FALLOUT 4
  • 17 June 2016 16:43:41

    On console mods, theft and Bethesda.net

    posted by Dark0ne Site News
    Today’s essay is on a subject I really don’t want to cover. I don’t know if it’s a lethargy that’s come from a changing of the seasons, or more likely, whether I feel utterly drained from the past few weeks of downright stupidity surrounding the community from all sides that makes me resent having to address the situation. However, we’ve released a small update to the mod author permissions section to address some of the issues that have arisen lately (details towards the bottom of this article), so I guess addressing the elephant in the room would now make sense.

    I've posted this article on both our Fallout 4 section and our Skyrim section, as this information is also relevant to the Skyrim community now that Bethesda have openly announced their work on the Skyrim Remaster, which will include a new Creation Kit and mods on Bethesda.net for Skyrim.

    So, what’s going on?

    Back towards the end of April Bethesda released the Creation Kit for PC players. This is basically the tool that modders use to create the more advanced mods that originally weren’t possible (or were considerably harder to do) before the Creation Kit’s release. However, coupled with the Creation Kit came Bethesda.net, Bethesda’s official mod hosting platform. Let's not beat around the bush on this one, it’s not great. So much so, and my own hubris notwithstanding, I’d say that if this wasn’t the official mod resource from Bethesda themselves and tied directly into the Creation Kit for easy publishing then practically nobody would be using it. You know the situation is bad when the usual Bethesda sycophants within the community are even admitting it’s pretty damn bad.

    There’s obvious noticeable reasons why it’s really not good, and a lot of this stems from Bethesda’s focus on the console modding side of things. While Bethesda.net has a PC mods section, it’s not as popular as their XBox One mod section. Indeed, it’s certainly designed around their built-in (yet still quite user unfriendly) mod browsing system from within Fallout 4 itself. Something PC players are less likely to want to use because it’s far less powerful or usable than a website interface.

    This isn’t a major issue, however. If Bethesda’s offering is pants and PC players don’t want or need to use it, then it’s no harm no foul and we can all continue on without any serious concern because, at the end of the day, it wasn’t made for us in mind anyway. However, the real issues stem from Bethesda’s flagrant disregard for the existing community and their naivety, arrogance and/or ignorance of how the community has worked these past 14 years (since Morrowind). Which brings us to the main point of this article; the effect of console mods and Bethesda’s ignorance towards its existing modding community.

    When the Creation Kit was first released at the end of April, it was simply used to create mods for PC that could be uploaded to Bethesda.net (or the Nexus) for PC players. Not a major cultural shift for the community as we’d grown accustomed to it after Bethesda officially endorsed the Skyrim Workshop on Steam. At the end of May, that changed, as the Creation Kit could now be used to upload mods for XBox One players who could download mods from Bethesda’s built-in Fallout 4 mod browser system...thing.

    Stop. Time-out, Zack Morris style. I need to address this issue. If that upset you. If the very thought of mods on consoles upsets you. Stop reading. Infact, just leave the site. You’re very likely to be a douche and an endemic problem within the PC gaming community. There is nothing wrong with the concept of mods being available on consoles.

    However…

    There is a major problem if mods on consoles seriously affects the PC modding side of things, or is detrimental in any way to PC mods or indeed how PC modding has worked within the community these past 14 years.

    You need to separate your thinking between “mods on consoles are bad for whatever reason”, which is stupid, and “mods on console are bad due to how it’s affecting the PC modding community”, which can be justified. If you argue the former, then you, sir, are a douche. If you argue the latter, cohesively and without any reference to PC superiority, you’re doing it right.

    If your issue is with mods being on consoles at all out of some bigoted view of PCs being better than consoles, then piss off. Seriously, just go. There’s no place for you in this community. We all know that PCs are more powerful and more customisable than their console equivalents. However, there is no reason consoles should not be allowed to have mods, provided the PC modding community is appropriately protected and not dumbed down or negatively affected in any way. If you disagree then you’re a part of some daft quasi-militant side of the “PC Master Race” (see: teenie bopper) shite and need to grow the hell up.

    A lot of the chatter amongst the community these past few weeks has been about this concept. That consoles shouldn’t be allowed to have mods. It’s utterly stupid, and it’s seriously sidetracked the actual major issues and problems that have occurred. It’s frustrating to see people trying to argue the actual main points getting sidetracked by idiots who want to argue about their PC Master Race superiority. If you’re the aforementioned douche, then you’re wrong, and you should leave.

    End time-out, resume play.

    Naturally, console players on the XBox One were chomping at the bit to try out mods for their game. For years they’ve been reading about all the amazing mods available for games like Skyrim and Fallout 3 but have been unable to use mods themselves. Finally, they’d be able to get their hands on mods too.

