Well, that was quick. We had just been discussing the encouraging news that Rockstar had scooped up Cfx.re, a community dedicated to roleplaying within GTA and Red Dead Redemption games, as well as several mods made within that community. The only thing that made this newsworthy at all is that Rockstar has had an awful reputation when it comes to modding communities for its games. In that post, I highlighted the welcome change of the embrace of these mods and wondered aloud if this meant there had been a culture shift at Rockstar towards embracing more of these communities.
Commenters warned me that that was unlikely to be true. Well, it appears you win, commenters, because just days later Rockstar is disappearing another very cool and useful looking mod that serves only to make its game more attractive, especially this far into the sales cycle.
In case you thought Rockstar Games’ acquisition of Grand Theft Auto V creator group Cfx.re meant a brave new era for open modding in the hit open-world game, don’t worry, publisher Take-Two is still going after fan projects it doesn’t like. Case in point is its recent sacking of a mod called Sentient Streets, which used AI technology to generate NPC conversation dialogue on the fly. Take-Two had the mod scoured from both YouTube and NexusMods, leaving its creator confused and discouraged.
The Sentient Streets mod, which was previously covered by a number of sites like IGN and Eurogamer, had a story that revolved around an AI-worshiping death cult and NPCs whose dialogue was randomly generated by a tool called the Inworld Character Engine. YouTube user Bloc, who created the GTA V mod, said a video showing it off had over 100,000 views before it was removed, while the mod itself had apparently been downloaded over 3,000 times before NexusMods, where it was hosted, took it down.
As the post goes on to note, part of the issue here might be the use of a third-party platform called Inworld Character Engine, which populates the dialogue randomly generated by the mod with AI-generated dialogue built off of samples and audio the makers of that engine paid for. There is a chance that part of the concern is over whether Rockstar could find itself in some legal quagmire as a result of not policing this mod into oblivion.
But I doubt it. Rockstar’s reputation towards mods generally makes the case for Occam’s Razor. The least complicated explanation for this is that Rockstar is just Rockstar-ing. Which ultimately just sucks for Rockstar’s modding communities, most of which are made up of folks who are huge fans of the company’s games.
“Knowing that large corporations can issue strikes based on arbitrary reasons, which can cause your work to go in vain in moments, is also discouraging to say the least,” Bloc wrote in their post.
It’s important coming into this story to know and note that Rockstar, the publisher behind hit franchises like Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption, has waged a very public war on modding communities for its games for years now. Despite just how useful these modding communities tend to be in elongating the sales cycle for video games, Rockstar has gone after the tools for making mods for its games, has banned players for using mods even when those mods don’t change online gameplay, has DMCA blitzed the mods themselves, and so on. It’s a very purposeful series of actions clearly based on company policy.
Company policy that is perhaps undergoing some level of change. As Rockstar prepares for the release of GTA 6, the company also scooped up a community of dedicated fans of GTA and Red Dead Redemption 2, a community which has formed around roleplaying within those games and using all kinds of mods.
The team behind the biggest Grand Theft Auto V and Red Dead Redemption 2 role-playing communities, Cfx.re, is officially becoming part of Rockstar Games. The new partnership comes ahead of the possible launch of GTA VI in 2024, and will lead to an updated policy that officially allows the addition of mods created in the FiveM and RedM communities to the hit open-world games.
“Over the past few years, we’ve watched with excitement as Rockstar’s creative community have found new ways to expand the possibilities of Grand Theft Auto V and Red Dead Redemption 2, particularly through the creation of dedicated roleplay servers,” Rockstar wrote in an August 11 blog post on its website. “As a way to further support those efforts, we recently expanded our policy on mods to officially include those made by the roleplay creative community.”
Despite Rockstar’s reputation on communities like this, this is really cool in a couple of different ways. The minor reversal or allowance on mods will get the headline, and it’s certainly deserving of attention. For a company like Rockstar to relinquish some small amount of control in this manner when it has been so staunchly against mods isn’t insignificant.
And perhaps it goes hand in hand with the other cool thing about all of this: Rockstar embracing a fan community that is doing new and interesting things with its titles.
