from the bans-on-fans dept
There's something a bit strange going on over at Rockstar Games. The makers of the Grand Theft Auto series have reportedly banned several players in the past week, all of them associated with a particular GTA5 game mod called "FiveM." Rockstar's reasoning for the ban will sound familiar to many observers of gaming in the online space.
Last week, Rockstar banned a number of Grand Theft Auto V players associated with the "FiveM" mod, which offers players an online playspace separate from the game's official "Grand Theft Auto: Online" mode. Yesterday, a Rockstar representative told Ars that the bans were made because the mod is "an unauthorized alternate multiplayer service that contains code designed to facilitate piracy."This is the increasingly common refrain from companies handing out bans for online games for players that develop things like cracks, which are designed to allow those pirating the game to participate in the online portion of the game. Were you to not dig into the story any further, you'd likely assume that's exactly what was going on, given that Rockstar raised the piracy boogeyman in its statement.
Except FiveM doesn't appear to be anything remotely resembling a crack at all. Instead, FiveM appears to be a mod with its own launcher that allows GTA5 players to play online on dedicated servers, with a relaxed stance on player mods being used in the online experience. The whole point of FiveM is that Rockstar doesn't allow mods in its official online experience, so the modders created their own online play-space where mods would be allowed.
"FiveM is not a crack for GTA V nor does it actively try to facilitate piracy," said Qais Patankar, who goes by qaisjp online. While Patankar didn't contribute code to the FiveM mod directly, he says he was caught up in Rockstar's bans for promoting the mod through online channels like Reddit. Patankar argues that those behind FiveM shouldn't be penalized just because the mod fails to check if the underlying game is a legitimate copy. "Whilst the mod doesn't prevent people who have illegally obtained the game to play FiveM, it does not behave like a crack: [it doesn't] bypass the verification system so that you can play the game without paying," he said.And that changes how we see Rockstar's statement. Instead of banning players for facilitating piracy in the common way we typically see it, this sure does look like Rockstar banning modders for creating an online GTA experience that might in some way compete with its own. That this separate online space was developed specifically for players that want to play the game online differently than Rockstar allows seems to suggest that even the worry over competition is theoretical at best, since these are players using mods that Rockstar doesn't want used.
While Rockstar's stated policy does ban "online" mods (as opposed to mods to the single-player game), Patankar argues that FiveM shouldn't be targeted by a policy designed to prevent cheating in a centralized playspace. "There's different ways you can 'spin' this," he said. "FiveM is a mod that works online, but it doesn't modify anything in the [core] online experience. It does mod online code, and it does utilize online things, but it does not affect [GTA:O]."
But the strangest part of the story is that one of the developers of the mod reportedly is suggesting that Rockstar sent private investigators to his home, apparently just to scare him.
So I just got a pair of PIs at my door claiming to be sent by Take Two, handing me a phone with a person somewhere in the UK or US or whatever to 'discuss how to cease my activities with regard to Grand Theft Auto', that 'they know what happened before with Activision and want to not get the lawyers involved at this time', however they 'have tested their legal standing already and are quite certain of their point' and 'aren't willing to accept any solution other than ceasing my activiites'. Oh, they also 'couldn't disclose any conversations they're having with other modification developers', didn't want to talk about general modification policy as 'it was just about my case' and admitted they 'looked through my source code'.Is a little mod that creates a unique GTA: Online experience really so terrifying that Rockstar felt the need to send the Stasi knocking on the modder's door? How about just offer another online experience that allows mods? Why is that the more difficult route to go, compared with hiring PIs and raising the piracy boogeyman?