So, the other day an all too common cycle I see with people making fangames came to an end. Some hyped up fangame or mod comes out, everyone downloads it after game journalists cover it everywhere, and then a day or so later there’s a DMCA and the reaction of gamers is split between anger at the game developer for going after fans, or bootlickers going on and on with generic excuses worshipping whoever made the original game, even as they get shat on by the developer over and over again.
This time, the game involved was a mod for a cancelled Russian free to play Halo title based on the Halo 3 engine which was called Halo Online, and the mod was called El Dewrito, and it’s interesting for 2 reasons. The first reason being, Microsoft is notoriously lenient with fangames and fan content, to the point of supporting fan content on public media accounts and even telling multiple ones they’re legally in the clear (and the notice they put up about El Dewrito on their website mentioned Installation 01, a Unity based fangame that’s still not out yet). The second reason being, Microsoft and 343 industries put up a notice on their website in the news section talking about this explaining their side as most companies just send the takedown notice and let it be, almost as if they predicted the giant backlash to come, with Phil Spencer even going on Twitter to hint at classic Halo coming to the PC. Microsoft also stated that they had talks with the developers of El Dewrito and were possibly working towards something, yet nobody could trust them and I’ll talk about why later.
A day or so later Microsoft started sending DMCA requests to Twitch streamers who streamed this game since it was popular, getting tens of thousands of viewers on Twitch, with more people caring about this fan mod than the official Halo titles. Furthermore, any attempt at discussing El Dewrito will lead to your thread being deleted or locked.
And of course, on subreddits talking about the game, there was a lot of backlash over this, as much as you’d expect for a game franchise with a history in recent times as fucked up as the Halo franchise has been, and so first let’s talk about a little bit about the history of Halo in recent times, especially on the PC.
Ever since the ill-fated PC port of Halo 2 from 2007 that required Windows Vista and had crippled mod support, Halo hasn’t seen a full-fledged PC release, and it’s just been a clusterfuck. You want Halo 3 for the PC? Tough shit, you’re getting Spartan Assault, a port of a mobile game that nobody really wanted. You want Halo Wars? Alright, you’ll get it on Steam several months after the Windows store release, you can’t play with people who bought that, and if you want Halo Wars 2 you’d better buy it from the Windows Store. You want Halo 5? Well you’re not going to get Halo 5, you’ll just get the forge mode and you guessed it, you need the Windows Store to download it. Since around 2007, gamers have been begging Microsoft to release Halo 3 on the PC in some way, shape, or form.
Meanwhile on consoles, the situation is marginally better. Halo 5 is a microtransaction fueled forgettable pile of crap that’s lost a lot of it’s playerbase, and Halo 4 tried aping Call of Duty which resulted in the game losing a lot of players the same day Black Ops 2 came out. The Master Chief Collection was perhaps one of the biggest fuck ups this gen by any major game studio and nearly 4 years later 343 industries is still claiming that there’s a patch to fix it finally coming soon. In something that should not come as a surprise, nobody has any sort of confidence, treating it on an “I’ll believe it when I see it” basis. The Halo tournaments are practically ghost towns, while even other dying franchises like Call of Duty can still fill up a stadium for their pro events. While playing Halo 3 on the Xbox One isn’t an issue considering how you can play your choice of the original 2007 release or the Master Chief Collection version depending on which one you have the disc for, it is not on the PC.
So, when Halo Online was announced for the Russian PC market, many Halo fans weren’t too thrilled at not getting Halo 3 for the PC, until well it was also announced that Halo Online was based on a modified Halo 3 engine. This led to modders taking on a challenge: Can a shitty Russian Halo free to play game on the Halo 3 engine be turned back into Halo 3? So, Halo fans, burnt out on modding the 2003 PC port of Halo (and mostly ignoring the PC version of Halo 2 for the longest amount of time) decided to take up the challenge and see how far they could go with it. And thus, El Dewrito was born. It started out with multiplayer based on the leaked Halo Online files, but Microsoft either turned a blind eye to it or didn’t notice it until the ultra-hyped 0.6 update came out. This is when everybody started downloading it.
The numbers were quite impressive for the Halo franchise, to the point where Microsoft couldn’t ignore it. Halo Online had 20-30 thousand people watching Twitch streams, and that’s a guess because the biggest stream had 20 thousand people watching it. Either way it dwarfed the number of people watching streams for Halo 5 or the Master Chief Collection. Over 40 thousand people downloaded the packed El Dewrito version already applied to Halo Online. Over 8 thousand people were playing El Dewrito, more than Halo PC, Custom Edition, and Project Cartographer combined, and there were lots of positive posts about how it brought back memories. Even if it had bugs, even if it was a ghetto hack of some Russian Halo free to play game that was never released, the impact was felt.
