Digital Homicide Studios — Down the Rabbit Hole

Digital Homicide Studios — Down the Rabbit Hole


Recently, there was a bundle sale on Steam called the “Digital Homicide Bundle”, selling five games for a dollar. It seems like a good deal at first, but all of these games have abysmal user ratings, some dipping below 30% approval. One would assume that 30% of people approving the game means that it still has some value, and that’s true, but not in the way that one would assume. A cursory glance of the player reviews reveals that people are giving a thumbs up not because the games are quality, but because these games give Steam Trading Cards which can be sold on the marketplace for credit towards other games. This means that, if bought in the bundle, they technically get a return on investment even if it’s only a couple of cents, if you don’t count the electricity cost of running the computer. There are a few common problems with each game: The gameplay is rudimentary, there is no artistic unity, and even the menus are uniquely painful to use. Assets are recycled ad nauseam, including: a cyclops, a rat, a bare-chested harpy, an actual bear, sundry zombies, skeletons, and numerous others. The enemy AI is also basic.
In none of these games do they perform any other action than run directly at the player in an attempt to fuse their model with the target. Any semblance of balance in these games is also absent, meaning they are almost universally easy, even when some gameplay elements are breaking. At first it’s easy to think that the name of the pack, “Digital Homicide”, is a catchy way to bundle multiple games together, but it actually refers to the single developer of all of these games, Digital Homicide Studios. In fact, the number of games produced by the studio is far greater than five. According to the official Digital Homicide group page on Steam, there are 18 associated games. Their website, tastefully given the URL “digitalhomicide.ninja”, offers literally dozens more games under the tab Greenlight Games, referring to Steam Greenlight which allows users to vote on games they wish to see on Steam’s storefront. Their website is a strange amalgamation of generic assets, including a deformed looking fuzzy creature and, oddly enough, a female model in a footballer’s outfit holding a football over her groin. The blog seems mostly abandoned with only six posts, all within the month of February of 2016. The first three are game development advice for aspiring indie developers, while the last three are advertisements for games being released under the Digital Homicide brand. Not long ago, the website looked different, with an advertisement for their game AzzHoles across the front of the page upon entering, and the words, “Games Made With Love”, just to the left. Digital Homicide has a strange relationship with Steam Greenlight. When one of their games inevitably fails, they simply put it back onto Greenlight, hoping to garner enough votes the second or third or seventh time around, sometimes using dummy publishers to get around quality control. So who is Digital Homicide? The company is comprised of two people, a pair of brothers named James and Robert Romine. Very little is known about them, and only the latter has divulged any information about himself. This raises many questions, but there’s one that stands out. How are two brothers managing to create dozens of games in the span of only a few years? To understand this, one must be familiar with the concept of ‘asset flipping’. All Digital Homicide games are created on the same engine, Unity. There are plenty of good, and even great games made on the Unity Engine, such as Kerbal Space Program, Ori and the Blind Forest, Superhot, and Hearthstone. However, it is notoriously easy to create rudimentary games with it. Many burgeoning game designers have begun using Unity to try their hand at game development, while others use it to create strange and absurdist experiences and release them for free. [ Vinny (Vinesauce) ]: “I hear story of friend this friend is Shamrock he reverses ground magnets with touch” [ sheep bleating ] Just as often however, it’s abused by independent developers to quickly make a terrible game, slap a price tag on it, and push it out the door to turn a profit. To increase the odds of someone buying the game at face value, these developers often will rely on buying pre-made game assets for cheap, something expedited by the prolificacy of assets made specifically for Unity. This practice has grounds in legitimate game development, where indie developers purchase assets such as 3D models to save both time and money, so that other aspects of the game can receive attention. The intention is to build upon these assets and use them as a framework, but sometimes a lazy or cheap