In addition to allowing users to make all sorts of mods for GTA V and Red Dead Redemption 2, the Cfx.re team’s FiveM and RedM clients are also the nexus for massive role-playing communities around the games who use dedicated servers to make elaborate worlds where individual players take on various roles from criminal and civilian to create a more authentic online open world experience.
“This is a huge step forward in the growth of our community, and an opportunity for us to work with Rockstar Games to advance the FiveM platform and the creative community surrounding it,” Cfx.re wrote in a statement. “While our day-to-day operations won’t have any noticeable changes, with Rockstar’s support, we are going to continue to improve our platform and we are truly excited for what this means for our users, community, and creators!”
This doesn’t mean that Rockstar has definitely done a complete one-eighty when it comes to mods and these fan communities, but it’s a start at the very least. And we should appreciate that shifting this kind of company policy in a company as large as Rockstar is a bit like turning the Titanic.
In that context, Rockstar should be encouraged to do more of this and really open things up, allowing its greatest fans to make its properties more valuable through their fandom.
Reddit CEO’s insistence that the protests from Reddit would simply “pass” certainly hasn’t come to pass just yet. While increasing pressure from the company against protest mods has resulted in some backing down, many are continuing to engage in malicious compliance, making it clear they’re still protesting.
Three former moderators of r/malefashionadvice tell The Verge that they were removed from the subreddit on Thursday. “We more or less have been expecting the removal for the past few days,” one former mod, who asked to go by “Walker,” says in an email to The Verge. Now, the community’s modlist currently has just one moderator: ModCodeofConduct.
ModCodeofConduct is the account used by Reddit employees to share information for mods. In other words, Reddit removed the volunteer moderators and inserted its own employees to run the subreddit. Remember when Steve Huffman called volunteer moderators the “landed gentry?” This is kind of like if the king killed the “landed gentry” and gave their lands to his own kids.
And that wasn’t the only subreddit. According to Jay Peters at The Verge:
Reddit officials (and their Iraqi Ministry of Information-style spokesperson) are still trying to claim this has nothing at all to do with silencing protests.
“We are, and have been, enforcing the moderator Code of Conduct. This is not new because of the protests,” a Reddit spokesperson told Engadget. Under its guidelines, Reddit considers a public community that has indefinitely been made private to be “abandoned,” and it seeks “new mods who want to reinvigorate it.” The spokesperson added that “we have a practice of reactivating private, high-subscriber communities that are being ‘camped’ on.”
Look. No one who wasn’t born yesterday believes any of that. These subreddits haven’t been “abandoned.” They’re protesting. Often after having their subscribers take a vote on how best to handle Reddit’s terrible decisions. So, yes, this is new and yes this is because of the protests, and the least that Reddit could do would be to admit reality. Denying it is a bad look.
So, we’ve all had a… time on Reddit lately. And I’m here to recognize it, acknowledge that our relationship has been tested, and begin the “now what?” conversation.
Moderators are a vital part of Reddit. You are leaders and stewards of your communities. You are also not a monolith; mods have a diverse set of needs to support the purpose of each community you foster. Our role is facilitation; to enable all of you with a platform you can rely on, and with the tools and resources you need to cultivate thriving communities. Tens of thousands of mods engage daily on Reddit and, in order to enable all of you, we need consistent, inclusive, and direct connection with you. Here are some ways to connect with us.
I’d say that… it did not go over all that well. Here’s just one response, and there were many more like this:
Your CEO called us “landed gentry” and accused us of failing to care about the communities that we built, which Reddit profits off of without paying us for our work; and then when a bunch of mods directly polled users for what they would like to do and then followed through with the results the moderators were forcibly removed from the communities because the CEO didn’t like it.
So, I wouldn’t say the relationship was tested, I would say it was tenuous to begin with and Spez shat on whatever goodwill and benefit of the doubt that we tried to offer. If the CEO of the company wasn’t interested in hearing what we have to say, I have zero confidence that anybody else cares about our “needs.” Or, if you do care, that you are in a position to do anything. We made our “needs” pretty damn clear over the past two months. Why weren’t you listening then? We’ve made our needs clear for the last decade and had to turn to third-party apps and tools to make up for the deficiencies that you’ve been promising us for years. Why didn’t you make any changes then?
What I need is a functional app that doesn’t randomly freeze up, doesn’t spam me with more ads than cable TV and has basic functions.
