Carping about a video game online to other players may be routine in the gaming world, but being sued by the game's developer isn't. But that's what may be in store for some online commenters who complained about Arizona's Digital Homicide Studios, a game-maker founded by brothers James and Robert Romine. The Arizona Republic reports James Romine filed a complaint last week looking to sue up to 100 players for up to $18 million for charges including harassment, stalking, and criminal impersonation. Some of the alleged attacks against Digital Homicide, per court docs, include miffed commenters saying they wished the Romines would die and sending them feces in the mail, per the GoFundMe account James set up (with $425 so far toward a $75,000 goal to recoup business losses).
The battle between the Romines and the "reviewers" is now being framed as an issue of self-preservation for small-business owners versus commenters' rights to free speech. The infighting started in late 2014, when a YouTube personality named Jim Sterling said some nonflattering things about a Digital Homicide game—and the Romines fired back in a response video, calling him a "[expletive] idiot" who will "flap [his] stupid mouth." Sterling's fans retaliated with a flood of online harassment, the Romines say. Polygon.com reports Valve Corporation, which owns Steam, has since removed all Digital Homicide games from the platform—a move the Romines say has been a huge financial hit. "I guarantee you any reasonable person would be outraged if any of these comments were said to somebody's face," Robert says. (How many of these gamers could be women?)