developer will buy a myriad of assets, and plunk those on to basic coding then call it complete, a process known as asset flipping. Buying game assets works similarly to buying a font. Rather than purchasing a physical object, the buyer gains unlimited rights to utilize that particular asset, meaning that this process is 100% legal, however shady it may be. By asset flipping, Digital Homicide Studios can churn out games at an unprecedented rate; games that may seem competent on the surface, but prove to be vapid and hollow. Despite how egregious this practice is, James and Robert Romine would have remained an obscure element of Steam’s underbelly, were it not for a few bewildering and vitriolic actions against one of the internet’s more controversial figures, Jim Sterling, the online persona of a game critic named James Stanton. There’s a significant subset of content creators on YouTube who enjoy making videos about terrible games, and Jim Sterling is one of them. Among the many topics he covers in gaming, he has a series called “Squirty Plays”, a gag based on the popular Let’s Play videos. In these, he chooses games that, to him, seem obviously “squirted” on to Steam to make some quick cash on gamers who don’t know any better, and plays them without researching them beforehand as a first impression. On November 1st of 2014, Sterling chose to feature The Slaughtering Grounds, which Digital Homicide had released onto Steam the night prior under the guise of another studio, Imminent Uprising.
Predictably, the game was low-quality, but Sterling seemed more confused than disgusted during the 10 and a half minute long video, as he scrambled about through the pre-purchased assets in an attempt to find ammunition for his poorly stocked weapons. [ Jim Sterling ]: “Hello what’s this?” “Oh, we need a new gun.” [ gunfire ] [ Jim ]: “I got nothing.” Enraged by the negative reception, James and Robert Romine took to YouTube themselves in an attempt to strike back at this slight. They uploaded Jim Sterling’s video onto their own channel, as part of what they claimed was a new series entitled, “Reviewing the Reviewer”. This video had text overlaid on top of it criticizing Jim Sterling and the video. The first slide of text reads, and I quote, “Hello this is Jim Sterling and I am a fucking idiot. “Don’t believe me? Well just watch this piece of shit review i’ve made.” The text continues to lambast Jim Sterling throughout the rest of the video, liberally insulting his intelligence and the quality of his content, calling it “useless shit”, and other vulgar pejoratives. They also blame Sterling for not providing an adequate review. Jim Sterling, possibly recognizing an opportunity to draw in new viewers as well as to archive the video, re-uploaded the Romine brothers’ re-upload, but instead replaced the original audio with unscripted reactions to the text. Here, he retorts that the Squirty Plays series isn’t a review series, but rather about first impressions, though he dismisses most other points as the actions of a crazy developer. [ Jim Sterling ]: ” ‘I’m Jim Fucking Sterling and I deliver accurate reviews!’- (it’s) not a review!” ” ‘I told you I would tell you the buggered landmines work, you can depend on me providing you with more useless shit reviews in’- ” [ Jim laughing ] In a fit of recursion that would make Christopher Nolan blush, the Romine brothers uploaded a response to Sterling’s response,
though this time there was no video. Instead, they only used the audio from Sterling’s response and overlaid white text on a black background, again riddled with poor grammar. In this slideshow of text, they claim that, by purchasing pre-made assets, they are assisting with a production of further games and, thus, the cycle of game development. This misunderstanding of economics is forgivable, but their other claim is much bolder. In a strange confusion of fair use law, they ask; “How is it okay to commit 60 frames of copyright infringement a second for 40 minutes and then get paid for it?”,
referring to the use of game footage. They then accuse Jim Sterling of contributing to the practice of quote, “unfair reviews, and thus, affecting the livelihood of many people with no risk or cost to yourself.” This video was followed with something all YouTube content creators dread: A takedown notice on the original Squirty Plays video by the Romine brothers. Takedown requests on YouTube are almost unanimously respected by the administration, and anybody can issue a takedown request on any video for any reason. When a takedown goes into effect, the video is removed from viewing by the general audience for four weeks, with the onus on the requester to prove that some element of the video is, indeed, illegal. Often, certain companies with a vested
