Decade-Old GTA4 Modding Tool Suddenly Taken Down After Take-Two Interactive's Threat

from the better-never-than-late dept

Video game makers and publishers have wildly different stances on modding communities, as is well known. Some embrace the communities and see them correctly as a free boon to the popularity of their games, while others would rather maintain strict control of the gaming experience by resorting to legal muscle with modders. But there is something strange in the Grand Theft Auto franchise, with Rockstar Games and Take-Two Interactive often taking confusing positions on what communities can do with their games. What would seem undeniable is that the modding community has extended the lifespan of finely-aged games, such as Grand Theft Auto IV, by giving gamers new ways to play them.

And, yet, Take-Two appears to have recently sent a threat letter to a wildly popular tool to mod GTA4, angering of a large swath of its own fans. OpenIV is the name of the tool and it had a wide array of uses, including making videos of gameplay from angles impossible in Rockstar’s editor, to adding new vehicles to the game and delving into the game code to find secret areas. Some content created using the tool has even been featured on Rockstar’s website, with the company going to lengths to praise the modding community’s creations. Earlier this month, however, the creators of OpenIV got a cease and desist letter from Take-Two.

According to a post on the official OpenIV website, the alleged cease and desist came on June 5th 2017. The supposed problem, OpenIV’s creators say, is that the program allows “third parties to defeat security features of its software and modify that software in violation Take-Two’s rights.” After discussing their options, the team behind the tool says they decided it was not worth their time to fight back.

“Yes, we can go to court and yet again prove that modding is fair use and our actions are legal,” creator GooD-NTS wrote. “Yes, we could. But we decided not to. Going to court will take at least few months of our time and huge amount of efforts, and, at best, we’ll get absolutely nothing. Spending time just to restore status quo is really unproductive, and all the money in the world can’t compensate the loss of time. So, we decided to agree with their claims and we’re stopping distribution of OpenIV.”

The reaction from the gaming community was as swift as it was one-sided in its near universal condemnation of the takedown. Reactions ranged from confusion about why this action was taken after nearly ten years of OpenIV being in use and distribution to promises to never buy a Take-Two game again. Here is a sample of the reaction from Kotaku’s post.

Now, we could have a perfectly reasonable discussion about why modding of this kind ought to be considered Fair Use. Or we could discuss how petulant legal threats of this kind are a detriment to creation and the operations of running a creative endeavor. That, after all, is something we know quite a bit about.

But my chief question is much more basic: How in the world did Take-Two think that this was a good business decision? Given the extreme backlash, whatever harm was caused to gamers themselves by the modding tool must be minimal at worst. Given how long Take-Two put up with this tool existing without threatening it for so long seems to indicate that any harm to the company was minimal at worst. Meanwhile, it’s quite clear that this is a tool that fans of GTA4 very much want to be able to use and its use only happens if they have a copy of the game. It makes the game more useful and attractive, in other words, which means more sold copies. What in the world was the company trying to accomplish here, other than merely resorting to protectionism?

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Companies: rockstar games, take-two

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Comments on “Decade-Old GTA4 Modding Tool Suddenly Taken Down After Take-Two Interactive's Threat”

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36 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

"An alternative choice? Can't have that now can we?"

What in the world was the company trying to accomplish here, other than merely resorting to protectionism?

It’s possible that it’s another stupid, short-sighted case of ‘No-one but us is allowed to do anything with our stuff’, but Jim Sterling did a video on the issue and some of the comments propose a different, perhaps even worse possibility:

Preemptively getting rid of the competition.

Bethesda is apparently getting back into the ‘paid mods’ scene, and this has resulted in some speculation that Take Two among other publishers might follow suit, in which case a source of high quality free mods could be a problem with their future profits. Why pay for mods when you’ve got people already putting forth quality ones completely for free after all, unless the paid ones are even more impressive and worth the cost?