    However, in order for the mods to be available on consoles, PC mod authors would need to upload their mods, as a separate entry, to Bethesda.net’s system. While mods are available on consoles, they can’t actually be made by console users on their consoles after all.

    As the flood-gates opened, it became increasingly obvious that users could just come to the Nexus or indeed the PC section of Bethesda.net, download another author’s mod, open up the Creation Kit and upload the file to the XBox One section, with or without that author’s permission.

    Now mod theft is nothing new. We’ve been dealing with mod theft within the PC modding community for years now. It’s widespread and well documented. We’ve banned hundreds (it could even be thousands) of accounts here for doing it and Bethesda obviously know about it too, as they’ve had to deal with similar issues on their own forums and with the Skyrim Workshop on Steam.

    Here’s where things get pants on head stupid. It became clear, early on, that Bethesda had not planned for the eventuality of mods being stolen. They had no clear moderation system in place. No way of quickly dealing with the issue or indeed any sort of decent reporting system so that users could report stolen mods in detail to the (seemingly non-existent) moderation team.
    Rumours spread that the only person who could action stolen content reports was Matt Grandstaff, the Bethesda Community Manager. With E3 on the horizon, it seemed like no one at Bethesda was manning the moderation system at all. As a result, mods that had been stolen and reported many, many times were not being actioned and were being left up for many days at a time.

    This is soul crushing for mod authors. To see their hard work being taken, without their permission, often times by people actually openly goading, trolling and mocking the mod authors about the theft and that nothing was being done about it. Despite this activity only being done by a small handful of people (who are seemingly just children), it has created some deep rooted resentment towards the console modding community and Bethesda themselves.

    Let's address the fact this is supposed to be the official mod hosting platform for Bethesda games. THE place where Bethesda want all mods to be hosted (within their rules). I...wh...my mind simply boggles at how you think it’s OK to release a modding platform without even a second thought as to how you’re going to actually moderate it. It’s fucking insulting to the community.

    Back when the Skyrim Workshop was released, and later with the paid modding fiasco, I briefly brought this concept up with Matt Grandstaff and the Valve team. I told them that coding a website is easy. Anyone can do it. Just grab a book about HTML, PHP or Ruby and MySQL, learn how to code and you can do it. You’d be able to go from not knowing any programming languages to being able to make a site like the Nexus in about 6 months. Easily. Indeed, when TESSource went down back in 2007, I recoded the website from the ground up into TESNexus in 2 weeks, working from 9am to 12pm every night. It wasn’t hard. It was monotonous, sure, but it wasn’t hard.

    What’s hard is spending the time to form an actual thriving community and trying to do right by that community so that they trust you enough to actually use your site. Doing right by that community requires countless hours responding to emails and messages, support tickets, moderation requests, generally conversing and actively engaging with your community and getting a feel for what the wants and needs of the community are and ultimately legislating if necessary so the community understands where you stand and what you expect of them. There’s seemingly none of that with Bethesda.net.

    Naturally those words fell on deaf ears.

    It’s not like Bethesda don’t have a precedent in regards to file moderation within their community. Ignoring the fact they were in charge of the Skyrim Workshop, where all these issues cropped up, there’s also this site called Nexus Mods. Lets face it, it’s pretty damn big, it’s gone through these issues a myriad of times already, right? Even if, for some reason, you want to ignore the staff who run and work on the site (news posts like this probably don’t help, let's face it!), there’s lots of users on the Nexus who are also Bethesda community regulars that could have been called upon for advice.

    A simple quick email to me asking how bad moderation is for the community and what it takes, or indeed, a quick look at our warning and ban forum where we specifically document what people are warned and banned for every day would have revealed the extent to which moderation occurs and is necessary to keep a (relatively) happy and functioning community of this size going. And that’s just the surface stuff, and doesn’t include all the behind the scenes peacekeeping work we have to do between users. It’s not easy. It’s not quick. You can’t do it with one person (who I assume works extremely hard doing other things within Bethesda already). You can’t even do it with four people. You can’t do it as a 9-5, Monday-Friday job. It has to be as close to a 24/7/365 system as possible because trolls know no borders, and trolls know no time zone. If you run a global site with a global audience for your customers all over the globe, then your site should similarly be moderated across time zones and work hours to reflect your global reach.

