Modders Un-Region-Restricting Halo Online Undeterred By Microsoft DMCA

from the back-in-the-ussr dept

One of the most wonderful sights to see in the gaming community, particularly in the PC gaming community, is what a combination of a loyal fan-base and a strong modding community can produce. This is particularly so when the mods released are clear and active attempts at doing nothing more than making the original product even better. You see this all the time in PC gaming -- old games being yanked into the present, an increase the replayability of a classic, and even all-new sub-games created out of the original. All of this done through a modding community that loves the original work produced by game designers. Some gaming companies embrace the modding community, while some don't. Which way they go is typically decided by just how much control the company generally wants to exert over its product.

Guess which way Microsoft tends to go? Well, they tend to be the protectionist sort, but a recent story about the release of a new free-to-play Halo game, Halo Online, both puzzled me and amused me. The puzzled part came from Microsoft firmly insisting that the release would be available for play in Russia only, which...what the hell? Even the excuse of a long testing period in a Russia-only beta setting is, well, kind of strange.

Microsoft: Right now our focus is on learning as much as we can from the closed beta period in Russia. Theoretically, any expansion outside of Russia would have to go through region-specific changes to address player expectations.
Note that availability of the game to markets outside of Putin-ville is theoretical at this point. Except not really, of course, and that's where the amusement came from. Because if the alchemy ingredients for mods is a loyal fan-base, something begging for modification, and a capable modding community, everyone had to know that restricting this to Russia was going to be a barrier tested by the public before too long. It turns out that "before too long" meant in the past few weeks, because modders were already posting information on their work to free Halo from Russian imprisonment when Microsoft caught wind and fired off a DMCA notice to the host site.
Modders have been mucking about with the leaked Halo Online files to unlock features, with one team creating a game launcher called ‘ElDorito.’ But all that work came to screeching halt yesterday after Microsoft sent a DMCA takedown notice to Github, who was hosting the files. The site quickly complied. Microsoft sent the following notice to Github:

"We have received information that the domain listed above, which appears to be on servers under your control, is offering unlicensed copies of, or is engaged in other unauthorized activities relating to, copyrighted works published by Microsoft," the company wrote in a DMCA notice to Github.
Under other circumstances, that might be the end of the story, except that these are game modders we're talking about. When they commit, they're committed, and their work tends to mean that they're the sort of types who know how to route around these sorts of attacks. Now, to be clear, Microsoft certainly has the right to try to kill off these modders' work, but they're going to have to try a lot harder than a single DMCA if they want to really have this battle.
"In terms of DMCA/C&D mitigation, we have made redundant git backups on private and public git servers. This is to ensure we will always have one working copy. These are being synchronized so that data is always the same," [modder] Woovie explains. "Further DMCAs may happen potentially, it’s not really known at the moment. Our backups will always exist though and we will continue until we’re happy."

Team member Neoshadow42 says that, as a game developer himself, he sympathizes with Microsoft to a point about protecting ones copyrighted material:

"As someone involved in game development, I’m sympathetic with some developers when it comes to copyright issues. This is different though, in my opinion,” the dev explains. "The game was going to be free in the first place. The PC audience has been screaming for Halo 3 for years and years, and we saw the chance with this leak. The fact that we could, in theory, bring the game that everyone wants, without the added on stuff that would ruin the game, that’s something we’d be proud of."
Making the moral equation here slightly more complicated is that the things that "would ruin the game" don't only refer to the geo-restrictions, but to other game "features" as well, such as in-game microtransactions that almost uniformly piss off the PC gaming community. The modding team has aimed at removing those from the game as well, which, given that this is a free-to-play game, might break the business model Microsoft set up for the game. I expect Microsoft to continue battling for control of its product, as well as for the game's restrictions and microtransactions.

Ultimately, this is a damned shame, because there's a lesson to be learned from all of this and that lesson is not that the modding community is the enemy of the game designer. This is pure market testing at its finest. What this entire episode clearly outlines for Microsoft, were it willing to listen, is that potential customers want wider availability for the beta version of the game (as in, not restricted along national borders) and don't want annoying microtransactions in a Halo game. And if they want those things, fans will be willing to pay for them. Should Microsoft continue with its plan to not meet customer demand, those customers likely won't go unfulfilled, they'll simply find their pleasure in the form of a mod from a strong modding community that Microsoft wants to play whac-a-mole with, rather than listen to the wants of its customers.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Apr 2015 @ 4:48am

    If Microsoft wants to stop this from happening, they can guarantee it by removing the geolock.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 9 Apr 2015 @ 6:01am

      Re:

      ...but that would change their remit from "you'll get what we want to give you, when, where and how we want to offer it and nothing else" to "we'll offer you what you actually want in the way you want it". That would be a major shift in Microsoft's business model...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Apr 2015 @ 5:24am

    "region-specific changes to address player expectations"
    One thing they will have to do is seperate the russians from everyone else, as ironic as it is.
    Seriously, its impossible to play with them, they see videogames as something completly different and its rarely fun to be anywhere near them.
    Every dev knows this so its another reason why making the game testing russia-only makes no sense at all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Apr 2015 @ 5:49am

    Tinfoil Hat time

    Maybe they're working with the NSA, and this isn't just a game that's getting installed on all those Russian computers...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Cdaragorn (profile), 9 Apr 2015 @ 7:18am

    The part I find even funnier about this is that Git actually makes taking the files off the site even more ridiculous.

