This Week in Games is a weekly column where Vikki Blake breaks down the biggest stories in gaming each week. This week, she reflects on the modding community and the industry’s ongoing love/hate relationship with it.
ANot being a modder or game publisher myself, I can only scrutinize their symbiotic relationship and pass judgments (let’s face it: ridiculously misinformed) from afar. To my untrained eye, all of this is vaguely reminiscent of the uneasy truce between stepparents and their stepchildren. Like: it’s clear that they don’t like each other. They don’t trust each other. And neither wants the other to hang around. But because of this connection they share — a unique bond without which their paths might never have crossed — they’re stuck with each other.
When the PR machine is engaged, all parties talk about respect and partnership between games and their modding communities. Behind closed doors, however, I suspect the gloves are coming off. Take EA, for example. On Tuesday, he posted on his The Sims 4 support pages it has”a long tradition of supporting creativity in our community“, acknowledging that “mods are an important part of [our] gaming experience”.
Just rewind a few weeks, though, and you’ll see that EA infuriated that same community by changing the rules of what modders could — and couldn’t — do regarding The Sims 4. You see, some mods, by their very existence, infringe copyright – especially if they use or modify copyrighted assets. And therein lies the problem.
Not sure what modders and mods are? It’s okay: there are no stupid questions in my class, my friend. Modders are the great people who build on the foundations of our favorite games and modify and extend them, including creating additional content. This can include cool gameplay changes – like adding a working subway system to a game that didn’t have one, or asking players if they’d like to summon their favorite NPC or Elden Ring boss to fight alongside them. .or, for some reason, making every horror villain exponentially more gruesome by plastering Thomas the Tank Engine’s icy grin on their faces.
Depending on whether you’re a gamer or a publisher, it’s harmless activity that can breathe new life into an old game, or a system where hobbyist coders profit from someone’s ideas and hard work. another.
One thing that can’t be disputed: done right, mods can keep players engaged in a game much longer than not. Last week only, PlatinumGames To deny: automatons – released in 2017 – made headlines when images of a never-before-seen room and a mysterious church surfaced online. While doubts about its authenticity split the fanbase in two, there’s no denying that it rekindled interest in the action-RPG half a decade after its original release…even though it turned out to be little more than an elaborate hoax.
But while it’s tempting to think that the kind of advertising To deny: automatons gleaned last week can only be a good thing for everyone, some publishers seem to think otherwise. And Take-Two Interactive – the publisher behind games like Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption – is apparently determined to weed out both modders and fan projects inspired by its games.
Last month, he posted another significant DMCA takedown. Although they insist that VR mods of impacted Rockstar games do not contain any copyrighted material – they say they create “original software from [their] own creation that allow users to experience these games in a different and hopefully more intense and deeper way” – modder Luke Ross was forced to remove “anything that can even be remotely associated with IP by Take-Two, Rockstar and 2K”, from their Patreon.
In some (admittedly rarer) cases, however, modding can seriously discredit games and be downright dangerous. Earlier this year an extremely popular mod for the excellent city building simulation Cities: Skylines was banned by Steam when it became apparent that the mod was hiding malicious code that intentionally infected users with malware. By the time the virus was discovered and its author (and subsequent puppets) banned, it had already been downloaded by over 35,000 players.
Going back to the most common disputes (which usually boil down to money), publishers have every right to issue DMCAs. If they own intellectual property rights and believe a mod infringes those rights, they have the right to take any remedy they deem necessary, including DMCA strikes. But the way some go about it seems so unnecessarily terrifying, especially when the modders involved freely distribute their hobby projects. No, I don’t know the definition of what is or isn’t a derivative work. Yes, I understand why some publishers pursue claims, especially when the mods aren’t free and – rightly or wrongly – the modder is profiting from their work.
But I know battling those claims has to be just as terrifying as that Thomas the Tank Engine mod when you’re an amateur developer being sued for bringing new ideas and improvements to your favorite game.