When Firewatch launched in February, it received a great deal of praise, particularly for its beautiful graphics. Campo Santo’s Olly Moss and Jane Ng did a great job of creating a visual style that worked in both flat illustrations and the game itself — but now their work is being used for another purpose, without the studio’s consent.
Yesterday afternoon, word started circulating around Twitter than Firewatch art had been stolen for use in a Ford advertisement. A dealership based in Massachusetts was apparently using the game’s key art in an email distributed to prospective customers.
The dealership quickly made claims that its design team had found the art on an online repository of free images, where no credit was given to the original source. However, this was quickly disputed by Campo Santo co-founder Sean Vanaman, who claimed to have found other stolen artwork in the mailer that couldn’t have come from the same place.
Shortly after this development, Ford’s head office got involved to state plainly that the company wasn’t involved in this situation, and any blame should fall on the local dealership. “Our dealers are independent businesses,” rep Sara Tatchio said in communication with Gamasutra.
The sequence of events now seems fairly clear: a designer at a small auto dealer finds art that purports to be free, and is either unfamiliar with its source or willing to believe that the marketing campaign is small enough to dodge any potential repercussions. Meanwhile, Ford gets egg on its face simply from being linked to the situation.
Stolen artwork is not uncommon in the video game industry, whether its pre-meditated or accidental. However, this isn’t a case of one major studio pinching content from another — we’re seeing a minnow preyed upon because it’s not as likely to put up a fight.
Despite the massive success of Firewatch, only a handful of developers work at Campo Santo — so there’s no legal team constantly trawling the internet for the stolen content that prompted this situation. The best that the studio can do in response is to publicize the error, and hope that other unscrupulous entities think better of repeating the same mistake.
Public pressure may have cased the Ford dealership to retract their advertisement, but you can be sure that it won’t be too long before another entity is found using artwork that they have no right to.
Firewatch is available now for PC and PlayStation 4.