    Now look, I’m not saying that Bethesda need to moderate like us. They don’t need the same strict warning and ban system and they don’t need to widely document it like we do. However, there are some core tenets of this community, tenets that have been established for well over a decade, that were being flagrantly ignored by users on Bethesda.net and ultimately going completely unpunished for far too long by Bethesda. Tenets like “don’t steal mods”. It seems obvious really, but for some reason Bethesda made no plans to deal with such an obvious problem, neither in the way they created their site without a good reporting system or in the way they seemingly didn’t set up a stable and working moderation team and system before launching the site.

    How long is too long for a stolen mod to be actioned? That does depend on how obvious the theft is. If the user who has stolen the mod has obviously stolen the mod (usually made obvious by the fact they fucking admit to stealing the mod and not giving a damn in the file description or comments...yes, that’s been happening a lot…) then it should take less than a day. In cases where theft isn’t immediately obvious, where two authors provide different stories about the permissions around assets used within a mod it can certainly take a lot longer. But that’s not what’s been happening with console mods. Most of the theft has been downright obvious and for reports to take 4-9 days to action is bad. Really really bad.

    During this time, the mod thieves were getting emboldened by Bethesda’s lack of action and continued to upload more stolen mods to the Bethesda.net file database. To add insult to injury, at a time when mod authors were getting understandably upset and irate with how they were being treated, GStaff released an official announcement, which largely read like a lawyer had written it, telling people to file DMCA takedown requests if they want their stolen work removed. This enraged some mod authors further. At a time when mod authors were looking for Bethesda to do right by them and detail exactly what Bethesda planned to do to combat the problem, all Bethesda could come up with was a convoluted, user-unfriendly process for having their files removed. I stepped in to try and get some clarification from Bethesda, because up until now the message was kind of being lost amongst the swirling rage being thrown at Bethesda at the time.

    Now, the DMCA system in general on the internet does work, and it’s a legal system in the USA at that. However, the hope is that when you’re running the official mod hosting platform for a series of games, that your moderation system is more advanced than “send an email to this address”. Heck, even a template/form system built in to the Bethesda.net site for the DMCA process would have been helpful.

    I chuckle slightly while writing this, but there was a brilliant example of this entire spectacle that highlights the difference between the Nexus moderation and Bethesda’s moderation on this issue.

    Before the Fallout 4 Far Harbor DLC was released, it was leaked via a closed beta tester to torrent sites a full week before the official launch. A user on the Nexus uploaded it to Nexus Mods a few days later. The Nexus moderation team removed the stolen file within 2 hours and 20 minutes, despite it being uploaded on a Sunday morning at 3.16AM GMT (or 10.16PM EST on Saturday night). At 1.56PM on Sunday afternoon, I received a rare email from Matt Grandstaff asking me to remove the file if I hadn’t already. The file had already been removed and the user who uploaded it banned a good 8 hours before hand. We didn't wait for a DMCA to remove it. We removed it because hundreds of our users had reported it via our easy to use yet powerful reporting system, because we have a moderation team that's awake and doing good work at 3AM in the morning in the Nexus's local timezone, and because, obviously, it was the right thing to do.

    And therein lies the issue. Bethesda notice their own content being stolen almost instantly (even at weekends) and will go to great steps to protect their work, but when it comes to creating a proper system to protect their own user’s interests, or indeed on actioning stolen content reports, they go missing for days or even weeks at a time. Seems a little...wrong, right?

    I expect Matt emailed me out of courtesy, rather than letting Zenimax/Bethesda go straight for the DMCA route which is largely harsh and full of alienating legalese, but the point remains. Mod authors shouldn’t need to use a legal system to have their work removed, there should be a built in moderation system to handle all this stuff in-house. And it should have been created before they released Bethesda.net to the public.

    And I think that’s quite telling. Nexus Mods is a site that grew from within the Bethesda community. It’s run on a shoestring budget by someone (ahem, me) running several different businesses and projects and largely moderated by volunteers who aren’t paid a dime (our community manager, SirSalami, is paid however, as it’s a full-time job). At the moment we have 9 active moderators plus SirSalami, making 10. If we can do it, Bethesda sure as hell can.

    I expect the inherent problem was that the release of the Creation Kit was delayed specifically so they could finish their work on Bethesda.net. From the looks of the site and how barebones it is, I expect that the site wasn’t the cause of the delay, but rather, the integration of the mod browser into the game itself coupled with the integration with the XBox and Playstation platforms is what caused the delay to the CK. Since the game came out in November and player numbers were beginning to fall off, I assume they realised that they couldn’t wait any longer to release the CK and get their modding platform out with E3 around the corner.

    Indeed, everything about the Bethesda.net launch has stunk of “release now, fix later”.

