Modding for the Grand Theft Auto series has played a large part in the major success of the franchise. It helped expand the game in new and fun ways and kept the franchise thriving and alive on the PC platform with millions of copies selling every single month. But the IP holders of the game, also known as Take-Two Interactive and Rockstar Games, are not very appreciative of its thriving modding community that continues to spend countless hours to create new experiences for Rockstar Games’ consumers out of their free will.
We have a lot to uncover, but hope that this article expands the voices of the modding community to a much broader audience. This article contains exclusive interviews with established mod developers, whose creations have been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times, in order to get their views on the current stance of Rockstar Games and Take-Two Interactive. This article also provides an overview of what has occurred over the last two decades and the rather sudden about-face that has occurred in tolerance towards modding.
Let’s go way back into the early 2000s when Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas officially shipped out to millions of Rockstar fans, in 2004, one of Rockstar’s biggest scandals was the discovery of Hot Coffee lying behind the game files. I am sure you are well aware of the events surrounding it as it made headlines for years and still does in 2021. As it originally made headlines worldwide, Rockstar Games tried to push the blame to Patrick Wildenborg, who originally learned the cut feature in 2005 and made the mod public on popular modding website GTAGarage. Rockstar alleged it was a third-party modification and had nothing to do with Rockstar – but that was far from the case and had resulted in a major investigation from Entertainment Software Rating Board (also known as ESRB).
Hackers created the ‘Hot Coffee’ modification by disassembling and then combining, recompiling and altering the game’s source code.Rockstar Games
Almost 16 years later, Rockstar and Take-Two are still immensely against modding their games to this very day. Both companies have tried to take down third-party tools that enable players to modify the game files. In 2017, a popular modding tool OpenIV was sent a cease-and-desist letter demanding the software developers to cease the program – Take-Two falsely claimed OpenIV had interfered and allowed people to cheat in GTA Online but had before Take-Two tried to take down the tool OpenIV already made extra steps to ensure players were not able to access GTA Online whilst the game files were modified. It was an outright lie to shut down the modding community by killing the most essential tool that millions are required to use to install single-player modifications.
“OpenIV allows third parties to defeat security features of its software and modify that software in violation of Take-Two’s rights”Take-Two Interactive
After weeks of backlash, Rockstar and Take-Two made an agreement to restore OpenIV, with the exception of a new agreement to the modding community which at the time had a few sets of agreeable rules. Though, until that changed in late 2019, days before Red Dead Redemption 2 made its first debut on PC. The agreement was modified on Rockstar Support without prior notice to the community, it now implies people cannot create new or port existing maps from other game titles, it also now prohibits people to create new missions which now puts NoPixel and other RP role-playing servers into a very grey area – which again is extremely insulting and disappointing seeing how these RP servers are generating millions of viewers from Twitch streamers and it probably does encourage people to buy the game. What’s even worse, the ‘new’ agreement prohibits ‘making new games’, this does not mean creating a new GTA game from scratch, this is primarily aimed towards changing the original intended aspect of gameplay so in full context it means it’s no longer allowed to create some script mods that change the original gameplay.
Rockstar and Take-Two had put in more numerous measures before these events with OpenIV had originally transpired with the takedown of a Red Dead Redemption map mod – also known as Red Dead Redemption V that would essentially add 2010’s Red Dead Redemption map into Grand Theft Auto V. The team had made sufficient measures to avoid legal trouble as they were originally going to create a tool to convert the map with a legal copy of the game. But that still didn’t stop Take-Two from taking legal action, in April 2017, Mr. Leisurewear, a lead developer on the project was contacted by Take-Two Interactive to cease the project. Take-Two also went far as to completely take down the trailer with a DMCA takedown notice sent to YouTube. This is just another example of Take-Two’s pitiful behaviour on the modding community.
I know this is hard pill to swallow, but as you may have noticed we did get contacted. And we sadly have to say we are stopping this project. So thanks guys, we were all so happy to see this, but it isn’t going to happen, sorry.Mr. Leisurewear
What’s very funny about all this, yet Rockstar and Take-Two prohibits map modding yet shared a GTA1 conversion map mod for Grand Theft Auto IV on its own official website in mid-2012. Why this sudden change against modding? GTA Online has generated so much money for Take-Two and Rockstar that their attitude on it has completely changed. It’s unjustified to treat its own people that are so passionate about their games but in return gets nothing but legal threats.