interest in keeping a certain video offline will issue a takedown request that they can’t follow up, to reduce viewership of it, and to punish the content creator, by cutting into their revenue. Digital Homicide, however, backed up its takedown request to the media, albeit with more poor grammar, stating that quote, “There are countless negative review videos posted, including multiple Sterling videos, and only one in particular with a DMCA filed on it. The reason is we have a legitimate claim. We can prove a violation of our copyright, (fair use is not blanket immunity), and damages.” They went on to say that, “We believe the unbiased perspective of a court will agree there has been a violation of our copyright, and for this reason we will be pursuing an attorney and proceeding with our complaint.” Despite these confident claims, it seems that
no further action was taken, and the video returned to Sterling’s channel four weeks later. This scenario may sound familiar to some gamers. This is because something extremely similar happened almost exactly a year ago to another content creator, who goes by TotalBiscuit, when he created a review for the now infamous indie game, Day One: Garry’s Incident. Jim Sterling, however, was in a slightly different position. Rather than receiving advertising revenue on any of his videos, he receives all of his money from a site named Patreon, where people may donate money to content creators on a monthly basis to support them. This means, beyond the need to continue supplying content to viewers, there is no direct financial need to keep his videos online and, in fact, it’s likely that the controversy was generating further income for him. So, rather than fighting the takedown of his video, he began making further videos not only on the general topic of media silencing from indie developers, but, about the specific business practices of the Romine brothers themselves, all while the original Squirty Plays video sat with a takedown message plastered on it. He quickly outed them as not Imminent Uprising, but instead the Digital Homicide Development Studio, accused them of asset flipping rather than true game development, then used that as a springboard to talk about the practice in general. In a surprising move, Robert Romine decided that the actions taken by Digital Homicide Studios was not enough, and he challenged Jim Sterling to what he called a “free-form debate, to set the record straight once and for all”. In early July of 2015, this meeting indeed did occur over Skype, and was recorded. The perplexing discussion lasted almost an hour and 40 minutes with no mediator. It was in this recording that the audience to this eight-month argument got to hear the voice of Robert Romine for the first time. Here, he claims to be a 35-year-old man with three children, and that Digital Homicide has proven to be a successful business venture. [ Jim Sterling ]: “I was expecting to not hear the voice of an adult, so this makes me feel a little bit better about things, uh, and-”
[ Robert Romine ]: “Oh yeah, I have, uh, I have three kids, I’m 35, I’m definitely an adult.” The discussion in its entirety is a surreal experience. It begins somewhat cordially, where both parties acknowledge that they are participating in a one-sided conversation, and are reluctantly thankful that they can now speak to one another. At about two and a half minutes however, things start to take a strange turn, and Robert Romine’s true intentions begin to manifest. He begins talking over Jim Sterling, disallowing him from responding to the accusations leveled at him. Romine’s voice also begins to crack in what sounds like restrained anger. [ Romine, interrupting Sterling ]: “Let’s talk, let’s talk, specifically, about your nonsense.” [ Romine ]: “Just go ahead and start all the way back at the beginning, and go ahead and ramble up all your, all your accusations and stuff.” He tells Sterling to point out problems with Digital Homicide, and Romine will pick them apart one by one, but continues to cut him off. Romine quickly turns the conversation in an attempt to attack Sterling’s professional credentials, and deflects Sterling’s arguments into further attacks throughout the conversation. [ Sterling ]: “..which is why, I then fired back”
[ Romine ]: “It’s your job-” [ Sterling ]: “and did the same, I responded in kind”
[ Romine ]: “It is your job!” [ Romine, alone ]: “You telling me that when you were playing that game, you couldn’t see the ammo counter two inches below the crosshair?” [ Sterling ]: “The broken ammo counter.”