And… the protests are continuing. In what maybe Reddit brass thought was a good idea, they reopened r/place. r/place is, normally, a giant collaborative art project on Reddit, in which users can place one pixel on a giant canvas every five minutes, and lasts for a few days before closing. It was used twice before, both times on April Fools Day (in 2017 and again in 2022). So it was a bit weird for Reddit to relaunch it randomly in July, but it seemed to be an attempt at “hey, we’re all cool here, nothing’s gone wrong.” In other words, it was desperation.
Redditors made use of the canvas to, well, express their displeasure with Huffman (who goes by /spez on the site). People spent their pixels wisely creating many, many “Fuck Spez” messages on the canvas:
You can watch a timelapse video of how it changes over time. At about 45 seconds in, the canvas is expanded, and almost immediately a ton of new “fuck spez” messages show up:
I don’t think attempting to paper over the failings of the company leadership with distractions like this is going to work all that well.
Reddit’s ongoing war with its volunteer moderators (and users) has moved up a notch. As you’ll recall, last week, the ever tone-deaf CEO Steve Huffman insisted that the protests were just a blip, would be over by last Wednesday, and were having no real impact on the site anyway.
That hasn’t gone quite to plan.
The protests got extended, and as Huffman and Reddit made noises about removing mods of protesting subreddits, things got weird over the weekend, with mods holding votes on a variety of subs that got overwhelming support to reopen with only pictures of comedian John Oliver. And some subreddits took it even farther, requiring they be sexy pictures of John Oliver.
And, from sexy pictures of John Oliver, it didn’t take long for some subreddits to switch to being open, but for NSFW (Not Safe for Work) content: i.e., porn. This included many popular subreddits that wouldn’t normally be home to such content, such as r/interestingasfuck, r/TIHI (Thanks I Hate It), r/formula1, r/videos and even r/iOS?
Of course, this impacts Reddit in multiple ways that probably aren’t great for Reddit, or Huffman’s desire to take the company public and help investors cash out. First, it effectively makes those subreddits private, as you can’t view NSFW subs unless you’re logged in and have confirmed that you’re over 18. So, that creates some friction. But, an even bigger deal is that Reddit does not post ads on NSFW subs:
Ads for adult-oriented products and services on Reddit are no longer permissible, and Not Safe For Work (typically referred to as NSFW) subreddits will no longer be eligible for ads or targeting.
As for the claims by Huffman that the protests were not having any real impact, well… the data suggests otherwise. No, it didn’t completely crash traffic to Reddit, but an analysis by Engadget, using SimilarWeb data, showed traffic definitely did drop during the protest. While the decline in unique visitors may not seem that much at 6.6%, the more important point was that the time spent on the platform dropped even more precipitously:
The day before the protest began, an average session on the website was about eight minutes and 31 seconds long. A day later, that metric fell to seven minutes and 17 seconds, or the lowest that stat has been in the past three years.
Any such drop does not look good for investors who would be looking at buying into the company’s “vision” if they’re going to buy equity on the open market.
I’m also kind of wondering if one of the reasons for the massive drop in time spent has to do with the well known fact that the answers to Google searches are often found… on Reddit. And if people are searching for information that takes them to a Reddit thread, in the past, they’d spend some time reading through the threads. But if they do a search, and then click through to find a sub closed or overwhelmed by John Oliver or porn, they might not stick around. And, certainly, some people have noticed that the Reddit protests are also making Google worse.
Given all this bad news, it looks like Reddit and Huffman dipped their toes in the water of trying to remove these moderators thumbing their nose at Huffman. A whole bunch of folks sent over a post on the r/ModCoord subreddit in which a mod from r/MildlyInteresting (one of the subs that switched to NSFW, with support from its community) suddenly found that the entire mod team was locked out of the subreddit.
I was preparing the sub to go live, but just after I switched it to NSFW, I was logged out of my account on every single platform and locked out. I can successfully reset my password, but it will nevertheless not let me login.
Following this, another mod posted our update instead. Right after, the u/ModCodeofConduct account removed the post and flipped the sub back to restricted instead of public. Then, the second moderator was also logged out of their account and locked out. Other mods tried to re-approve the post, one of them was promptly logged out and locked out as well.
