Valve pulls Paranautical Activity after dev tweets death threats.


Death threats are a serious matter, as we’ve seen these past few weeks with more and more news hitting the street covering threats of violence and abuse toward individuals in both the gaming industry and beyond. Even something said in jest or in an angry outburst that wasn’t intended to be taken seriously probably will be taken seriously, as evidenced by the most recent harangue played out on Twitter between Paranautical Activity developer Mike Maulbeck and Steam owner Valve Software.

Maulbeck and Valve are no strangers to one another; the developer previously criticized Steam’s Greenlight program when he wasn’t able list Paranautical Activity through publisher Adult Swim back in June of this year. The game was eventually greenlit, but only after Maulbeck and the publisher had parted ways. This time though, Maulbeck carried his annoyance and anger a little too far.

Steam made a mistake, listing the final version of Paranautical Activity as an Early Access title. “I knew this would greatly cripple sales and confuse customers,” Maulbeck explained in an email to UK gaming site Eurogamer. “I had already begun getting tweets and e-mails from people claiming I marked it as Early Access myself to try and avoid criticism of the final version.”

According to Maulbeck, he tried contacting Valve directly via normal, amicable channels when he noticed the mistake; but after waiting a few hours without seeing any update to the error, his patience well and truly snapped.

This is how it started:

It promptly went downhill from there, culminating with Maulbeck’s now deleted tweet (but promptly screen-capped and circulated online): “I am going to kill Gabe Newell. He is going to die.”

Predictably, this didn’t go over well with Valve. Paranautical Activity was promptly pulled from Steam, and an email sent to the developer concisely – and in polite terms – explained the platform holder’s displeasure at his statement: a statement which, according to Maulbeck, he “obviously didn’t mean.”

Here’s what Valve and Steam had to say about it:

“On your Twitter account today there were a series of messages where you expressed your frustration with Steam. We are generally comfortable with partners expressing this type of frustration or any other viewpoint directly with us or publicly through social media and the press. But one of your tweets this morning was a threat to kill one of our colleagues. Death threats cross a line. We have therefore decided to end our business relationship with you and Code Avarice.”

“We’ve closed down your Steam admin accounts and we’re removing the game from purchase on Steam. We will leave make Community Hub available so that existing customers will continue to have a place to discuss the game. Our understanding is that you’re done developing the game, but if you need to ship an update to Steam customers, get in touch with us and we can help ship the update out for you.”

“I have since obviously replied to them saying that I didn’t mean what I said and pleaded that they consider the monopoly they have on the PC market before totally writing us off,” Maulbeck said, “but let’s be real. If they took the game off the store, they’re f****** sure about their decision. There’s probably nothing to be done.”

Maulbeck’s temper has got him in trouble before and the developer admits that “it was only a matter of time before it burned me to death.”

Let’s put a few things out there: whether you have a hot temper or not, there are certain ways to go about voicing your grievances, and death threats are not one of them – as Dale pointed out in his Editor’s Blog earlier today. Online threats of violence have become a disturbing and popular trend that the wider community should be concerned about and should take steps to counteract.  that doesn’t mean it is ever the right thing to do just because you’re annoyed at someone.

Was it frustrating for Maulbeck? Absolutely. Seeing your hard earned project listed incorrectly, waiting hours to get the issue resolved, all while fending off constant dings on email and Twitter from people who have nothing better to do than harass someone is bound to get even the most patient saint a little bit miffed. There’s also no doubt that something like this can have a very real impact on a developer’s bottom line. But a personal grievance against an honest mistake is absolutely no excuse for threatening someone’s life (someone who had no hand in the snafu, mind you), not even in jest.

Let’s also look at one another thing: After threatening Gabe Newell’s life, Maulbeck then went on to antagonize Valve by lamenting their “monopoly” on the PC market, conveniently forgetting sites like Desura, Humble, GOG, Origin, UPlay, Windows Store, direct from developer websites, retailers… should I go on? Just because Valve had a good idea and developed it into a sound business plan that has gone on to dominate the market doesn’t mean they have a monopoly on anything. I don’t think we need to discuss Apple vs. Android, but you get my point.

Maulbeck’s Twitter feed has since degenerated into the kind of thing you might expect – some people calling him an idiot, some people asking where they can still get his game, and everything else inbetween. Maulbeck has responded to all this by saying he doesn’t know whether to kill himself or get a job at Radio Shack as well as saying he wished Twitter allowed him to set up an autoresponse saying “No shit” every time someone tells him it was a stupid move.

Paranautical Activity, for what it’s worth, is actually a pretty decent game – a retro FPS which uses procedural generation and adds some roguelike elements to increase replayability, with a decidedly oddball sense of humor. But its future is now in doubt.

For Mike Maulbeck, a moment of madness could have long-lasting repercussions.

Jenna Fraser
A New England born, Boston native, Jenna says "wicked" with reckless abandon. She loves video games almost as much as she loves words and to say that she has an obsession with Queen would be the biggest understatement of all time.
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