If you’re unacquainted with modern video games, having dropped out of that world as soon as the real world offered something more substantive to cling to (if you ever picked up gaming at all), you might assume that video games, by their nature, would be easy to find and play at any time. They’re entirely the creation of programming, so they would seem a likely candidate to be ported into whatever database to be replicated across platforms until the end of time. They aren’t, though, and while the game industry’s reasons for that decision requiring some explanation, gamers themselves have gone to great measures to circumvent those choices — often drawing action from game publishers and studios.
I’ve written previously about Rockstar Games and their history of taking legal action against fans who try and modify the game to any number of ends, and true to form, they’re back at it with another tact against alleged copyright infringement. This case, however, is a bit different than previous iterations, and already Rockstar has been dealt a blow in its efforts to tamp down the fan creations in question.
From Techdirt comes the story of developers managing to reverse-engineer the source code for both Grand Theft Auto III and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City on Github. While this isn’t anything close to complete versions of the games, it’s a big step towards recreating the finished products, and enough of an achievement to prompt a DMCA takedown request filed with Github from GTA creator Rockstar. Given the furtive nature of the work and the fact that individuals working on this as a side project certainly don’t have the legal wherewithal to push back, as well as the propensity of platforms to side with corporate interests over individual users, you could be forgiven for thinking the project died in that moment.
But it seems fortunes can turn on the actions of a single nerd. A Kiwi developer named Theo filed a counter-notice, arguing that as the source code created was the work of the developers that put it together, and not copied from Rockstar, it’s the unique creation of those developers, operating similarly to Rockstar’s creation without being identical. And that argument won the day for Theo and his ilk, as Github reinstated the code, leaving the ball in Rockstar’s court as to whether they wish to escalate the matter.
While I’d never condone copyright infringement (even though this doesn't appear to be that), there is an argument to be made that Rockstar and others are at least inviting these sorts of projects when they sit upon their popular IP and refuse to make it available in any form. It’s hard to imagine that it would be difficult to make their old games available to download in the PlayStation or Xbox marketplaces; deciding to not do so, paired with decisions to make modern gaming consoles incompatible with older physical media, turns fans to outside means to preserve the games they love. Video game companies want the loyalty and the money of their fans; it’s a shame that regard is never reciprocated.