STICLI Games: Toxic Developer With Invalid EULA

STICLI Games is the developer of Airport Master on Steam, a $15 airport simulator that by all accounts seems to be a decent game that merely suffers from a bad user interface. The developer, however, seems intent on driving their reputation directly into the river by coming right off the starting line with toxic behavior, an illegitimate end user license agreement, and enforcing trademarks that it very likely does not own.

Since we live in a world where shady, toxic indie Steam developers waste no time perjuring themselves (because filing a false DMCA is committing perjury, a very real crime) by striking critical videos, banning people who post critical reviews, and threatening critics with everything from legal action to revoking their access to the game because they had the gall to complain on or off of the forums.

But STICLI Games has taken it a step further. Imagine, as a non-business owner, what you would do to stop criticism of your game. You write it into the rules, right? While rules are fine and dandy, you need a set that has implied legal backing behind it, and that leads us to our next topic: The end user license agreement. It’s a tool that, for many small business, would never hold up in court because it wasn’t drafted by a lawyer (a competent lawyer), contains bad sections that could invalidate the whole agreement, and the owner assumes that anything written is legally binding because why not, the customer agreed to it.

STICLI Games has decided to bake justification for toxic, anti-consumer practices directly into their EULA, starting with the recognition that STICLI owns the trademarks on all properties and you are not allowed to produce content without prior written permission:

The End User recognizes that all of the rights associated with the Software as well as the rights related to the trademarks, royalties and copyrights, are the property of STICLI Games and are protected by international laws and treaties. Any use of Copyright Holder’s trademarks, imagery content, videos, graphical elements, names, plot in any activity (including but not limited to: producing 3d party video content, electronic and on-paper publishing, creation of promotional content etc.) is only possible with prior written permission of Copyright Holder.

Incidentally, we can learn a lesson from Digital Homicide’s James Romine on this subject: As he stated in his lawsuit against Jim Sterling about the use of the ECC Games name, he isn’t violating any law because ECC Games doesn’t own the trademark in the United States. And after a cursory search of the US Trademark Office, it looks like STICLI Games doesn’t own a US trademark on Airport Master. Trademark, unlike copyright, does not protect works automatically. You have to file, pay the fees, and have your application approved.

But let’s go further, because the EULA just gets better from here out.

4. TRADEMARKS AND RIGHTS TO THE SOFTWARE
The End User recognizes that all of the rights associated with the Software as well as the rights related to the trademarks, royalties and copyrights, are the property of STICLI Games and are protected by international laws and treaties. Any use of Copyright Holder’s trademarks, imagery content, videos, graphical elements, names, plot in any activity (including but not limited to: producing 3d party video content, electronic and on-paper publishing, creation of promotional content etc.) is only possible with prior written permission of Copyright Holder.

A large portion of the threatening emails I receive from developers follow this pattern, people who think they the legal authority to decide who covers their products and want to know why I didn’t ask for permission before publishing my review/editorial. Here’s the thing about copyright law: You don’t have to ask for the creator’s permission in order to cover it. I don’t need STICLI’s permission to use a screenshot as part of this publishing, I don’t need their permission to write this article about how they’d want permission from me to write this article, and I don’t need permission to review their products.

EULAs don’t magically grant companies special privileges, there have boundaries you can’t go outside of when it comes to agreeing on what can and can’t be done.

9. NO REFUNDS
Except when required by law, the Licensor shall be under no obligation to issue refunds under any circumstances. The Licensor may issue refunds basing on Licensor’s own judgement and solely as a gesture of good will.

I have seen some discussion about this clause and it isn’t technically ‘illegal’ in the basic sense because the writer was smart enough to add ‘except when required by law.’ It doesn’t make sense otherwise because STICLI doesn’t get to decide who receives a refund, that’s Valve. None of STICLI’s judgement comes into effect when it comes to Valve’s refund policy.

That means you MUST obtain prior written permission from us before uploading any videos to YouTube. Otherwise, you are breaching the EULA and we can terminate your software license without refund and fire a copyright strike on YouTube.

Also, is this a challenge? Because it sounds like a challenge, and I love a good challenge. So, in testing whether Steam would enforce Airport Master’s ‘under any circumstance’ EULA, I decided to purchase Airport Master for $14.99. I quickly came across some performance issues, including the following illegible text on most menus. It made the game, in my humble opinion, impossible to play on my system and therefore a qualifying circumstance to ask for a refund, I think most will agree.

So I asked for a refund, to which Valve said “yea sure whatever” and promptly handed it over after about two hours.

Turns out that STICLI Games’ EULA isn’t so binding after all.

One more thing: The whole argument about trademark is useless as trademark and copyright are two wholly separate entities. Trademark is all about market confusion, owning a brand and identity and being able to protect it. It is what would prevent someone from, say, starting up a business called STICKLI Games and producing a game called Airport Masters and selling it on Steam, because that is confusing the market. It stops sleazy furniture stores from advertising the “Ultimate Super Bowl Couch,” because it implies official affiliation. It does not give you full control over the use of the words.

It looks like STICLI Games is in Cyprus, and doesn’t own the trademark there either.

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  • I love a company who starts off with the basic premise that the customer is the enemy and works from there. That always works out well.

  • This is actually quite hilarious in my opinion. You have an abhorrent game developer who insists that their will is God by trying to silence critics, and they can’t even be bothered to use a defense for themselves that would make even a shred of sense in law. Trademark has zero relevance in regards to commentary or criticism, both of which are protected from Copyright claims under fair use. The developer cannot claim a Trademark since they don’t own one, but even if they did, a Trademark claim does not protect you from criticism or even from anyone saying completely false statements. It only protects one from others using their brand or trademark to either profit or the falsely propose an inferior statement as being made by the Trademark owner.

    That is, unless their argument is that they are not the developer of that particular version of Airport Master which would just make me wonder what type of drugs the developer is on. Was quite a bit tempted to purchase the game and then refund it, but I settled for reporting the game on Steam due to the illegal EULA and the fact that they are trying to use their EULA to override Steam’s own.

    Oh well, it’s not like this has completely tanked their reputation or anything…

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/080bfae1d0455d1143efe0f5c465b81cbcc305a33a5b3819d5f63635cf57d236.png

    • Jochem Sev

      Oh, this could get much worse.
      You see, when you buy a game and ask for a refund, you get all your money back. However Valve keeps their cut of the money from the sale it seems, that deficit will logically need to come out of the publisher’s pocket.
      So, some enterprising Steam users are now advocating on buying the game, leaving a negative review and then asking for a refund. Tanking that whole Review score even further and costing the dev money due to Steam’s cut from the sale.

      • Jim Jones

        That is truly glorious, Power to the People!

  • Who Cares It’s Anime

    If this Isn’t popcorn fuel for the popcorn gods, I don’t know what is