"A lot of machinima creators have gone disenfranchised now and they've just thrown their hands up in the air and have said: fuck this, I give up."
Duggy is a well known Grand Theft Auto 5 machinima maker who, by way of the game's Rockstar Editor, creates everything from comedy skits, to GTA-inspired Carl Sagan videos. His latest project, GTA Z, is an ongoing zombie apocalypse miniseries that launched its sixth episode earlier this year. Mods are a vital part of Duggy's productions—the majority of which are powered by the now defunct OpenIV modding tool, which Take-Two shuttered last week for reasons Rockstar outlined here. Now, much of Duggy's work hangs in the balance.
Having spent the last few days chatting with Duggy and a few of his peers, it's clear the above sentiment is shared throughout the GTA machinima community.
"If we had to go back to a vanilla state GTA, most people would stop making machinimas at that point," Duggy tells me. "People who've been making machinimas since it came out on PC have already done all they could do with the vanilla version of the game, and now that, for so long, we've been able to create all kinds of works, people expect a certain standard. OpenIV has taught a lot of us the inner workings of a game. It taught me a lot about programming and modelling and how to apply things in terms of creating cinematics."
As a game primarily designed for robbing banks, stealing cars and generally encouraging unscrupulous behaviour, it's surprising just how popular GTA 5's creative subculture has become since its console launch in 2013 and arrival on PC two years later. Los Santos, the game's satirically-swiping slant on real life LA, is now brimming with talent and a cursory YouTube search throws up myriads of films, faux advertisements and music videos wherein artists showcase their impressive skills in spades.
Above and beyond individual artistry, though, these productions act as perfect advertisements for Rockstar's game by way of showing off what's possible within their near limitless playground—something which the developer has until now actively encouraged via its website Newswire.
To this end, the closure of OpenIV—the preeminent tool for facilitating all of the above, that's incidentally been around for close to a decade—feels like a strange move. To reiterate part of Rockstar's somewhat vague response last week: "Take-Two's actions were not specifically targeting single player mods", but instead went after those which were said to compromise the game's interlinked GTA Online multiplayer portion.
Rockstar has been very clear since the introduction of GTA Online that mods are not allowed, and the developer has been notoriously hard on anyone caught attempting to do so. Furthermore, the game automatically shuts itself down should someone tries to bypass its mandatory pre-game warning. That is, unless you're able to cheat the system.
"That's the thing, as much as we dislike these griefers and hackers, they'll always find a way because they're smart," says Eanan Patterson (EP), creator and president of the Banished Breed MC, a group who creates Sons of Anarchy-inspired machinima. "They're very intelligent people and you can see the quality of intelligence in the mods they make. This kind of cease and desist - is that really going to stop them, by ruining it for everyone else? I don't think so, they'll always find a way."
Despite it being a complicated process, both Duggy and EP have since rolled back their games to previous updates in order to continue their work, however this idea isn't one the creative community is willing to adopt as a whole. Since targeting OpenIV, Take-Two has also closed down other programs such as the online segment of Menyoo, and more malicious applications such as Force Hax. The latter move appears to be welcomed by creators, but has also served to underscore their frustration with the former.
"They've shut down a lot of paid menus. Fair enough, shutting those down, but why not just try that first?" asks Muz whose YouTube channel boasts dozens of GTA videos. "Why not have tried that months ago instead of just going straight for OpenIV? It just seems so ridiculous. Sure, this will pull the scale back but there are smaller ones out there. I know people who do money drops all the time—shutting down, like, four of them isn't going to solve the problem".
Sonny, an ex-member of 8-Bit Bastard and now solo machinima creator, echoes the above, but also considers the wider impact the removal of OpenIV is having and continues to have on the GTA creative community across the board.