    The way Git works, every computer using it has a complete copy of the current version of the software, so every single devs machine is its own backup of the current state of the code. It doesn't matter if the main system crashes, blows up, or is ripped apart by a horde of zerglings. Nothing will be lost.

    Good luck playing wac-a-mole against that many moles :).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Apr 2015 @ 7:38am

      Re:

      What they have done is taken down one of the central distribution points for the software, which will slow its spread, at least for a little while.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Cdaragorn (profile), 9 Apr 2015 @ 7:51am

        Re: Re:

        That was my point. For Git, there is no such thing as a central point. Everyone is the center, and any one can be made into the "main" branch at any time with no effort at all.

        Sure, they have to tell everyone where they're going to put the new "main" branch, but that isn't going to slow anyone down.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 9 Apr 2015 @ 8:22am

          Re: Re: Re:

          There is the small matter of trust for people searching for software, where Github is more trusted that unknown, to the searcher, web site. Github therefore acts as one of the central points for forming communities, by being a known meeting point.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 9 Apr 2015 @ 8:47am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Sure every point is a center from a version control perspective but not from a distribution perspective.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Cdaragorn (profile), 9 Apr 2015 @ 8:55am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Actually, this is not true of any other version control.

            If you destroy the main branch (usually referred to as the trunk) in SVN, CVS, or any other version control software, everyone loses the ability to do anything with that repository ever again.

            The only way to fix it for those is to create an entirely new repository somewhere and manually upload all the current code as if it was the first commit. You lose all your history and any ability to go revert before that point. Git is the only one that treats the main branch the same is any other branch.

            For Git, all you do is mark another branch as main and you're done. You keep all the history and everything is as if nothing ever happened. Git is like bitorrent for version control, while every other one follows the old single point of download architecture.

            Distribution is easy. All you need to do is let everyone know where to go. The difficult part has only ever been getting the files setup in the first place.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              nasch (profile), 9 Apr 2015 @ 9:42am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Actually, this is not true of any other version control.

              Git is not the only distributed source control system.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 9 Apr 2015 @ 10:04am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                It's probably the most popular though and I think it was the first to introduce the concept.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • icon
                  John Fenderson (profile), 9 Apr 2015 @ 10:28am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  Not the first at all.

                  Closed-source DVCS systems such as Sun Workshop TeamWare were in use in the '90s, and I believe the first open-source one was BitKeeper. Git was written specifically because BitKeeper did not meet Linus' needs for kernel development.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                  • identicon
                    Anonymous Coward, 9 Apr 2015 @ 10:39am

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                    BitKeeper is proprietary. They were letting the Linux kernel Devs use it free of charge until someone started to look at how it worked. Bitkeeper had a hissy fit, and Linus wrote GIT to replace it.

                    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                    • icon
                      Cdaragorn (profile), 9 Apr 2015 @ 12:10pm

                      Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                      Thanks for sharing this. I didn't know any other vcs had tried to do this. I'm only familiar with most of the more popular ones, and the only other ones I've ever used are SVN, CVS and a dab at Mercurial.

                      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 9 Apr 2015 @ 7:54am

        Re: Re:

        It does appear that the first rule in these situations is that you shouldn't just try to block people who want to access your product. You should also try to do so in ways that are laughably ineffective and clearly counter-productive to anyone who knows half the basics of the technology involved.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Apr 2015 @ 8:04am

    As the saying goes,

    The internet sees restriction as damage and routes around it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Apr 2015 @ 8:29am

    Morals?

    Making the moral equation here slightly more complicated

    What are morals? Who decides what is moral?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 9 Apr 2015 @ 10:32am

      Re: Morals?

      I do. As do you and everyone else. Not everyone has the same set of morals, but everyone has to resolve the moral equations their own set presents.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ismail, 9 Apr 2015 @ 9:44am

    Microsoft needs another lesson

    Apparently the perceived Windows 8 failure isn't enough for Microsoft. They'll play this cat-and-mouse game until enough people shun the Windows Halo release and then Microsoft will have to issue a Mea Culpa vis a vis Windows 10: Open up an "Insider" program for the next release that anyone can join and give feedback on. One would think that Microsoft would have learned the lesson with Windows 8, but I guess not.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Apr 2015 @ 10:35am

    Anyone else see irony in a US company trying to use a US law to keep their product from being used in the US instead of Russia?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    BigKeithO, 9 Apr 2015 @ 12:27pm

    If Microsoft would actually release Halo to the PC they wouldn't have this problem. I'm sure everyone would rather play the actual Halo games than this free to play micro transaction crap.

    Microsoft is all about supporting PC gaming until PC gaming threatens their Xbox revenue. I could only imagine how upset Xbox owners would be once they saw how great Halo would look / run on a PC.

    There is speculation that the Master Chief Collection will get released along side Windows 10 / DirectX 12. Probably wishful thinking.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    nasch (profile), 9 Apr 2015 @ 3:01pm

    If Microsoft would actually release Halo to the PC they wouldn't have this problem.

    They did, but not Halo 2, or 3, or 3:ODST, or Reach, or 4.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Sheogorath (profile), 9 Apr 2015 @ 4:54pm

    Does this mean that Halo is out of the gulag? ;)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    no1dead, 10 Apr 2015 @ 7:56pm

    This information is misinforming everyone

    I'm part of the team and our sub-reddit /r/haloonline has an updated statement, this isn't in our teams interests.

    Neoshadow also isn't part of the team anymroe.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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