Big Mistake: Take Two Declares War on Mods

E3 2017 has just come to an end, and, like every year, the week was packed full of reveals and announcements that have the whole gaming space talking. Over the last few years, as the big company press conferences have turned into must-see livestreamed events, gaming’s biggest party has become a sort of yearly online tradition, with digital viewership in the hundreds of thousands, conversation both positive and negative taking over social platforms, and trailer after trailer hitting YouTube. Every developer and publisher is judged for what they bring to the table, the debate of who “won” or “lost” E3 leading to countless threads and articles every year. When it comes to scrutiny, to criticism, this is when it hits its peak.

Which is what makes it such an unusual time for Take Two to do something so dumb.

Towards the end of the conference, word broke that Take Two Interactive had sent a cease and desist letter to the developers of the popular GTA modding tool OpenIV. This tool has been the backbone of most mods for the series for a decade, including the most recent GTAV, which is only the fourth best-selling game of all time. The mod’s creator, GooD-NTS, is explicit in what he thinks this means for the space:

“We feared that this day would come… And now it’s here. The day when GTA modding was declared illegal.”

Ten years of work, put in by hundreds, maybe thousands, of people, and it’s over just like that. GooD-NTS doesn’t have the time or resources to fight a legal battle with a company that made $700k from the online component of a single game in just the last year. So, there will be no fight.

For what it’s worth, Take Two has said their reason for taking action is that the tool could be used by cheaters. Nevermind that it was intentionally designed not to work with the online component, or that there are already tons of cheaters in the game using something other than OpenIV. Also, it’s best not to think about the fact that the game’s own devleoper, Rockstar, has stated their support for mods in the past, and even gone so far as to feature mods on their own blog. No, don’t think about those things. They’ll only confuse you…

Optically, this could not have come at a worse time. It’s only been a couple weeks since Take Two CEO Strauss Zelnick told GameSpot that they were “under-monetising on a per-user basis.” There’s more gold in them there hills, in other words, even for a game that’s been sold at a full retail price of $60 on two generations of consoles, and on PC. And now, additions made to the game outside of their revenue-generation machine have been deemed unacceptable, a risk to their users and the overall experience. What a coincidence.

Now, there’s a lot to be said about the “games as a service” aspect of this discussion: the microtransactions, the online currency, the desire to suck up literally every possible penny generated in and around their platform, even at the expense of the game’s community. It’s no secret that I don’t like the nickle-and-dime direction AAA games all seem to be headed. For now, though, I want to talk about the creators of the mods themselves, people like GooD-NTS, whose ten-year journey has just come to such an unceremonious end.

Mods are one of the coolest things about gaming. Developers, totally unconnected to the creators of the original game, cut their teeth and make a name for themselves by transforming something, by delivering new and different experiences to the game’s community. These additions can extend the life of a game for years, or change the environment around it completely. Think about what Minecraft would be without the thousands of mods that have turned it into a worldwide phenomenon. Consider that MOBAs, arguably the center of the esports universe, first arrived on the scene in the form of Defense of the Ancients, a mod for Warcraft III. Entire genres have been innovated by mod developers, outside of the world of traditional game development, by single people or small teams just trying to make something cool. Their contributions to the culture are innumerable, and vital.

It feels like this world, the realm of modders, independent developers making things better, or different, is under attack. In addition to this issue, the weekend was also marred by the controversy surrounding Bethesda’s plans for a paid mod marketplace. The idea that a talented creator can make a name for themselves and break into the industry by making a free labor-of-love seems like it might be becoming a thing of the past, and that’s a real shame. Companies out there scrambling to wrap their fingers around every single potential revenue stream that might emerge from their content is understandable, in a way, but will curtail the independent creativity of their audience to the point that the community itself won’t be as healthy, won’t be as innovative or dynamic.

There’s a storm brewing. Content creators and modders are out there, making games and their communities stronger, not for huge sums of money, but just out of a passion for what they do. Developers striving for absolute control over their property, over everything around it, might think they’re doing what they have to do, but, in the end, threaten the overall health of their products, and the gaming space as a whole. Mods make games better. Streamers, content creators, they make games better. Working against them will hurt, in the long run.

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