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?