It all began on Wednesday with the lead developer of veteran modding tool and file explorer OpenIV, and the previously upcoming Liberty City V map mod, announcing that the projects will be taken down due to a Cease and Desist order from Take-Two Interactive, Rockstar Games parent company and publisher. It came at the shock of many and has so far created an uproar of anger and sadness amongst the community. Find below some history of what we know to explain what has happened.
First and foremost let us highlight its importance to us; modding has always been at the heart of our community since the series conception; we have dedicated forums with thousands of topics and the humble GTAGarage is responsible for over 124 million downloads alone, and it doesn't stop here. There's a plethora of mod hosting websites that fans use to download and share a variety of mods, all with the intention of improving, customising or creating fun in singleplayer. The surge of YouTube has only further thrown modding into the spotlight, with many YouTubers using tools to showcase crazy mods to their subscribers or create wonderful machinima movies with such creativity they're pretty much professional storytellers.
Rockstar themselves have always been supportive of modding, even showcasing the best they've seen on the Newswire, and in the very early days there's examples of them using modding tools during development.
So what has changed?
There is a dark side of modding that affects the multiplayer of GTA, something that shouldn't even be associated with the word modding, but has sadly been coupled with it by its main abusers: hackers and cheaters. Unlimited health, invisibility and teleportation were some examples of the common trickery experienced in the GTA IV multiplayer days, but today in GTA Online there are exploits through mods that are so damaging to the function and economy of the game that it has rendered it useless for many players: the draining of cash, the dropping of unimaginable amounts of money, the wiping of vehicles, the manipulation of rank and other technical abuse such as freezing games, altering movements and kicking players. The most recent outburst of this was reported in April and has been ongoing since, with updates only stopping them in their tracks for a short time before they roll out again.
So what has this got to do with OpenIV?
Well, we're not entirely sure. Since the news about the shut down of the tool has hit many gaming news sites, the reputable PC Gamer ran an article about it when the news first broke and they managed to reach out to Rockstar themselves for a comment. They have since responded with the following:
Take-Two's actions were not specifically targeting single player mods. Unfortunately OpenIV enables recent malicious mods that allow harassment of players and interfere with the GTA Online experience for everybody. We are working to figure out how we can continue to support the creative community without negatively impacting our players.
Though fairly vague in detail, it states that singleplayer mods weren't the target of their Cease and Desist order, but that OpenIV as a tool allows some of the exploits used by hackers and cheaters in GTA Online as mentioned up above.
This statement has, unfortunately, left the community even more confused about the situation and the future of modding. The developers of OpenIV, and many users of the tool, have been categorically expressing that it has never been and cannot be used for GTA Online. Its sole function for the decade it has been in use, according to members commenting, is for the modding of singleplayer and the exploration of game files. It's even said that if you mod GTAV with OpenIV, you can't enter GTA Online at all.
It's entirely possible through their own testing that Rockstar have found examples of players using such tools to exploit the game in some way or another that the rest of the community isn't aware of. In order to battle hackers and cheaters, we're assuming they've probably tested the ways in which it's done to see for themselves how GTA Online can be abused, and if they have found something that is actively happening in this abhorrent side of the community, it could explain why they've clearly mentioned it in their statement to PC Gamer that OpenIV is at fault. Since we're not able to question Rockstar about this ourselves, and it might not be likely they will make anymore statements on it, we can accept there's some element of truth to our assumptions.
So could there be another reason if Rockstar support modding? What is this about the leaking culture?
Earlier on we tweeted about the idea that leaking and sharing of files could another big cause behind the Cease and Desist order, not necessarily the practice of modding itself. This came about after member Ash_735, a modder who has close connections to the media, claimed to have seen the Cease and Desist document that was served to the OpenIV team and summarised the orders it gave:
As stated, they no longer support mods that allow fans to "look inside" game files or "extract" them for use. There's also a mention of loading "additional" content into games and "transferring" assets between games being disallowed, which explains why the RDRV and LCV map mods were taken down. If we're interpreting Ash's post correctly, this leads us to a couple of potential reasons that OpenIV could be at fault for:
1) "Leakers" who have made a name for themselves by looking at unreleased items in the game files such as vehicles from major GTA Online updates and showcasing them for all to see
2) Modding GTA Online game files so that they are accessible in singleplayer is not compatible with their business model due to the microtransaction econcomy
3) Tin foil hat time: Modding is no longer compatible with their business model because paid mods, like Bethesda's Creation Club, or official modding APIs could be a thing of the future
Our bets are on 1) on this occasion.
The community response
As stated up above, a mixture of anger and sadness was the first reaction to this breaking story about OpenIV's fate. So far, the community has responded in the only way it feels it can; with protest. Fans have been posting on these forums, on Reddit, on NeoGAF and across many gaming news sites in rejection of the decision. A petition has also been created to "Save OpenIV". While petitions and posts of complaints may not do much, it shows the overwhelming support the modding community has. The petition currently sits at over 16,000 signatures and it is still rising.
Not satisfied with providing an e-signature, people have also taken to Steam, the PC gaming platform, and begun to leave negative reviews for the game. At the time of this post, around 15,000 people have now left a negative review over the last few days, moving its category to "Mostly Negative". We don't want to encourage this, but the weight of this decision is evident.
Several YouTubers, some personally affected by the decision due to the impact it will have on their content, have also filmed supportive videos - BloodLust180, GTA Wise Guy, NerdCubed, Jim Sterling
So where do we go from here?
There's not a whole lot we can do right now other than speculate about the fate of modding and what this means for every fan in the community that uses mods for good or positive reasons, as well as Rockstar's stance on modding in the future. There are some contradictions between Rockstar's statement and the Cease and Desist order details, but with everything so vague it's hard to say; this surely doesn't mean that modding is now "illegal" as many gaming news sites have headlined. Rockstar, in their statement, say they are working on making sure people can continue to have creative freedom in singleplayer, so we can only assume they still support modding and the attack here is on cheaters and hackers, but there are still many questions about what action is being taken in regards to this; perhaps this is how it has to be until they've successfully shut them down.
If leaking content is also a significant issue here and Rockstar wants to eradicate this to future proof upcoming games like Red Dead Redemption 2, then it appears that OpenIV and the modding community has become the innocent victim amongst a wider community that uses these kinds of tools only for selfish reasons, and Rockstar are within their rights to shut down anything that enables this to happen as unfortunate as this sounds. Further statements from Rockstar or Take-Two would help our understanding, but it's possible that this will not happen and we may have to wait it out and see if other popular mods such as ScriptHook are affected down the line.
For now we can only pledge our support to the developers of OpenIV, fellow modders and creators from the community. We are against cheaters, the few who ruin it for the many.
Feel free to show your own support by sharing your thoughts about what modding means to you and our community, make a comment in the OpenIV topic to keep it relevant, sign the petition if you choose, and watch and share the videos of your favourite creators from around the community in support of their work.