Take-Two still wants to kill the modding community with DMCA takedowns and lawsuits
As of writing this story, it’s been a few months since Take-Two sent a handful of DMCA takedown notices to various creators in the Vice City, San Andreas and Grand Theft Auto V modding communities. Take-Two went far as to takedown mods nearly a decade old on a popular modding site Moddb, it’s believed the mods targeted were map and visual overhaul modifications. Vice Cry, GTA: Liberty City and many more were taken down in a response to a takedown notice.
A moderator who helps run Modbb David Driver-Gomm had stated the website tried to appeal the takedowns, but still, Take-Two refused to talk with the website and demanded the mods to be taken offline.
These ridiculous takedowns are believed to be due to Rockstar Games’ upcoming GTA Trilogy remasters which are slated to ship later this year. But I find it very ironic how the modding community are seen as a threat to the sales of upcoming updated versions of the games. Thousands of people in the modding community kept these 3D era GTA games alive for over two decades thanks to the huge modding communities that still continue to thrive and provide fixes to make sure these games are still playable on newer versions of Windows and other devices.
Take-Two still hasn’t given up with takedowns but has gone much further with a full-on ongoing lawsuit with a team of passionate fans that reverse engineered GTA III and Vice City, also known as the re3 team – we covered this here. According to the complaint, Take-Two is seeking damages up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. It makes me so frustrated to see a corporation that is luckily enough to have such a talented and passionate fanbase to address its own problems that Rockstar and Take-Two failed to address years ago. But kept GTA3 and Vice City on sale on Steam for nearly two decades in an extremely unstable playable state on newer versions of Windows riddled with bugs that require mod patches to fix them.
Asking how the modding community is feeling with Rockstar & Take-Two
At RockstarINTEL, we were fortunate enough to interview a handful of mod creators in the Grand Theft Auto modding community. We reached out to creators that have spent hundreds of hours out of their free time and will to provide the Rockstar community with consistent mods. We’d like to give our biggest thanks to everyone at the VanillaWorks Discord server and everyone else for giving their own voices on the matter.
With many people we’ve interviewed it’s very clear that modding is helping people form careers in the games industry. Take-Two and Rockstar’s actions on the modding community are hurting them more than anything – recently CD PROJEKT RED, the developers behind The Witcher and Cyberpunk 2077, recently hired a handful of mod developers to help assist with the development of future and current titles for the company. Rockstar hiring these passionate fans would be the most ideal way to gain new talent into the company – it’s a no brainer.
Personally, I feel that some of the recent modding takedowns are unjustified. Takedowns of mods which consist of some of extremely talented people who take their hobby to the next level. Modders who get nothing but gratification and fulfilment out of working on mods. These guys are not the kind of people who intend to piggyback Rockstar or Take-Two.Monkeypolice188 – Vehicle Mod Developer
We spoke with the folks at the VanillaWorks Discord server who are a large and collaborative team of talented artists that create new vehicles and liveries for the Rockstar Games community. RockstarINTEL asked a series of questions on how they feel about the mistreatment with Rockstar and Take-Two, we may not be able to feature everyone due to a large number of responses.
Some responses were shortened down due to large responses.
How do you feel about the recent DMCA takedown notices on the modding community that have happened over the summer?
Xinerki – FiveM Moderator & Mod Developer
“I’m absolutely furious at Take-Two for taking down mods ONCE AGAIN, even more so taking down a project from fans of loyalty that no other community have.”
Wildbrick142 – Mod Developer & Researcher for RAGE
“I wish Take-Two/Rockstar would realize that the mods do not cause any harm to their games, or their sales, but sadly all we can do is try to make our voices heard and have them retract their takedowns.”
DoctorMike– 3D Artist Developer
“I believe these takedowns are mostly issued by Take Two and Rockstar, in their attempt to ensure higher sales or when their online services are involved, which I think is pretty scummy to say the least, considering that mods are neither meant to hurt Take Two’s economy nor misguide players into ditching their future titles, re-releases or online services.”
Do you have anything to say about the ongoing lawsuit case between the re3 team and Take-Two and how do you feel about this?
Ambient – Graphics Designer & 2D Artist Developer
“It seems like Take-Two wants to force players to play the upcoming DE versions of GTA III and GTA VC. Again, anything for the greens.”
