Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto Online, which launched over five years ago, isn’t the studio’s newest online game — it was upstaged by Red Dead Online last year. But GTA Online’s publisher is still going after people who enable cheating (as well as other modding options) in the game. Last week, Take-Two filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the makers of a mod called Evolve, the latest in a years-long fight that’s gotten mixed reactions from inside the GTA Online community.
Evolve is a paid GTA Online mod menu (or trainer) that’s been running since 2017. Like several similar mods, it lets players change basic elements of the game world while the mod is running. Evolve grants users godlike powers like cloning themselves, controlling the weather, and raining weapons from the sky. But as the lawsuit notes, mod menus also affect non-modded players’ experience. They can be used to troll or “grief” these innocent bystanders by auto-killing them or turning the environment against them.
People also use mods to grant themselves infinite money, which lets them play in a way Rockstar didn’t intend. “[Evolve] disrupts the user experience that was designed by Take-Two,” it says, and its creators have “attempted to conceal their infringement by creating, distributing, maintaining, and selling the Infringing Program pseudonymously.”
Evolve costs roughly $30, but the site only accepts Bitcoin vouchers. The Evolve team is pseudonymous, and emails sent to addresses mentioned in the lawsuit were not returned. (A representative on Evolve’s support line was unaware of the suit and offered a smile emoji by way of comment.) So far, there’s no change in the service status, although Evolve appears to have briefly shut down in December.
Take-Two has been going after GTA mods for years now. In mid-2017, it successfully shut down three modding tools with cease-and-desist notices, convincing one of the teams to donate its proceeds to charity. As Kotaku noted at the time, some players cheered this decision, since cheaters had used their extra powers to attack people without the mods. But Take-Two also ignited protest by banning the popular general-purpose modding system OpenIV. Rockstar Games eventually convinced the publisher to rein in its legal threats, and it agreed it “generally will not take legal action” against non-commercial mods for the game’s single-player content.
Take-Two has pushed forward with lawsuits against programs like Evolve, which cost money and are used in the game’s online mode. Last year, it won a court order that shut down Georgia modder David Zipperer in a different case. This lawsuit seeks to uncover the identities of the people behind Evolve, permanently shut down the service, and recover at least $500,000 in damages.
Cheating lawsuits are nothing new, and they’re often aimed at stopping things that make the game less fun for everybody but the cheaters. In GTA Online, modding can be more morally ambiguous, like the Grand Theft Auto universe itself — it can make an old experience feel new again or give players a peek into the game’s guts. Even so, it’s eminently possible to enjoy the weird world of GTA V modding without going online or affecting other players.
Take-Two hasn’t spread its legal crackdown to Red Dead Online, which is still in beta testing and has only been available for a few months. But with a spate of updates this spring, it is trying to make the core game less griefer-friendly — an effort that, if Red Dead Online is anything like GTA Online or other multiplayer games, will never really end.