Modding: The Relationship Between Gamers and Developers

With the upcoming release of GTA V for PC and next-gen consoles, most gamers would not pay too much attention the port of a last generation game.  However, a new addition has sparked renewed interest in the game, making it a must buy for many gamers.  The new port adds a first-person point of view to the traditional over the shoulder look.  This is the first time Rockstar has taken the lead in adding FPS to its GTA franchise.  Yet, amongst gamers, this is not the first time that FPS (First-Person Shooter) has been added to GTA. Years ago, videos and files emerged showing GTA IV in as an FPS .  These videos didn’t come from Rockstar, though, but from people who loved playing the game.  These people are known as “modders.”

Modders do simply what the name implies: modify video gaming code to alter the structure, look, or gameplay of the video game.  These modifications are simply known as “mods.”  It allows games to live second lives and take on new looks.  In some instances, it even makes games run better.  Modding games has existed as long as games have existed.  From Doom to Skyrim, gamers have always been cracking open the code to changing it.  However, the legal aspect of modding has always been murky.

When dealing with modding, companies have been wary to give their blessing.  Dice and Blizzard have been wary of modders and often refuse to allow access to the source code for the game.  An often cited issue is where copyright laws come in conflict with the distribution of mod packets.  Copyright laws allow the exclusivity and protection of certain works.  Some argue that those works include video games and the stories within them. Rewriting those stories and codes within could potentially breach copyright laws.  Furthermore, it could take control of the game out of developer hands and place them in the hands of gamers.  The result can be a loss of control of the game and its story, impeding future sequels.

Another issue is the control over mod packs.  While gamers develop mods, they often do so with the code and content created by developers, much like writers cribbing from other works or musicians taking riffs from other songs.  However, with mods, gamers have a greater problem than writers.  Large chunks of code, including 3D renderings, gameplay, and soundtracks, are often reused by modders. As a result, true ownership of the mod pack is often in dispute. So when a gamer decides to monetize a mod pack, a developer often has a right to the proceeds of its sales.  Furthermore, should a developer seek to halt the mods distribution, they may have the legal ground to do so.

However, other companies and developers such as Valve, Id (Quake & Doom), Bethseda (Skyrim), and Crytek (Far Cry) have taken a more favorable view of the modding community.  These companies, rather than litigate or restrict gamer access, open their source code up to allow gamers to take control and expand the footprints of games.  One of the biggest examples is Valve and Team Fortress 2.  The game originated from a mod for Quake back in 1996. Valve seized on that gamer centered origin and created Team Fortress 2.  While the game updated every aspect of the previous, the true success of the game lay in the vibrant community modding it allowed and even encouraged.  The tools and equipment unlocked within allowed gamers to design unique outfits and weapons.  Taken in the abstract, the idea of new outfits and weapons seems quite pointless.  However, the game’s popularity has only kept growing, long after the natural lifespan for a video game.  What this popularity does is create strong brand loyalty to Valve.  Valve would further expand on modding with the creation of Steam, an online video game market and modding community.  Steam allows gamers to create and share mods for various games.

It’s encouraging to see Rockstar’s open embrace of the modding community. In the end, it is better for both developers and gamers when they can work together.

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Memories Of Doom, By John Romero & John Carmack

Today’s link comes from Kotaku.com

Memories of Doom, by John Romero & John Carmack

Doom was the first game I remember playing as a kid.  It was what got me into video games.

Enjoy.

Puffery: Why You Cannot Buy a Harrier with Pepsi Points

Back in the day, Pepsi ran a commercial offering points for every Pepsi product you buy.  Those points would lead to various prizes.  The commercial ended with the young teenager purchasing a Harrier jet with 700,000,000 points.  While the commercial is very 90’s and the marketers probably imagined no one would ever attain that many points, one person did.  John Leonard crunched the numbers and found out the jet would only cost $700,008.50.  In reality, the jet ran for well over $24 million.  The rules allowed a person to directly purchase points.  So using his 15 existing points, Leonard purchased the remaining 699,999,985 at $0.10 a point and paid a $10 shipping and handling fee.  Of course Pepsi did not own such a jet so Leonard sued.  In Leonard v. Pepsico the court would find that the advertisement only amounted to mere “puffery” and never established a commitment or contract.  Basically the court allows the company to make false statements in advertisements.  The courts today look at a couple factors in determining what is puffery:

  1. Is it an oral or written offer?
  2. Is it reasonable to believe it is a true offer?
  3. Is it an objective (fact) or subjective (opinion) statement?
  4. Is it made by someone with the authority to make those promises?

So remember this at the next E3, Blizzcon, or other gaming convention.  Just because the speaker promises you that the game will be a massive open world, completely online, with a constantly changing world that is free with no micro-transactions, be suspicious.  Because even when they lie, game makers can be legally protected.  Just look at Aliens: Colonial Marines.

Chinese Government Loosening Grip on Online Gaming

credit to Steve Jurvetson

credit to Steve Jurvetson

Striking a small blow for freedom on the internet, China has agreed to lessening some of its restrictions on online gaming.  For years, China has restricted consoles and console games from being imported from outside of China.  This has resulted in terrible knock offs of western games and a thriving “gray market” in China.  The Chinese market has been sought after by game makers for years.  With billions of waiting customers, the country stands out as veritable gold mine.  The only question is how long until it is legitimately tapped.

[Credit to Kotaku.com for the story]

Welcome!

Thanks for stumbling upon my newest venture.  As a law student about to graduate and an avid PC gamer, I have been struggling to find places where you can find the information on where these two intersect.  So instead of continuing to look, I figured I would make my own place to consolidate information and perhaps provide some knowledge to people in gaming, legal, and internet circles.  Like, comment, share, and as always do not construe what is written as legal advice.

-Tim