At the moment it’s pure speculation either way, but given the alternative is gross stupidity and/or an indication of lawyers let off the leash it doesn’t seem there are any ‘good’ possible explanations for their action here.

Ryunosuke (profile) says:

Re: "An alternative choice? Can't have that now can we?"

this year’s E3 seems to be even LESS about the players, and games, and more about Board directors and bottom lines.

  • Bethesda – Lets get back to Paid mods and see how well that works THIS time!
  • Take 2 – Hey look at what Bethesda is doing, we should do that too!
  • Hasbro/WotC – Oh hi guys, we are going to shut down Magic Duels in the middle of a set so we can work on our next platform, sucks to be you guys, good luck! Link (Incidently, Magic Duels seen a mass exodus even WORSE than SWG/Smedly fuckup)
Anonymous Coward says:

Why ask us? Email Take 2. I come here for firm opinions and rock-solid legal advice, not questions.

This is another where They just don’t take your advice. All I can figure is that They know better than you, having run a fairly sizeable production for some years, instead of just re-writing. Go figure. It’s a funny world. Why you aren’t celebrated — no, made Philosopher-King, is beyond me.

I’m being sarcastic, as I’m sure you can’t tell.

Killercool (profile) says:

Re: Why ask us? Email Take 2. I come here for firm opinions and rock-solid legal advice, not questions.

You are really, truly rock-simple, aren’t you?

Responses, if ever given, will take a long time, while some stories deserve attention immediately.

It’s almost like it is actually you, and not the guys at techdirt, who doesn’t understand how reporting works.

As for rock-solid legal advice, you’re a fool for seeking it from anyone you aren’t paying to be your lawyer.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Why ask us? Email Take 2. I come here for firm opinions and rock-solid legal advice, not questions.

“As for rock-solid legal advice, you’re a fool for seeking it from anyone you aren’t paying to be your lawyer.”

Really I would say anyone who believes in the existence of “rock-solid legal advice” is a fool these days. How many times have we seen the law clearly say one thing only to have the courts say “Nope, that is not what it says at all, it really says the exact opposite of what you think it says”

Max says:

Re: Re: Re: Why ask us? Email Take 2. I come here for firm opinions and rock-solid legal advice, not questions.

Exactly. The only “rock solid legal advice” ever is “settle out of court, now” because once you’re in court there’s absolutely nothing that can predict which way it will rule (and that most definitely includes the law itself).

Anonmylous says:

Much simpler reasoning

You’re overthinking things.
GTA 4 – 2008
GTA 5 – 2013
GTA 6 – 2018?

“How can we get them to buy the latest and greatest with Day One DLC, built-in microtransactions that are required to complete the game, and a brand new horrible DRM scheme that’ll brick their computers and consoles, if they can just choose to keep playing the old games? Kill the moth-err, modders!”

PaulT (profile) says:

“What would seem undeniable is that the modding community has extended the lifespan of finely-aged games, such as Grand Theft Auto IV, by giving gamers new ways to play them.”

Well, you could certainly argue that this is the problem – by giving players ways to play GTA4 indefinitely, that may mean they’re less likely to be playing GTA5 (and paying for micro transactions), less likely to buy RDR2 when that’s released, and so on.

I’m going to guess that with this company, its history and the age of the mod, this is more likely to be “lawyers decided to shoot anything that breathes without thought of PR repercussions” than “Rockstar suddenly decides it needs control over everything players do”.

But, for general situations, its not hard to see why an industry that has become dependant on reselling sequels and similar games year after year would want to stop extending the lifespan of last year’s model, let alone last decade’s.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

In this case, this sentence from the article should give a small clue I think:

“Some content created using the tool has even been featured on Rockstar’s website, with the company going to lengths to praise the modding community’s creations.”

So, either a) different parts of the business are not communicating with each other (be that devs vs legal teams, Rockstar vs Take Two or whatever), or b) the lawyers are taking whatever steps they think are necessary without input from their clients, and thus don’t consider the PR and other negatives of taking legal action.