A few minutes after, the entire team was removed from the subreddit without any prior communication of any kind. As it stands, at least three of us are literally locked out of our Reddit accounts and the other mods were only removed from the sub.
It appeared that other subreddits that had gone NSFW had the same thing happen, including r/TIHI and r/interestingasfuck.
After complaining, the mod team was told that they had received a 7-day suspension, with some excuse from Reddit about how it was done to “prevent subs spamming sexually explicit material” which the r/MildlyInteresting mods insisted was never the plan in the first place.
And, of course, just as all this started to go viral, someone at Reddit HQ realized how bad all this looked and reinstated the mods:
ModMail from a different admin (not ModCoC) explains that we were apparently “swept up in actions” that they were taking against “communities that were encouraging sexually explicit content”. Situation remains really unclear, and the fact we were a mistake does not excuse r/interestingasfuck being targeted or any of the other 5 subs.
A spokesman for Reddit, Tim Rathschmidt, (who over the weekend insisted that Reddit’s threat to remove mods was no threat at all) continues to lie through his teeth with a quote to the Verge:
“Moderators incorrectly marking a community as NSFW is a violation of both our Content Policy and Moderator Code of Conduct,” Reddit spokesperson Tim Rathschmidt said to The Verge when asked about the suspended mods. He declined to comment when asked if Reddit removed the mods.
Rathschmidt also seemed to get a bit snippy when the Verge’s Jay Peters followed up:
Asked if Reddit could confirm the reinstatement, Rathschmidt declined, saying, “I’m not going to set a precedent of confirming with The Verge every action we do or don’t take to ensure users can access their communities.” He didn’t elaborate on how removing a subreddit’s entire moderation team with no communication ensures users can access their communities, particularly since they were never entirely inaccessible beyond the limitations imposed by Reddit itself.
And it appears that this was just the beginning. There were reports that Reddit pulled down its content policy page. And, as I write this, that appears to be the case. Here’s what it looked like yesterday, according to the Internet Archive:
And here’s what it looked like a few hours ago as I wrote this:
Just… gone. If you pull down the language menu, you find there’s no option for English.
This morning the content policy came back, but… still.
And that same Reddit post noted that subreddits switching to NSFW now receive a popup saying that “Content tag is pending until reviewed,” suggesting that Reddit admins are now blocking the changes:
Basically, for all of Huffman’s talk of “landed gentry,” he seems to have decided that he’s the emperor, and gets to make all the decisions now.
Reddit CEO Steve Huffman really seems to underestimate the kinds of people who sign up to be Reddit mods, and their willingness to go to extreme lengths if you start pushing them. We’ve discussed the nonsensical nature of Huffman’s new API efforts, as well as his stupid response to the subreddit blackout which caused many subreddits to remain on strike. We also discussed his incredibly entitled position about how third party apps that made his site more valuable owe him money.
But, incredibly, Huffman seems unable to stop digging.
After initially suggesting that he would create policies to allow Reddit users to “vote out” moderators who were striking (in the mistaken belief that “ordinary” Reddit users didn’t support the strike), Reddit sent out a not very subtle threat letter to moderators of the still striking communities.
The whole letter stinks of traditional union-busting practices, starting off with an attempt to divide the striking mods to see if the company can peel some away from the strikes:
We are also aware that some members of your mod team have expressed that they want to close your community indefinitely. We are reaching out to find out if this is the consensus reached by the mod team.
Subreddits exist for the benefit of the community of users who come to them for support and belonging and in the end, moderators are stewards of these spaces and in a position of trust. Your users rely on your community for information, support, entertainment, and finding connection with others who have similar interests. Ensuring that communities are able to remain stable and actively moderated is incredibly important to the people seeking out these spaces to make and foster connections.
Then the threat, worded in a way such that Reddit could later pretend it wasn’t actually a threat:
If there are mods here who are willing to work towards reopening this community, we are willing to work with you to process a Top Mod Removal request or reorder the mod team to achieve this goal if mods higher up the list are hindering reopening. We would handle this request and any retaliation attempts here in this modmail chain immediately.
Our goal is to work with the existing mod team to find a path forward and make sure your subreddit is made available for the community which makes its home here. If you are not able or willing to reopen and maintain the community, please let us know.
