User modification, or modding of games in the open-world sandbox Grand Theft Auto series is a popular trend in the PC gaming community. These unofficial modifications are made by altering gameplay logic and asset files within a user's game installation, and can drastically change the gameplay experience: from replacing the player's character model with a fire breathing cat, to spawning zombies throughout the map. Frequently created by anonymous 'modders', modifications are presented in the form of downloadable files or archives. Third-party software has been indispensable for building Grand Theft Auto mods, due to the lack of official editing tools from the developer, Rockstar Games. Mods for Grand Theft Auto are generally developed for use on the PC versions of the games, since the platform does not prevent modifications to installed software; however, similar content for console versions does exist to an extent.
While mods for Grand Theft Auto have been developed by hobbyists since the release of the first game, it wasn't until the release of the wildly successful Grand Theft Auto III on Microsoft Windows, in May 2002, that mods started to become both more accessible and more popular. The use of a 3D game engine (the first in the series) allowed development of custom vehicles, textures and character models, followed by new missions and map modifications; the success of these new types of mods then started to attract widespread attention. In the following years the modding scene became more sophisticated and complex, as various aspects of the game's internals are gradually being discovered and documented by hackers. One of the best-known examples is the iCEnhancer graphics modification mod by Hayssam Keilany, praised by reviewers and labelled as "arguably one of the best mods of all time" by Polygon.
In most of the games, certain data files were stored in simple archives or in plain text files, allowing modders to edit them using basic tools. However, more complex modifications, such as changes to the gameplay mechanics or the addition of custom models and/or maps were not possible without more advanced tools specific to GTA, along with commercial-grade modelling programs such as SketchUp, 3ds Max and Zmodeler. For this reason modders would often collaborate on various fan sites, pooling resources and sharing documentation with one another. In a quote by Patrick Wildenborg, the modder responsible for unlocking the Hot Coffee mini-game, he stated that "The modding community felt like a bunch of friends trying to solve a mystery".
Online modding communities
Grand Theft Auto fan communities have been essential to the growth of the modding scene. Modders were able to exchange knowledge and team up in order to create new tools, mods and documentation.GTA communities, Internet forums, and fan sites have also been essential, as they serve as hosts for mods. Besides the video-sharing site YouTube, sites such as GTANet, GTAinside, GTA V Mods and The GTA Place served as platforms for content exchange, and discussion about modding and the Grand Theft Auto in general.
Aspects of GTA modding
When GTA V was released on PC, the question of breakthrough of new mods depended on production of new GTA-specific tools for modification. While GTA IV is one of the games with most fan made mods,GTA V modders had difficulties creating mods until completely new tools were made. One of the most notable tools that initiated significant GTA V modification is OpenIV which provided database manipulation. Many mods had compatibility issues with every new GTA V update patch.
Grand Theft Auto V's release on the PC offers many advantages over the console release. Yet all of these pale in comparison to the most important advantage of all; modifications.
Matthew S. Smith and Gabe Gurwin of Digital Trends, 9 May 2015
Mods are a part of the Grand Theft Auto franchise's success on PCs. Their popularity added on to the longevity and further success of the GTA series. Complex modifications such as Zombie Alarm effectively offer entirely new experiences. Modding served as one of main channels for innovations in gameplay. The best example of this is arguably Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which boasts one of the largest modding communities in PC gaming. It is constantly being refreshed with new modifications despite being released in 2005 for PC.
As GTA Online is built as a component of GTA V, it has been a subject of mods which intentionally caused negative effects on players' experiences. Because many mods in the form of in-game cheats were added to GTA Online, Rockstar developed an isolated section where those who used cheats in GTA Online would temporarily be placed. Prior to Grand Theft Auto IV and GTA Online, mods such as San Andreas Multiplayer and Multi Theft Auto were developed and released in lieu of an official multiplayer component for previous titles.
Although major mod hosting websites (such as GTAinside or GTAGarage) often check mods for possible malware, there are times where content infected with viruses and rogue software slip through. As such, modding websites began to screen content owners and their works for any malicious content or similar quality or security issues.