Ultimately, the problem is that different parts of business will have different mindsets. The lawyers either don’t understand the benefits of allowing people to operate in technically grey areas of the law (as mods always will), or don’t care as long as they have the billable hours to show they’re trying to “protect” the brand.

One of the reasons I’m sure I could never have been a developer for a major game studio is that between lawyers attacking fans and DRM destroying the quality of the end product, I’d probably have gone insane looking at my work being devalued by people who don’t understand people who actually plays the damn things.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Or, they could simply be double-dipping. Like anime companies that sue fans who provide subtitles over their animation… and then reuse the exact same subtitles, down to every space and usage of -chan, -san and -tan, in their official release.

It’s not as though there’s anything to discourage that sort of two-faced, douchey behavior. (Aside from PR, but some companies just flat out don’t seem to care about that.)

kallethen says:

It's because of GTO cheating

The Kotaku article I read actually had gotten a response from Rockstar with a brief explanation why. It comes down to the tool being used to create malicious mods that were used to mess with the GTA Online.

I’ll admit it’s a valid concern, but I think they handled it poorly.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: It's because of GTO cheating

That makes some sense, and at least it’s a somewhat pro-community stance compared with the musings above. But, yeah, it was handled poorly. They could have done anything from working with the mod community to remove the ability to make malicious mods, to blocking modded versions from working with the main online component (while leaving the tool available to bespoke servers and/or offline modes), to banning accounts that use mods in a malicious manner.

Instead, they use the shotgun approach, which never ends well. No doubt, this project will now fork either from disgruntled modders wanting to create legit mods or cheaters wanting to carry on cheating, and they’ll have to do the above anyway.

Ukdah says:

Re: It's because of GTO cheating

It comes down to the tool being used to create malicious mods that were used to mess with the GTA Online.

If they really detected that, then they should have also have been able to block it. I don’t really buy "we know it’s happening a lot because we detect it all the time, and yet we can’t block it." That sounds kind of phony to me.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: It's because of GTO cheating

Which clashes rather strongly with what I’ve read, which was that the tool was designed to only work for the offline version of the game, even going so far as to crash the game if someone tried to use it on the online half.

Now I can see someone else taking the tool, cracking it so that it did work online and then using that to cheat, but in that case TT’s action would be another case of attacking the toolmaker, rather than the one abusing it, likely simply because it was easier, which… isn’t really any better.

Anonymous Coward says:

Gta V Online Hacks

This tool is being used to hack the live servers of GTA5 Online. If the modders were running this either on their own servers, or at least in a private GTA5 session, there would be no problem. Instead, it is a significant hack abused in public games to gain advatage over regular plaers. Many GTA5 players rejoice.

McGyver (profile) says:

Typical greedy-blind cluelessness

The GTA series was once one of my favorite games because of the freedom and openness of the game.
Over time they narrowed your freedom in the game, especially for console users and made the game more blatantly monetized.
The games may have gotten bigger and better looking, but like every company that “knows better than you” they ignored the long time fan base and did everything they could to alienate long time customers.
Given the way they trolled the fans with that stupid viral mural pseudo-mystery in the last game, I hope with this move, the fans finally stop bitching and stop buying.
Pushing back and negative press which effects their bottom line is the only way to show them they don’t know better then you.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m surprised no one yet mentioned that the OpenIV modding tool also works on GTA5 / GTA V, the latest GTA iteration that’s still pumping out microtransactions. The latest project was adding Liberty City to GTA5 using OpenIV, nearing completion, and it’s rumoured that Take-Two may plan on adding it themselves as yet another paid DLC to GTA5.

Anonymous Coward says:

The answer is simple: Shark Cards. Just two words.
Thanks to GTA virtual money Take Two basically made like bandits.

Now, Take Two might bring back modding, probably in the form of paid mods.
On the “bright” (well somewhat less dark) side that might at least mean “officially supported” modding tools from Rockstar, something they’ve never provided.

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