    Now, my tone and the way I talk of them might suggest to you that I dislike Bethesda. I wouldn’t say I dislike Bethesda. I think they make great games and we obviously wouldn’t all be here if it wasn’t for the fact they made them with modding in mind. And we shouldn’t lose sight of that fact. But unfortunately, because Bethesda have not been particularly active within their modding community these past 14 years, in fact, they’ve been very hands off, this is all very...odd.

    Bethesda are like a father who left you at birth with all the tools you need to survive. They weren’t there for you, they haven’t looked after you or protected you when you needed it, but they did leave you to fend for yourself with some pretty good tools. Sure, without them you wouldn’t have ever existed and the tools they provided were invaluable in staying alive, but ultimately it was you, the person with the tools that made you the person you are today.

    And now, after 14 years of looking after yourself, and doing extremely well, your father has suddenly come back. You’re left with a lot of questions; why did they leave in the first place? Why are they back now? What are their motives? Are they only here because I’ve become popular and successful? Do they actually care about me or do they only care about their own interests?

    And, ultimately, this is the real crux of the issue. The father figure is back after 14 years of absence and people are naturally skeptical about whether Bethesda have their best intentions at heart, or just their own. Yes, Bethesda have done really well to release their games with good modding tools. No, they haven’t been involved in the community or really looked after it at all.

    Because this issue has been going on for a few weeks now it’s been debated to death both within the Nexus community and on the Bethesda forums (as well as being covered in the press extensively). From this debate there have been a lot of recurring questions and statements that I feel need to be cleared up or argued against. So I’m going to do a little Q&A style thing now where I list the commonly said things and my responses to them.

    “Hey, it’s early days and this is their first site, go easy on them”

    This would make sense if Bethesda were creating a community site for their first majorly modded game, Morrowind, 14 years ago. Back then, the modding community was an unknown and they’d have been justified in making glaring mistakes and then learning from them, like most sites did at the time. However, it’s not a site for Morrowind 14 years ago, it’s a site for Fallout 4, now. There’s already 14 years of precedents set within their very own community from which they themselves could have learnt from but have seemingly chosen not to. There’s no excuse for it.


    “Bethesda are a big company, you need to give them time to respond to these issues”

    If the inner workings of your company are so horrifically bureaucratic that you can’t respond to legitimate, major complaints in your very own community (for which you have a dedicated Community Manager) within two weeks then something is seriously wrong. Irrespective, the bureaucracy that makes them slow is not our fault. That is their fault. My idea of “giving people enough time” on something as serious as mod theft is a few days, not 2 weeks.


    Anyone can steal a mod and upload it to a torrent site or a Russian site and it’ll never be taken down. What’s the big deal?

    The “big deal” is that Bethesda is being touted as the official mod hosting platform for Bethesda’s games. It’s going to be a highly trafficked site, unlike a torrent site or a Russian modding site rife with stolen content, which is not going to be particularly active for modding. Do you really want to hold Bethesda to the same standards as The Pirate Bay or a Russian site rife with piracy, or do you expect more from the people you pay your money towards?


    Bethesda own the rights to mods so it’s not actually stealing if you upload it to their site

    First of all, you and I are NOT BETHESDA. As such, saying “Bethesda own the mod so I can do with it what I want” is like saying “My mate has made a piece of software, therefore I can upload it to another site”. It makes NO SENSE. Bethesda having a right to something doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want with it.

    Secondly, Bethesda don’t own mods made with the Creation Kit. By using the Creation Kit to create a mod, you grant Bethesda a license to pretty much do anything with your work, but that doesn’t mean they own it. Indeed, the license agreement specifically states “Ownership. As between You and ZeniMax, You are the owner of Your Game Mods and all intellectual property rights therein, subject to the licenses You grant to ZeniMax in this Agreement.”. It doesn’t get any clearer than that. Mod authors own their mods, but Zenimax are granted licenses within the agreement to do a number of things with it. Once again, Zenimax are granted licenses, NOT YOU.

    Lastly, the Creation Kit license agreement only covers content made within the Creation Kit itself. It would not include things made with software outside of the Creation Kit including, but not limited to, models, textures, animations, sound effects and so on and so forth. Zenimax/Bethesda are not granted licenses to that content unless authors specifically upload said content to Bethesda.net.

    What we take from this is that mods are owned by mod authors, irrespective of what they contain. And as a result, the work is automatically copyrighted (as is all unique work you create) and authors can protect their work like anyone else on the internet who has made unique work themselves.


    Why should mod authors care about others taking their work? Surely they release mods so that as many people as possible can enjoy them?

    *facepalm*

    Let’s start off with the most important and most valid response to this statement: Mod authors can do whatever the fuck they want with their own mods (within the licenses mentioned above), and that’s their prerogative, not yours. They do not need to justify why they will or will not upload their mods to another service or port them for use on consoles.

