The hits just keep on coming apparently.
Today, the VN group Marble Syrup may have admitted to stealing artwork for one of its free-to-play titles on Newgrounds. This is a story I got wind of yesterday in the aftermath of the Akisekai controversy and, legally, the exact issue with this one can be a little muddy. So, let’s talk backstory first then go into exactly why this may be standing issue for Marble Syrup and their supporters. So, who are they? Marble Syrup is a quirky little group of writers and programmers who have set up a pretty interesting organization for developing visual novels. So far, they’ve only released two erotic visual novel on Newgrounds (My Housemate is a Maid and Crusoe Had It Easy) and apparently they are so good that I’ve been told to check them out. I’ll get to that momentarily.
Anyway, here’s how the system work. Marble Syrup releases the games, for free, onto Newgrounds or for direct download. If you want ‘Premium’ content, different sexual scenarios or ‘Hi-Definition’ visuals, then you have to be a subscriber to the Patreon page. That has been the model and, honestly, it is one I prefer for crowd-funding projects like this. So even though I never touched their work, I could at least give them a little respect for going about crowd-funding in a responsible way: which earned them over $7000 a month on Patreon.
Then yesterday happened.
A Reddit user named truemechasonic claimed that Marble Syrup stole several backgrounds and in-game artwork from a 2005 Japanese erotic game titled Enmusubi. While the games themselves are free, the fact that their development capital and any potential profit comes from subscribers who pay for extra content made it into a pretty big deal immediately. After some discussion on Reddit one of the members of the Marble Syrup team, called ‘Taxcup’, responded to the allegations;
Wow, I’ve gotta say I’m a little jealous of OP of how many upvotes he’s got, considering how little attention our games had received on here until just now. All the more ironic as I recently complained about the attention given to “Beach Bounce” etc. just because they’re really bad games. As soon as we “broke bad”, we got the attention I craved for..!
None of the art is stolen, but most of it isn’t 100% original. I et al haven’t exactly let this fact on (mea culpa) but we haven’t denied it either. I guess I don’t mind us being called out like this but you might not want to ask people to spread the word before you have your facts straight.
Crusoe Had It Easy uses 100% paid for art by Sai Gakai/Kimagure After/T.O.P. Nothing too exciting about this, really.
“My Housemate is a Maid” uses art from a 10 year old Japanese game, together with backgrounds by Sai Gakai and another artist whose name I cannot recall at the moment. We have a Japanese-speaking member on the team who sought out a couple of doujin circles who hadn’t released a game in a long time. He struck a deal with somebody from this group and (I think) a small amount of money changed hands for the rights to reuse the low-resolution graphics from this one game. From what I understand, he tried getting hold of the HD originals but apparently they stopped responding. If we’re moving forth with a sequel to this game, we will commission 100% original art (because since the release of “My Housemate is a Maid”, we’ve started promising HD versions of our games to our backers). Personally I don’t want to continue with it because I’m not at all happy with how the script turned out.
The WIP art from the Zombie game was commissioned by a Thai artist (idk his name).
After reading that statement yesterday, I have to admit I wasn’t convinced so I reached out to Marble Syrup with a few questions. I also played one of their games, Crusoe Had It Easy, and looked into the art group they said they bought their artistic assets from. From what I’ve seen of the Crusoe game’s style and the artwork sold by Kimagure After and T.O.P, and it’s clear Crusoe’s artistic assets are all bought. So it stood to reason that other assets would be bought as well, and I questioned Marble Syrup along those lines. In the name of full disclosure a representative of Marble Syrup’s, BigB, response was to ask if I could post a statement for them on Reddit. After I admitted I didn’t have an account, truemetalsonic claims to have received the following message from BigB:
Hi, BigB here, the top brass, publisher, producer… the guy responsible for this mess. Apologies for not speaking out sooner. I should have, but when I was alerted of the thread, Taxcup had already jumped to the rescue and … well, I thought for a minute we might escape out of this scotsfree, but people weren’t happy with his explanations. FWIW, Taxcup only parroted what I’ve previously told him. The intention was never to throw him to the hyenas, though!
Most of the artwork for “My Housemate is a Maid” is indeed lifted without any permission whatsoever. To clarify that statement – all the graphics that came from Enmusubi were lifted, but we used some other additional backgrounds which have either been paid for or were free to use.
There you have it. This is really about as far as you need to read.
If you’re still reading, then… well. The initial idea was indeed to pay High-collar Kissa a small sum for the rights to redo their game into a flash game. It seemed a pretty ingenious idea to me. I had asked a few Japanese artists what they charged for original art and it just seemed through the roof to me – we can afford this no problem now, with over $7K pledged, but starting out, I had no idea whether we’d actually end up making back any of the money I was about spend.
However… weeks passed without a reply from the e-mail listed on Haikara Kissa’s site and as this silence stretched out, a dark and devilish plan began to form in my mind. If they’re disbanded, what’s the harm? The game is 10 years old. That’s practically a lifetime in Internet time. Nobody will ever find out. Even if somebody did, would the original makers even care? It’s not like it would to hurt their bottom line – who knows if they’re even still selling the game at all. It seemed like the perfect crime. Besides, I had jumped the gun and already forwarded the assets to Taxcup, who’d begun working on a script.
Had I known our Patreon would practically explode and receive $7K in pledges in just two-three months, I definitely wouldn’t have taken such an unnecessary, shortsighted and stupid risk. But the specific incarnation of me presiding at that precise point in time disn’t think further than “what the heck.” This whole thing was at this stage just an experiment and while I’m not going to pretend we weren’t trying to raise money, I honestly didn’t really expect we’d make much off of it in the first place, which to be perfectly clear, we actually haven’t (see further down).
I’ve regretted this whole thing ever since our Patreon turned sustainable. Not because I feel guilty, but because I’ve been worried it would come back to bite us in the ass, like it now righteously has.
It was entirely unethical and indefensible, and I’m a bit worried about what it says of my lack of morals. I wouldn’t have come out like this in a million years either, if we hadn’t been called out. So, yes, it turns out I’m apparently kind of a shitty person who only fesses up after being painted into a corner. For the record though, I haven’t ever screwed over anybody I’ve actually worked with. I’ve always made sure part of the money was paid up front to those artists we’ve been working directly with. Which I guess is a small silver lining to the shitcake.
I want to add one small caveat and that is that we hadn’t received a single pledge until after we released “My Housemate is a Maid”, and even after the release, we had only ~$90 in pledges until the release of “Crusoe Had It Easy”, when the whole thing just exploded overnight. There was no backer-exclusive content in Housemate, so we haven’t actually “sold” any of these illegally procured contents. This doesn’t absolve any of the blame, nope, but I guess it’s at least not quite as bad as it could have been. We haven’t received $7K in pledges just on the back of some stolen art.
I’ve reached out to the original artist to try and set things right.
At the moment, the Marble Syrup Patreon page is still active (currently still being funded at over $7000) and behind the paywall was a similar statement may have been made by Marble Syrup. A screencap was made of it and I am working to confirm its accuracy now. You can also read the entire Reddit thread here. VNs Now will report on any updates to this story as they occur.
UPDATE: After a conversation with BigB, I can confirm that the admission is accurate.
This has been JP3 reporting for VNN.