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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IP Sunday: Fair use

Every we cover another topic dealing with Intellectual Property and the Internet.

Often we think of copyrighted material as untouchable for the purposes of reproduction.  Luckily, the government recognized that while an artist’s work needs protection, there is a public policy to allow the reproduction of copyrighted material.  The specific language of the United States Copyright Law allows for reproduction under fair use for specific purposes such as:

  • Criticism
  • Comment
  • News Reporting
  • Teaching
  • Scholarship
  • Research
  • Parody

Of course just because you think you satisfy one of them, the courts use four factors to determine fair use.

  1. Purpose and character of the use. (commercial v. teaching)
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work. (painting, book, article)
  3. The amount or substance of the portion used.  (one sentence v. an entire chapter)
  4. The effect of the use upon the market or value of the work.

So how does this all apply to the internet?  Well if you have a blog, YouTube channel, website, or presence at all on the internet, you are most likely dealing with copyrighted material everyday.  Know your fair use defenses and know that the more money you make off it, the more chance you lose that defense.

Disclaimer:  This information is for the sole purpose of news and opinion.  This is NOT LEGAL ADVICE and should not be relied on for a legal defense.  This is only for the purpose of starting a discussion and provoking people to look further into the law on their own.