And, of course, after this letter became public, Reddit pretended there was nothing at all threatening about it:
“We have not threatened anyone,” Reddit spokesperson Tim Rathschmidt said in a statement to The Verge. “That’s not how we operate. Pressuring people is not our goal. We’re communicating expectations and how things work. Redditors want to reddit and mods want to mod. We want mods who want to mod to be able to do so.”
Come on, Tim. None of us were born yesterday. Everyone knows it was a threat to remove striking mods.
And, of course, all any of this does is continue to erode trust in the platform. As Scharon Harding over at Ars Technica rightly notes:
Reddit’s battle with devs, mods, and users is just the most recent version of the struggle. Reddit felt like something that the community built with the company, but while Reddit was happy to offload the responsibility for content creation, moderation, and (until recently) app development to third parties, it wasn’t willing to hand over real power.
Sudden, unaffordable API pricing (Reddit will charge $12,000 for 50 million API requests) and Reddit’s obstinacy are also harsh warnings to devs about the risks of building something totally reliant on a platform they don’t own. Many devs thought Reddit would always allow reasonable pricing for its API and have put in years of work based on that assumption. In the future, devs should think twice about building products based on properties they can’t control, assuming a company will always be supportive and reasonable (or even agreeing with them about what “supportive” and “reasonable” mean). That could mean a future where devs are far less incentivized to create innovations.
But hell hath no fury like a Redditor being jacked around by clueless pointy-haired bosses, and the mods struck back. Given the clear (yes, Tim Rathschmidt) threat of replacing of striking mods, possibly through a sketchy “voting” process to remove, as Huffman ridiculously called them, “the landed gentry, two of the biggest striking subreddits held a vote, just like Huffman wanted. Okay, well maybe not “just like” he wanted. Instead, r/GIFs and r/pics held a poll on whether they should “return to normal” or “only allow images featuring John Oliver.”
Let’s just say that Huffman’s belief that the average Redditor just wanted things to return to normal showed a profound misunderstanding of the average Redditor’s desire for funny chaos over helping a company make money. Here’s how the vote on r/GIFs went:
Yes, that shows “return to normal’“ receiving NEGATIVE 1,851 votes, while the John Oliver solution received 13,696 votes. Other subreddits joined in the fun and the results were even more extreme. r/pics voted for John Oliver pics with a vote of 37,331 against negative 2,329. Of course, r/pics went beyond the r/GIFs requirement of just being pics of John Oliver to them having to be sexy.
Then r/aww joined in as well, with its community voting in favor of only “adorable” pics of John Oliver (or his adorable Japanese mascot Chiijohn), with the Oliver pics winning by an even larger vote: 48,506 in favor and negative 2,691 voting to return to normal:
Oliver took to Twitter (unfortunately…) to support the Reddit protests, saying “have at it”:
He then included 10 photos of himself that would aid the cause. Here are a few:
And, of course, other subreddits are joining in as well, including r/Piracy, which has said that “only sexy pirate John Oliver artwork” may be posted.
Scrolling through the various subreddits, all you see are pics of John Oliver, including some that are arguably not entirely safe for work (depending on where you work, of course).
Meanwhile, Steve “this will pass” Huffman may have even more pressing matters at hand as a ransomware group has said that it will release a bunch of leaked Reddit data if the company doesn’t roll back its API policy changes (and pay the hackers $4.5 million).
Not to condone the hacking/ransom demands, but seems like the company might have been better off not pissing off its most active users?
Here we go again. We’ve talked several times in the past about game publishers and studios going out of their way to shut down fan-run servers for online play. The excuses for doing so mostly amount to either claims that intellectual property laws require this sort of policing action (it doesn’t), that the publisher needs to shut down servers for older versions of games to get people to buy newer versions (objection: asserting facts not in evidence), and some just seem to want to play strongman for whatever reason.
But the worst of these is when a publisher shuts down fan servers while either not bothering to put out a competing product themselves for legacy games, or when those fan servers are demonstrably better than the official servers. Activision serves as the most recent example of this, having shut down two fan-run server clients for legacy Call of Duty games, all while its own servers for online play are worse and less secure.
The first of these was SM2, which was a client for online play and included a bunch of mods to make the game different and, to some, better.