[ Romine ]: “I mean, come on-” (stuttering) [ Romine, alone ]: “If you’re gonna- we’re going right back to what we were saying about you saying I’m an incompetent developer, as a- As a game reviewer, you should be a very quality game player.” Romine seems to become more emboldened and as the conversation continues, passively aggressively and sometimes ad hominem attacking Sterling more and more. [ Sterling ]: “..the sheer geographical chaos that was your menu screen-” [ Romine, interrupting ]: “That’s what just goes to show why you’re a bad person, man.” [ Sterling ]: “Bad person? I’m not a bad-”
[ Romine ]: “You- Yes, you’re terrible!
You are terrible!” What becomes abundantly clear midway through the conversation is Robert Romine’s stance on reviewers. He seems to believe that reviewers have a personal responsibility to the developers, and that negative issues should be taken to forums, rather than reviews. [ Romine ]: “You have no financial investment in what you do, yet you affect tons of developers’ lives, financially affect them. That is why one day you’re gonna have enough subscribers, you’re gonna make enough money on your Patreon thing, and somebody’s gonna get tired of your shit and they’re gonna sue. It’s- I’m not saying we are, I’m saying somebody’s gonna have the money to do it, and they’re gonna win.” [ Sterling scoffing, chuckling quietly ] [ Romine laughing mockingly ] [ Sterling ]: “Oh is that what we’ve devolved into, is it?” [ Romine ]: “Exactly-” This last point is a sore subject for many gamers around Jim Sterling’s age due to the game market crash of 1983. SIDENOTE: The game market crash of 1983 brought the industry from 3.2 billion dollars to only 100 million in two years, which is only 3.1% of where it once was. It is largely blamed on the over-saturation of the market with games, and a lack of reliable reviews for gamers to determine the quality of products. Only the market success of the Nintendo Entertainment System was able to bring the industry back. It’s also clear from the interview that Sterling’s coverage did not positively impact sales, and Romine makes a point to mention it. Throughout the video, Romine also claims that Sterling was leveling his community directly at Digital Homicide Studios as a harassment weapon. Jim Sterling maintained a composed attitude through the review, and even allowed himself a laugh at some of Romine’s statements. After this outburst Digital Homicide went silent, and for eight months they continued to release asset-flipped games on Steam Greenlight through dummy publishers, occasionally getting a spotlight on YouTube channels as examples of terrible games. As of today, Digital Homicide has claimed credit for each of them. But after these eight months, something happened that is difficult to believe, and has made the Romine brothers synonymous with delusion to odd onlookers. On March 16th, 2016, Digital Homicide Studios formally sued Jim Sterling through the Arizona District court for over ten million dollars, accusing him of assault, libel, and slander. Without a hint of irony, they claimed in a now-deleted post that, quote, “We find the usage of the terms ‘Worst Game of 2014 Contender’ and ‘absolute failure’ to describe the entirety of our product, while not actually evaluating it in its entirety, unfair and unreasonable use of our copyright material.” Among the libel accusations, they defend their use of dummy publishers on Steam Greenlight by likening them to pseudonyms, referencing
Jim Sterling as a specific example. They also, oddly, cite Sterling’s usage of the phrase “the Romine brothers” as an attack. They make the bewildering claim that Sterling is attempting to liken them to mafiosos in an attempt to diminish their brand. On top of the 10 million dollars, they’re also demanding that apology segments be inserted into each of Jim’s videos, and on the front
of his YouTube page, for the next five years. Both sides began preparing for legal conflict. Sterling became much quieter about Digital Homicide Studios, while the Romine brothers attempted to drum up support for their cause by speaking with publications, a somewhat questionable legal tactic. Soon after, Sterling moved for the case to be dismissed, and the Court granted it. Though today, it seems that the Romine brothers have an opportunity to still take this case to court, it’s uncertain that they have the funds to do so. They’ve set up a GoFundMe page, a place where people can donate to a particular cause or person, but have only managed to raise $425 of what is (presumably) other people’s money for legal costs. As it stands, it seems that the dust is beginning to settle. As for the future of Digital Homicide Studios,
it’s difficult to say. Now that they have so many assets bought, it would be easy to continue churning out cheap games, but with their name tarnished by this out-of-control Streisand effect, it may not even be worth the effort. For now they seem to be in limbo, and there are many people who hope that, that is where they will stay.

