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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