The first victim of Activision’s recent efforts was SM2, a major Modern Warfare 2 modding project whose development started over two years ago. Since then, the modding group has been working on updating that seminal 2009 release with new weapons, in-game perks, a redesigned UI, new streak and progression systems, and even a recent move to a more modern game engine.
Those efforts stopped last week, though, before the mod could even release its first version. The SM2 Twitter account reported that “a team member received a Cease & Desist letter on behalf of Activision Publishing in relation to the SM2 project. We are complying with this order and shutting down all operations permanently.”
These fan servers wouldn’t even be a thing if Activision would provide the same modding and functionality in its own official servers. There is obviously a market for this. And it must be a sizable enough market that Activision went to all the trouble to have its legal beagles craft and fire off the C&D notice. So why not just figure out how to make the same functionality work within the official servers themselves?
It gest worse with the second shut down, X Labs, which made a series of custom servers to play legacy CoD games in a more secure manner than on the official servers. See, online play for these legacy games is so chock full of hackers utilizing known exploits that, well, it makes much of the ranking systems and, sometimes, even playing the game flatly impossible.
Hackers on those official servers can kick other players from the game and reset their in-game rank and unlocked content, as Modern Warzone said he found out personally during a recent “throwback day” event in the player community. Playing these older games on PC also risks exposing your IP address and letting hackers insert malicious files onto your machine, he said.
“Basically, it’s just not safe,” Modern Warzone said. “If Activision Blizzard wants to continue to send out these cease and desists, they at least need to handle their security problems because it is egregious. You can’t just take away the ability for your fan base to play old games when it’s not harming you.”
Telling your fans, “Sorry, but we’re not let you going to play our games in a safe way and instead need you to use the official, wildly unsecure online servers we’re responsible for instead!” is not exactly treating your own fans well.
And Modern Warzone’s last point is the right one: if this isn’t really causing the company any harm, then what’s the point of this?
Over the past couple of years, we’ve discussed several battles in the war on the modding community Take-Two and Rockstar Games launched. I’ve never seen a coherent explanation for why this war was needed at all, from either the publishers or speculators. Almost without warning, Take-Two went on a DMCA blitz on sites hosting these mods, many of which had been around for years. And these aren’t merely mods that allow people to cheat in online games. Many of them are mods for the single-player game, allowing players to do new and interesting things. You know, making Take-Two’s product more valuable, in other words.
Earlier today, Ross shared on his Patreon page and Twitter that he had just received a notice from Patreon informing him that Take-Two had filed a copyright claim against his page and its content. Ross creates virtual reality conversion mods for popular games such as Grand Theft Auto V, Red Dead Redemption II, and Mafia II: Definitive Edition. All of these games are published by companies that Take-Two Interactive owns.
The notice reportedly orders Ross to remove all “copyrighted content” from his page or risk suspension by Patreon. And here’s where things get messy. For starters, the notice doesn’t identify which specific content needs to be removed. That’s kind of important, because Ross insists that his mods don’t actually use any of Take-Two’s code, assets, or intellectual property.
“I never misrepresent the games as my creations, don’t reuse any of the original software, assets, or IP in general, and my mods always need the original games to work,” Ross told Kotaku. “So it’s only additional sales for the developer/publisher, and the possibility for the gamers to enjoy a kind of experience they could not have otherwise on a flatscreen.”
And this is what makes this all so damned frustrating. Once again, Ross’ work results in no negative outcome for Take-Two. In fact, his work — done for free, by the way — actually only makes the company’s games more attractive and valuable to more potential buyers, namely those that want to play the game in VR.
And for being a hobbyist who manages to provide this benefit to Take-Two, Ross gets a vague threat letter and no help in figuring out what Take-Two is actually seeking to have removed. Way to shoot yourselves in the foot, folks.
For some reason, it seems that there is an industry issue heating up among video game developers and publishers over their modding communities. We’ve begun to see a flurry of stories on the topic lately and perhaps the most impressive thing about those stories is how wildly binary they are. Nintendo tends to Nintendo, for instance, where control is valued over building a community of fans. Other publishers, like CD Projekt Red and Bethesda go the completely opposite direction and not only embrace the modding communities for their games, but also sometimes simply hire talented modders directly to their payroll.