    Saying “I believe active mod authors should want their mods being spread uncontrollably around the internet, therefore it’s OK to share their work on other sites against their express wishes” is stupid, wrong, and unjustifiable. Just because mod authors motives or reasons for not wanting their work shared doesn’t align with yours doesn’t mean it’s OK for you to share their work against their permission.

    But since people tend to want a bit more reasoning than “because I don’t want to and because I can do whatever I want and you have no right to tell me what to do” even though that’s the best reason of the lot, I’ll list a few of the common and reasonable reasons for not wanting to share their work either on other sites, or specifically for console users.

    1. The mod author is aware the mod will not work on consoles or could even potentially harm a console, therefore will not port the mod to consoles.
    2. The mod author was actively working on porting their mod to consoles, but it actually required some work to do as they needed to make changes to their mod to accommodate the limits on mods and ensure it was as efficient as possible for console users.
    3. The author prides themselves on being able to tell their users it’s been optimised as much as possible, but sadly doesn’t own a console and doesn’t want to buy a console to ensure that same quality is also evident on consoles.
    4. In the same vein, it’s hard to fix bugs specific to console mods if you don’t actually own the console and can’t test it yourself. The author doesn’t want to release a mod they can’t actively support.
    5. The mod wouldn’t actually be allowed on Bethesda.net due to the content of the mod conflicting with their mod uploading rules.
    6. The author doesn’t want to manage their mods in multiple locations on multiple sites and prefers to keep everything in one place, on one site.
    7. The author has made use of other user’s assets, with legal permission to do so, and therefore cannot grant others the right to share that work without first getting permission from the original creator of the work that may or may not be possible.
    8. The author doesn’t like Bethesda.net/Nexus Mods/whatever site we’re talking about so refuses to use it.
    9. Mod authors make mods for themselves first, and you second. If the second part, you, becomes too much of a problem for them, they’ll simply not want to share them with you at all.


    That list is by no means exhaustive, and there’s lots of other justifiable reasons for not wanting to share their mods on other sites. At the end of the day, we, the mod users, have absolutely no rights whatsoever in demanding mod authors do or do not do something with their mods. Nor do we have any right to take a mod and upload it somewhere else, just because other people want it.

    And finally, let's not forget the other elephant in the room; paid modding.

    Lets face it, it’s highly likely this ugly subject is going to be cropping up again in the not too distant future.

    A lot of the mod authors are going to have an eye to the future in the knowledge that paid modding is going to be coming back. It’s practically inevitable. As a result, they’re going to want to maintain a tighter control over their mods and ensure their mods aren’t being maintained on Bethesda.net by anyone other than themselves.


    Can the Nexus do anything to stop mod thieves?

    There’s not much we can do to prevent the stealing of mods on our end. What we can do is raise awareness of the issue and provide mod authors with some tools that can help them to express their wishes in regards to how they want their mods to be shared. The hope is this will help any future moderation team at Bethesda to more quickly and easily establish whether a mod has been used without permission or not.

    We already have an extensive permissions system for mods, but today we’ve released an addition to that system for console modding. You can now choose from a set of options in our Fallout 4 section to express your wishes. These are:

    • I have uploaded my mods to Bethesda.net and they are available for console users.
    • I have not uploaded my mods to Bethesda.net for console users yet, but I will at some point.
    • My mods will not be available on Bethesda.net for console users.
    • My mods won’t work on consoles or would not be acceptable on Bethesda.net according to their rules.
    • I give my permission for someone else to port my mods to console and for it to be uploaded to Bethesda.net by someone else. Please credit me, however.


    If you select the top option saying you’ve uploaded your mod to Bethesda.net then you’ll be provided with two text fields where you can provide a link to those mod pages on Bethesda.net. These will create mirrors on your file pages from which users can see and navigate to your mods on Bethesda.net and also tag the files with the “XBone version available” and “PS4 version available” tags.

    Coincidentally, such a system can be used by console users to browse the Nexus for their favourite Nexus Mods and see if they’re also available on Bethesda.net using our tag searching system.

    And so ends the Q&A for now.

    Ultimately, I think the thing that disappoints me the most is that Bethesda’s influence within the community after largely staying out of it these past 14 years has had such a polarising effect. It should not be the case that the official developer of the games you’re modding has such a negative effect right from the start with their new modding endeavour.

    I’m certain that they’ll finally get around to plugging the holes in their system and making some of the stuff they’ve done wrong, right. But the very fact this has been such a major issue these past few weeks speaks volumes.

    5,100 words. I’m done.

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