98 thoughts on “Digital Homicide Studios — Down the Rabbit Hole

  1. 5 years of Sterling saying "im sorry, digital homicide" in addition to devoting the front page to an apology… all of that ONTOP of 10 MILLION DOLLARS?

    How did they ever expect this to work? How could 2 people be so out of touch with things NOT to do?

  2. to be fair… sterling is kind of a dick. wouldn’t have even thought of recommending they suing him though.

  3. Making shovelware to feed your family I can understand. That's one thing. But why on earth would you then get angry at people for calling it what it is – shovelware?

  4. you and sterling are just haters. these guys are avant garde developers and you're all too stupid to understand their sophisticated designs.

  5. I love how Ramine says that Sterling has a "responsibility to game devs" but he really doesn't. Ramine has a responsibility to create games worth playing but he doesn't even attempt and prefers to con people.

  6. I like how the guy says he's an adult, and then proceeds to prove he is incapable of conducting a civil discussion, and basically immediately resorts to ad hominem and building a Straw Man. Cudos on attaining "Adulthood" I have zero doubt your children are dirt bags as well.

  7. oh dear god when random braindead youtuber (with no real skills or he wouldnt be a youtuber) talking about game design. Dear fuckwit.. unless youre EA you buy fucking assets. And unity and UE are probably the game engine behind 99% of the non AAA games youve ever heard of

  8. This is some classic misunderstanding of the role reviewers play in a market. If the reviewers give a shit about the profitability of firms and are hand in glove with creators/producers then they will fail to tell consumers what is good and what's not. Reviewers are allies of consumers, not producers. If they fail to be that the whole system collapses into bullshit.

  9. “Romine seems to become more emboldened as the conversation continues. Passive aggressively and sometimes ad hominem attacking Sterling more and more”

    I bursted into laughter at that description of Robert Romine. It’s so perfect.

    It just goes to show how immature he is as an adult.

  10. Digital Homicide "Studios" are such perfect examples of the most unlikable know-nothing cunts we all run into in life. They're textbook examples of the Dunning-Kruger effect too, which is infuriating to most people who recognize it; ex. they're too stupid to even be capable of recognizing their own stupidity, they're too incompetent to even recognize their own incompetence, they're too uneducated to realize their own uneducated-ness, etc. I'm glad they did us all a favor and ruined themselves. Why can't Bethesda or the US President take a hint from the Ramine Brothers crime family and fuck as far off as possible lol

  11. I've never seen or thought this would exist, an indie developer worst than a triple AAA company, EA.

    Sure they put many microtransactions and bugs into their games, but at least they don't make absolute trash like Digital Homicide.

  12. Reviewers contribute a lot to the community.. Before everyone had internet you wouldn't know what games to buy or avoid unless you subscribed to gaming magazines or watched X-Play. Because of that game developers were able to sell shitty games to unsuspecting people pretty easily as long as the cover looked enticing.

  13. SidAlpha was trying to do the same thing by riding on the coattails of Jim Sterling's beef with Digital Homicide with another developer by calling them out for asset flipping. All they said "So what? Yea we make sub-par games but your not baiting us." and that was the end of the story.

  14. If you want to see 2 brothers doing a game completely right, just look at the amazing thing that is Dwarf Fortress.

  15. that scantily clad model with a football over her groin is just the girl version of that picture of keith moon where hes naked except for cleats and a soccer ball over his dick.

  16. Honestly, this was the last place I was expecting to see Vinny. I guess it just comes with the territory of terrible games.

  17. I actually knew the older brother over steam, I had bought one of their early access games and through asking for help I ended up steam friending the older of the two brothers of digital homicide. I talked to him a few times, he often commented that the younger brother was a hot head and the older one often expressed annoyance at this, but it was apparent he wasn't going to necessarily stop the behavior. Then once the jim sterling shitstorm started he and I pretty much stopped talking. He mentioned some legal stuff before that, and a few things about having his girlfriend at the time to help develop the games. He was actually a pretty nice guy but regardless he and his brothers game development and social etiquette are hard to forget and forgive.