Take-Two Interactive, the publishers of the Grand Theft Auto franchise and the subject of this post, has a history of bullying ambitious modders into shutting down. The company has recently put this practice into overdrive, going after all kinds of modding teams working on current and past GTA games, with the speculation being that it’s all being done because of a forthcoming remaster of some of those older games.
As a result of this hostility, GTA Underground lead developer dkluin wrote in a post yesterday on the GTAForums that they and the other modders working on the project were now “officially ceasing the development” of GTA: Underground.
“Due to the increasing hostility towards the modding community and imminent danger to our mental and financial well-being,” explained dkluin, “We sadly announce that we are officially ceasing the development of GTA: Underground and will be shortly taking all official uploads offline.”
The mod had aimed at putting all the historical cities from GTA games on a single map, while also developing new home-grown cities for people to play in. Work on it began in 2014, when dkluin was a teenager. As is so often the case with this sort of thing, this was a labor of love by a modder and a community that clearly love the GTA games. But, with Take-Two again set to release a bunch of GTA remasters sometime in the future, the lawyers have been sic’d on all kinds of mods.
In its fair well video by dkluin, where they announce the end of development and then thank all who contributed to it, the comments were almost universally negative towards Take-Two. Examples include:
I hate how anti-modding Take2 is towards modding, even for games that are nearly two decades old
Been watching this since evolve since 2014. Truly tragic, I don’t even see the benefit of shutting these mods down from a business end unless T2 wants to achieve this same goal GTA Underground has but from a profit angle. But they’d never put all the cities from the 3D era in one map/client, so I don’t understand the move. This is like watching part of my teenage years die. I was 17 when I subbed to this channel, I am 25 now.
One of the best mods we can see out there and this is the result, I hate Take-Two
It goes on from there, with hundreds of comments. Now replicate this anger across all the different mods that were developed or in development for a game that came out nearly 20 years ago. All of that very real anger felt by very real fans of GTA and all directed towards Take-Two is going to have some impact on the public’s willingness to keep buying Take-Two games.
Apparently the company is betting that such anger is not enough to outweigh the profits gained by remastering old GTA games and exerting strict control. I have my doubts that this was the best route for Take-Two to go.
The gaming industry modding wars continue. We had recently discussed Nintendo’s continued war on anyone who mods its games, including shutting down tournaments for incredibly minor uses of mods that make those tournaments possible. We’ve also been discussing Take-Two’s attack on its modding community for the Grand Theft Auto franchise. On the flip side, companies like CD Projekt Red and Bethesda have so embraced their own modding communities as to have hired some of them onto their teams as salaried employees.
I have no idea why this has suddenly become a thing over the past several months, but these binary stories are coming far more frequently than they previously did. Everyone is in one camp or the other: embrace the modding community of fans or smack them around. There is a correct answer to all of this, of course, and it seems clear that the answer is to treat your greatest fans in a way that is cool and human. Nintendo, giant in the industry as they might be, loses good will and gains little by exerting strict control over how its games are played. Take-Two, same story. Meanwhile, those that embrace their biggest fans get to keep their games relevant for longer through mods, build up good will with their customers, and even get to pull from a talent pool that materializes all on its own.
But some companies just don’t get it and have to be educated in the court of public opinion. Jagex, makers of RuneScape, are just such a company. Just days ago, the company announced a shutdown of a major RuneScape mod that would bring HD graphics to the game, called Runelite HD. It was scheduled to be released on 9/8/21, but then…
In this blog we’d like to clarify our stance on third-party HD clients (and other projects which seek to radically change the visual appearance of the game). We know you’ve got lots of questions about them, and we think this will provide you with all the clarity we need.
Yesterday we contacted the developers of known HD projects and we asked them to stop development of their projects, because this is a project we are directly investigating at Jagex. We look forward to being able to share progress as our own in-house project with Old School’s visuals unfolds.
As Kotaku notes, there are a couple of problems with this. First off, nothing in what Runelite HD offers appears to violate the modding guidelines that Jagex has published. So, mods are allowed under certain rules, and Runelite HD developer 117 appears to have followed those rules, but the project was still shut down the day before its release. Second, based on 117’s own public statements, Jagex’s plan to have a graphical update to RuneScape was still essentially in the exploratory phase, leading 117 to offer a simple solution.