Rogue, Internet Man – Player Model Mod Developer
“I’m hoping that if Take Two / Rockstar doesn’t dismiss the case against re3, that the courts throw it out, as what has been done is 100% legal and is very reminiscent of WINE for Linux (new code to load something closed source without using anything from the target file)”
Calvin – 3D Artist Developer
“The lawsuit clearly shown that Take-Two doesn’t like modding in the community anymore, and I feel this not a good situations for modders and fans having fun by modifying the game.”
In 2017, Rockstar published a new agreement for the modding community. Though, three years later it’s modified to prohibit map and mission content, how do you feel about this agreement and do you think it should be relaxed?
Bob322 – 3D Artist Developer & Staff at VanillaWorks
“Definitely should be a lot more relaxed seeing as SA (GTA: San Andreas) still has a very large modding scene and people should be allowed to create/port maps without fear of being served a take down by T2.”
Chum – 3D Artist Developer
“This was the most awful thing they ever did. They snuck in some changes without anyone noticing, just so they could ruin people’s time and passion even more than they already did. This makes Rockstar Games much worse than Bethesda at this point, and it makes Todd Howard look like a saint as well.”
Yannerrins – 2D Artist Developer
“Rockstar should notify the modding community about agreement changes. From legal point of view – that’s just unlawful.”
Are you frustrated with Rockstar and Take-Two’s approach to the takedowns in favour of the upcoming GTA Trilogy?
ItsJustCurtis – 2D Artist Developer
“Whilst understandable, it does feel a little underhand. Why would people buy the remaster if they can just download a mod with the same maps? It was necessary for them to do it, but the way they did it was really short-sighted and very damaging to the community.”
John Doe – 3D Artist Developer
“It’s frustrating because they continuously damage their reputation with the community by removing available content while showing literally nothing new in their marketing strategies.”
DoctorMike – 3D Artist Developer
“Oh definitely. It feels like they took down those mods so they could sell their own “modded” versions of those games. It’s like they’re trying to prevent people from playing modded versions of those 3 games as a free alternative to their own official remasters”
Do you think modding has helped better shape your knowledge and confidence with game development?
Eddlm – Script Developer
“To me, modding has helped me massively in learning programming, and I consider Garry’s Mod, GTAV, Alex (creator of Scripthook) and the SHV.net community the ones responsible for my newfound career, by allowing me to learn gamedev inside a working game. I owe my knowedge to them.”
Wildbrick142 – Mod Developer & RAGE Researcher
“If it weren’t for modding, I would barely have any computing knowledge. Well, it’s probably not a good thing, but anyway. Modding taught me a lot of things about how games work, and how much effort it takes to develop them. It’s easy to find a bug in the script and ask “why they hell they haven’t done anything about it”, but the reality is that fixing that one bug in the script might lead to having to rewrite thousands lines of code, which could take weeks if not months.”
Monkeypolice188 – Vehicle Artist Developer
“Modding has introduced me to a field of knowledge I never thought I’d have. When I started back in 2018, I never intended to go as far as I have done, exploring various areas of game development and the inner workings of such a massive title, and even going as far as new discoveries and research into some of the completely untouched data types. If it wasn’t for real-world commitments, I’d love to get involved with an actual game company and its workplace systems and tools.”
We urge Rockstar and Take-Two to be better with the modding community, these people are just passionate fans who have no malicious intent to harm your intellectual property. Both of these companies should be going after online cheat distributors for Red Dead Online & GTA Online, this is what is hurting Rockstar right now with its revenue stream and player experience – there’s really no excuse to see the single-player modding community to harm sales and its IP rights.
Please be better.
As we end this article we’d like to give our special thanks to 3P1C, Allen, Alyxandra Vance, Ambient, Bob322, Calvin, Chum, Deth, Dock, DoctorMike, Dom, Eddlm, Eduarson26, HeliosAxitro, Hong Meiling, ItsJustCurtis, John Doe, MMTGarage, MiamiImports3, Monkeypoilce188, MyCrystals, NestorSite, ORENGBOSS, Rouge, Internet Man, Sangckrona, Sealyx, SilentSoul21, Sirocc, Sirstirfr, Skysder, Wildbrick142, Wilmanwdk, XanaBax, Xinerki, Yannerrins, bsquiklehausen & w/.