  18. Jim Sterling criticizes Scott Cawthon. Dude makes successful franchise. Sterling criticizes Digital Homicide, they ruin themselves.

  19. use the word egregious with a sarcastic inflection, that's the purpose of the word. to say sarcastically how good something is.

  20. I’m late to this party, but from a student studying law, they have absolutely zero case. Most judges wouldn’t let this last more than a week in court. Jim could counter sue however. If anything digital homicide has been doing the very same thing they are accusing Jim of doing

  21. Real cash money of you to include a short description of the Crash of '83 for people who may not have heard of it.

  22. They're right though. Jim Sterling is a piece of ship and has nothing of value to add to the gaming community.

  23. "There's a significant subset of content creators on YouTube who enjoy making videos about terrible games…."

    >Shows "Mighty No 9"

    Top lel

  24. electricty cost of a computer is extremely low actually and if you accumulate trading cards the way many do, it actually ends up being worth it to some

  25. Freederik,
    This are teh Romaine Brothers.
    This is one of numerous slandouruz review and wel’l Sue you en coret.
    Freederik “fuckin” Nudeson Son!
    Bee warns
    Jaymzs and Rawburt

  26. I remember this drama when it happened, but I'd never heard of either of them at the time. I just remember the Gamenesia article. Lol

  27. James Stanton's favorite hobby is eating a strangers creampie out of his landwhale wife, so I wouldn't exactly consider him the apex of virtue.

  28. DIgital Homicide Studios: Whaaa DMCA becuase u sadz bad thingz on gahme. WHaaa 5 year old temper tantrum

    Surprised these children didn't say they would cut themselves if it wasn't rectified as well.

  29. I love how the Romine Bros tried to sue Valve, and Valve's response was basically "LOL, Go fuck yourself!"

  30. (15:22) Do note that the video game market crash only occured in USA (and perhaps in North America). Still a large region, but gaming continued in Europe and Japan as usual. – This is why it is and should be referred to as the (North) American or US video game market crash.

  31. So basically this is a scammer, right? I mean, their website looked more or less competent, but then suddenly turned into a borderline timecube shitshow when his beef with JimSterling became popular. I'm sure the dev simply hoped that more people will buy the games out of morbid curiosity, so he pretended to be a crazy internet weirdo – that was probably the reason for the empty lawsuit threats, "no such thing as bad publicity".

  32. Funny that I watched this after the Empress Theresa video. Once again, you have spineless hacks who freak out when criticized.

  33. Around 17:35 I hear the song from The Arcana… Is it the same song or just similar? or am I crazy.

  34. holy SHIT I've been looking for that game Vinesauce was playing since FOREVER!!! thank you for featuring it oh my god, you're a lifesaver.

  35. Jeez, the game commentary/reviewing community is there to showcase games and provide entertaining commentary to their audience and if you have a bad game they will call you out, some I watch try to give constructive criticism (not that I believe the ramine brothers would be too welcoming to that) but they do not owe you a good review, if your game sucks they will say so, and reacting the way these two did is incredibly childish and immature. To any future developers out there please take a lesson from this and learn early on how to take criticism and if you feel that it is unfair, learn how to deal with it in a calm and mature manner rather than repeatedly calling someone a moron

  36. Well, it's certainly not their fault. I mean, I'm sure they're born with braindamage and there's nothing you can do about it.

  37. I feel like the name 'Digital Suicide' would have been a more fitting name. I mean, that is an apt description, considering that is exactly what these games make me want to do..blow my fucking brains out..lol

  38. Ya know Jim has a whole bunch of evidence if he were to ever go to court, considering he's got video evidence of Digital Homicide's childish behavior. The review, the reviewer on the reviewer, Jim's rebuttle to their review on him, the review on the reviewer part 2, and then the Skype call video. If they were to go to court, Digital Homicide would have dug their own grave :/

  39. I respect the SANE brother for not getting directly involved with the lawsuit, on the grounds that he had a family and didn’t want to put them through any strain.

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