Nexon’s trade secrets—trade secrets that took a team of more than twenty people working for eleven months at Nexon’s expense to develop.

The lawsuit also compares assets of P3 and Dark and Darker, like a chest-opening animation and a potion’s position on the player.

Nexon is seeking injunctive relief to block the distribution of Dark and Darker and undetermined monetary relief from damages. Throughout the conflict, Ironmace has maintained its innocence, saying that all code was written in-house and most assets were purchased from the Unreal Engine Marketplace.

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