"The machinima community is one thing, we're being hurt by this, but there's so many more people out there who're being affected," he says. "The modders themselves, who've put hours into their work. I know a guy who makes skins in GTA. He's autistic and doesn't have a whole lot else going on his life and that's what he did. He loved it, he loved when people posted comments on his stuff and that's his way of interacting with the GTA community. That's gone now as well, no one can download his stuff anymore."
Ash Sky Queen, whose coinciding stunt work we've covered in the past, uses GTA machinima as therapy. After suffering a prolapsed disk in 2013, she found herself almost entirely immobile and unable to work. She describes video creation as "something that gets [her] through the day", but that in the wake of OpenIV's closure would seriously consider "shifting to another game".
Going elsewhere is something Muz is considering too, while Sonny suggests there's nowhere else for machinima creators to go. Nothing else compares to Los Santos, he reckons, and in a way they've been spoiled by what he describes as a "dynamic and actual living city."
And for those creators who are willing to stick around, how they adapt and maintain the standards they've set themselves up to this point is absolutely crucial. Viewers too have been spoiled by the sophistication and finesse video makers are now capable of—and going backwards just isn't feasible, particularly considering the time and effort that goes into each production.
Looking to the future, it seems unlikely Rockstar and Take-Two will go back on their OpenIV cease and desist order. The idea that a future patch and/or kill switch could be implemented, thus rendering older versions of the modding tool obsolete, is a daunting prospect, and it's improbable they'll come forth with official modding tools themselves.
"GTA 5 is probably towards the end of its life. RDR2 is coming out soon with an online portion that'll have a big team working on it. God knows when GTA 6 will come out. In terms of them releasing a modding tool? I'd be surprised, I don't think they will," admits Duggy. "If they were to release a modding tool, what's to say someone cracks open that modding tool and basically reverse engineering it and turning it into another OpenIV.
"And then I suppose that'd put Rockstar down a particular line of condoning these mods. Normally, they're in a bit of a grey area where they condone some mods and not others. This could put them in a box if they were to release their own modding tool."
Nevertheless, the future is still vague. Is this about money? Is it because the OpenIV team was working on a Liberty City GTA 5 map—and if so, why was the modding tool targeted over the map itself? Rockstar's response, given its prior active promotion of the game's machinima and modding communities, is ambiguous when it says "we are working to figure out how we can continue to support the creative community without negatively impacting our players."
Beyond that, a sizeable number of GTA creators' livelihoods have become uncertain overnight, many of whom feel Rockstars owes them more than what it's offered so far.
"It's not hypocritical, I'm trying to think of the right word for it," says EP. "The response was what? About a paragraph? I think that's somewhat insulting towards the size of a community that was consistently showcased on the Newswire over the past few years. Ever since the Rockstar Editor was launched there was some kind of video fan showcase from Rockstar directly with all kinds of different creators using their software and the game itself.
"I dunno, it's a very short and curt response to a very huge outcry from the community. That I find slightly worrying which also makes me allude to the fact that: will anything really be done? Do they really, honestly, care at the end of the day? Or are they just playing ball with their parent company? It's a hard thing. I think we deserved more than a paragraph."
"OpenIV is the main thing that confuses everyone, a lot of us have been using it and the online manipulation that they claim, that's not something that a lot of us are familiar with," adds Duggy. "We would like them to be a bit clearer on that."
Since OpenIV's closure, a Change.org petition lobbying to have the tool reinstalled has, at the time of writing, almost reached 75,000 signatures. What's more, a deluge of negative Steam reviews has seen the game sink to 'Mixed' for the first time ever. Recent reviews are now marked 'Overwhelming Negative'.
Sonny, however, reiterates his wider picture outlook and asks that we consider those who're hurting most: the OpenIV team itself.
"Like I said, it's not just the machinima community that's hurting, you've got the mod creators—heck, the guys from OpenIV, they're hurting the most in this scenario. Ten years of work just shut down like that, it's crazy. I feel like it's all because of money. It's always about money, it's just so sad."
Special thanks to GTA 5 machinima creator Ebony who, while not quoted above, contributed views to this article.