Reaction from Rockstar Games
Modification of Grand Theft Auto is not endorsed by Rockstar and as such there is no official editor tool that allows manipulation of in-game files. In an answer to a question made by a fan, Rockstar expressed their views on GTA modification, stating that they have always appreciated the efforts of the modding community and still gladly remember classic mods like Zombie Invasion or the original Grand Theft Auto III map on Grand Theft Auto IV. They also declared that their modding policy hasn't changed and is same as for GTA IV. The end-user licence agreement contradicts this, however, as users may not "Reverse engineer, decompile, disassemble, display, perform, prepare derivative works based on, or otherwise modify the Software, in whole or in part".
Our primary focus is on protecting GTA Online against modifications that could give players an unfair advantage, disrupt gameplay, or cause griefing.
Rockstar Games, Asked & Answered from 7 May 2015
Following the release of GTA V for PC, GameSpot interviewed its developers at Rockstar North. When asked about the extent of built-in support for modding in the new release, a Rockstar representative indicated that their primary focus was ensuring that GTA Online would be free of possible hacks and exploits, and that therefore modding of GTA Online would not be allowed.
While Rockstar has previously provided some support with the original Grand Theft Auto and Grand Theft Auto 2, and has even used a third-party utility for developing the Grand Theft Auto: London expansion packs, the only official modification tool Rockstar has released is Rockstar Editor, a tool which allows users to record and edit videos in-game. Options such as effects, audio, speed, cameras and navigation tools are made available to the player.
Impact of the Hot Coffee mod
Before NIMF and Yee warned everybody about Hot Coffee, we only had a couple of thousand downloads on the mod, after the media panic, over a million! In late summer of last year, our server was pushing like 7TB of data a month.
Illspirit, a modder and administrator from GTAGarage (where Hot Coffee first appeared), speaking with Gamasutra
Hot Coffee is a normally inaccessible mini-game in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The mini-game portrays crudely animated sexual intercourse between the main character and a chosen partner. After Patrick Wildenborg, a software engineer who also went by the alias "PatrickW", modified the game to make the mini-game accessible, Hot Coffee quickly gained notoriety worldwide, impacting consumer culture, politics and the video game industry as a whole.
Rockstar initially blamed a "determined group of hackers" for hacking the base game and creating the mini-game from scratch. This claim was eventually refuted, as the mini-game's code and assets had been developed by Rockstar and were already present, unfinished and abandoned, on the game disc: the mod simply made the existing content available to players. Rockstar would go on to indicate that they expected the ESRB rating to remain unchanged, as they had no control over the modifications applied to the game post-release. However, ESRB chose to have the rating changed to Adults only, with the modding community taking the blame. The perception of modders by both players and publishers has since harshened. ESRB later called on the video game industry to "proactively protect their games from illegal modifications by third parties, particularly when they serve to undermine the accuracy of the rating". In his interview for CNET, David Kushner explained that some modders were "scared" that Rockstar would prevent modifications to their games after Hot Coffee, but noted that once the controversy had passed the outcome was of refined ESRB guidelines rather that increased regulation, and a renewed public appreciation for mature content in video games. Of the controversy and eventual fallout, Gamsutra wrote that "The treatment left many in the GTA mod community with mixed feelings"
Other legal issues
A weapon replacement for GTA V which replaces the game's sticky bomb weapon with an exploding Samsung Galaxy Note 7 as a parody of the phone's battery explosion issue and subsequent recall, attracted controversy when Samsung Electronics America, Inc. reportedly issued takedown notices to YouTube demanding that videos depicting the phone be taken down as an alleged violation of its copyrights.The Verge called this "bogus", and a "ridiculous overreach and misuse of the DMCA", while it was also believed that these takedowns would only draw further attention to the content. Although Samsung has attempted to take down videos depicting the mod, it has not targeted websites hosting the mod itself.
On 14 June 2017, Take-Two Interactive sent a cease and desist to the developers of OpenIV, a program that allows users to install modifications for various Rockstar titles such as Grand Theft Auto IV, Max Payne 3 and Grand Theft Auto V, claiming that OpenIV allowed third-parties to modify and defeat the security features of its software. Rockstar later responded by saying that "Take-Two's actions were not specifically targeting single player mods... We are working to figure out how we can continue to support the creative community without negatively impacting our players." In a statement issued by Rockstar on 23 June, saying that Take-Two has agreed not to take legal action against third-party single-player modding projects involving Rockstar's games on PC. Rockstar has also contacted the developers of OpenIV, to attempt to resolve the dispute. Although the details of said meeting remain undisclosed, shortly afterwards OpenIV was made available to download – and received a minor update – indicating the conversation with Rockstar was successful.
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