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Thursday, December 7, 2023

Court documents may explain the disappearance of Paranoia: Happiness is Mandatory

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Two years ago, Orwellian sci-fi RPG Paranoia: Happiness is Mandatory was removed from sale within weeks of its release. The reason for its delisting has remained a mystery, but a set of court documents unearthed by Gamekult shed light on the situation. 

The court documents detail a complaint lodged by publisher Bigben Interactive, AKA Nacon, against Paranoia’s rights-holders in October of 2021. Greg Costikyan and Eric Goldberg, two of the creators of the Paranoia tabletop RPG, are named in the complaint, which is apparently about a breach of a license agreement. 

PC Gamer has obtained Costikyan and Goldberg’s answer to the complaint and counterclaim of their own, which was filed in United States District Court in the Southern District of New York on March 11. According to this document, the trouble began when Bigben published a press release announcing a release date of September 10, 2019, without Costikyan and Goldberg’s approval, and in spite of “their concern about advertising a potentially unrealistic release date”. 

The publisher then provided a pre-release master of the game for approval in which “software bugs and inconsistent/poor user experience issues” were responsible for “a product significantly below commercial standards” and, as they put it, “release of this version would tarnish the [Paranoia] brand.”

While the publisher agreed the game wasn’t ready yet, Bigben then announced a revised release date of November 14 via another press release issued without Costikyan and Goldberg’s approval. A subsequent version of the game presented for their review in October was apparently still buggy enough that, at their request, the publisher provided “a new spreadsheet listing 74 combined major and minor bugs” that were known to remain.

Paranoia: Happiness is Mandatory was then released without the rights-holder’s permission or even knowledge, exclusively on the Epic Games Store. On learning this, they wrote to Bigben demanding its removal multiple times, before going directly to Epic with a DMCA request. As a result, the game was withdrawn from sale on January 24, 2020.

The court case is ongoing, with the most recent document, which is from Friday, granting an extension.

Nacon has also been involved in a contractual dispute with developer Frogwares over The Sinking City, with Frogwares using a DMCA takedown to get their own game removed from Steam after claiming that Nacon had uploaded a “cracked and pirated” version of it without permission.

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