I offered a compromise of removing my project from RuneLite once they are ready to release theirs, in addition to allowing them collaborative control over the visual direction of my project. They declined outright.
So, it appears that this is the end. Approximately 2000 of hours of work over two years. A huge outpouring of support from all of you. I could never have imagined the overwhelmingly positive response I’ve had to this project.
We hear your feedback loud and clear and we’ve been discussing that feedback all day and, while discussions continue, we absolutely intend to act on it.
Our conversations today have also included 117Scape and Adam from RuneLite and we are actively exploring options on how we can work together to offer 117Scape’s plug-in as a bridge until our own version is ready for release.
The very compromise that 117 offered is now what’s on the table. This whole thing could have been completely avoided if Jagex hadn’t decided that direct profits and control were somehow worth pissing off a major swath of its biggest fans. It’s a complete own-goal, in other words, where the end result is what the community wanted all along, only now they’re absolutely furious with the company.
Again, how is this smart? How is it good business? How does this desire for complete control keep happening, even when it regularly results in public blowback?
Late last year, we discussed a predictably odd move by Nintendo to shut down a Smash Bros. tournament called The Big House over its use of a mod called “slippi.” Slippi essentially unbreaks the 20 year old game when it comes to competitive online play. Otherwise, the whole thing basically doesn’t work from a online play perspective. And, with all kinds of events going virtual, The Big House attempted to run its tournament virtually, meaning that participants would have to use a digitized version of the game they owned, along with the mod, in order to participate. After it nixed the tourney, Nintendo put out the following statement:
Unfortunately, the upcoming Big House tournament announced plans to host an online tournament for Super Smash Bros. Melee that requires use of illegally copied versions of the game in conjunction with a mod called ‘Slippi’ during their online event. Nintendo therefore contacted the tournament organizers to ask them to stop. They refused, leaving Nintendo no choice but to step in to protect its intellectual property and brands. Nintendo cannot condone or allow piracy of its intellectual property.
Many of us rolled our eyes at the statement. After all, digitizing your own owned game in order to participate in the tournament is not “piracy.” The game was bought and paid for by participants. The use of slippi doesn’t really factor into the equation and, yet, its use seemed to be the deciding factor in the shut down. In other words, the target seemed to be the mod and not piracy.
The inaugural Riptide Smash Bros. event was supposed to happen last year but was postponed due to the pandemic. But 2021 has introduced another hitch. The three-day fighting game extravaganza at the Kalahari Resort in Sandusky, Ohio will now no longer feature Project+, a variant of the popular Project M mod for Smash Bros. Brawl that makes the 2008 Wii game fit for high-level competitive play.
“Riptide was contacted recently by a Nintendo of America, Inc. representative regarding our Project+ events,” the event’s organizers wrote on Twitter last Friday. “As a result of that conversation, there will be no Project+ tournaments or setups at Riptide.”
Note that the event was scheduled to go off on September 10th. Participants are getting refunds for their entry fees, given the last minute cancellation, but not for any money spent on transportation or accommodations needed to attend the event. Flights, hotels, etc. are all going unrefunded. And, understandably, people are pissed.
“Super cool of @NintendoAmerica to cancel an event that’s been planned for months just 2 weeks before it happens!” wrote Melee pro JoSniffy on Twitter. “It’s so considerate to all of the people that bought plane tickets and hotels months ago, which are now useless. Keep up the great work Nintendo!”
Notably, there are zero piracy concerns at play here. The event and mod require disc copies of the game to play. The entire competition was to be conducted in-person, with no online play. Nintendo has made no public statement at the time of this writing as to why the tourney was cancelled, leaving it completely open to confusion and speculation.
“This is unforgivable at this point,” wrote past Melee champion Hungrybox on Twitter. “There’s no legitimate reason for @Nintendo to do this that doesn’t include a complete disconnect with the current culture of their consumers. Insanity.”
And so the rest of the Riptide event will go on as scheduled, but this one tournament is shut down, leaving participants that paid for accommodations in the lurch. Why?
Control, obviously. With no piracy to be concerned about, all we’re left with is the use of the Project+ mod. Nintendo quite famously hates modding communities and takes every opportunity to retain strict control over how its games are played. Why it wants to go to war with its own fans and customers in this way, meanwhile, has been an open question for years.