Of course, this is also the day and age where triple-A gaming studios have never been more out of touch with what gamers want, and the Master Chief Collection isn’t the only recent screw up of a remake or remaster. Modern Warfare Remastered’s release was handled as poorly as possible, from being released with an 80-dollar special edition of a game nobody wanted at first, to not including the DLC and charging $5 more than its original cost. An update added in loot boxes, and by the time it finally released as a standalone 40-dollar game the bad choices and negative PR from the choices led many gamers to lose interest entirely. I also have heard the rumor that the rumored Modern Warfare 2 remaster is going to be even worse, lacking the multiplayer and being single player only. Hey, when you combine that with the Black Ops 4 rumors there’s a reason I said Call of Duty is dying.
So, let’s skip back to earlier. Halo’s fanbase is a fanbase that’s been fucked over time and time again to the point where everyone lost interest in the series, to the point where Halo went from being the gold standard of shooters to another me too franchise, to the point where people who bought Xboxes for Halo started returning them or selling them because the new Halo titles sucked, and to the point where absolutely nobody has any sort of trust in 343 Industries anymore, and to a lesser extent Microsoft. And don’t get me started on how Halo for the PC has been a long running joke.
Halo 3 on the PC in some form for these people was almost like a dream come true. Here, you can finally play Halo 3, both on the PC, and for free, without having to run out to the local pawn shop to pick up a used 360, an Xbox Live gold card, and a 5 dollar copy of Halo 3, especially as many internet gamers pawned off their Xbox for some weed or 30 dollars off a PS4 at GameStop. Of course, as soon as the hype storm blew up, Microsoft found out about this and well, they were ordered to halt their work. Now the official reason for the cease and desist was well, Microsoft didn’t want them doing anything with the old Halo Online files, but you could also argue that it was likely for the same reason Nintendo was going after Project M from behind the scenes which led to the developers having to halt work after word got around that they were next. Fans making what other gamers wanted were taking the spotlight and hype away from the sanitized, soulless, corporate triple-A game that lots of fans didn’t quite like, and that likely didn’t make some people at Microsoft too happy, and I heard rumors that Microsoft wasn’t too thrilled at El Dewrito either. If anything, if the Nintendo fanbase wasn’t full of as many corporate bootlickers who haven’t yet realized that defending a faceless company online won’t get you a job there, I guarantee the Project M fiasco would have been as big as this El Dewrito fiasco because well, Project M actually got tournament play.
So anyhow, El Dewrito’s 0.6 update came out after tons of hype, everyone downloaded it, and a day or two later Microsoft issued a cease and desist, and the backlash online has been a bit big, even despite the comment of talks with the developers. While even with a company like Sega people would get excited at the prospect of fans working on an official game, with how 343 has treated Halo fans have every right to be skeptical. With how bad Halo 2 was on the PC and how many times Microsoft would throw bones at PC gamers while avoiding releasing what they demand all the time, many gamers are worried it’ll be a 60-dollar microtransaction fest with no mod support and peer to peer online, and can you really blame them for thinking this way? Despite Microsoft’s best intents at trying to stop a backlash, all these circumstances have resulted in a situation that’s just going to accelerate the death of the Halo franchise if Microsoft misses the simple goal of making a Halo 3 PC port with a server list, mods, and custom maps, in other words like Custom Edition but for Halo 3 and putting it on Steam.
At least I’ll give the El Dewrito devs props though, at least they made it so anyone could host a master server and at least they put the code up on github, unlike certain modders who made now shutdown projects, and at least they released a big update to at least make it somewhat serviceable. Unlike similar projects such as AlterIW or FiveM you can still play it online, and even those two projects ended up spawning successor projects from other developers based on the previous projects, so there will still be people out there playing El Dewrito and whatever comes afterwards, regardless of Microsoft’s intentions. At the same time, it’s also a reminder that not only fangames can be taken down but also mods if they’re not officially sanctioned in some form, such as with a game that includes source code or a mod sdk. Until the law changes for the better, it’s likely not going to get better, especially because nobody wants to go up against a game publisher’s lawyer army. I mean, you pretty much have to have a big legal team when you’re being sued by the US Government or Apple. While the developers of El Dewrito got lucky since Microsoft offered to talk to them instead of just shutting their project down completely with nothing to show for the work like what happened to the Call of Duty modders, not everyone gets that lucky, and at this point you’d be better off making your own game than making a fan game.
The state of modding is dismal right now, and it’s a true shame it ended up this way. Nobody should have to worry about getting busted for modding video games. As for El Dewrito, it’s still up, but the player count has fallen to around 1500-2000, as fewer are tempted to download it as the only place to get it now is a torrent site as Microsoft keeps pulling reuploads of the el dewrito files (Normie: “but torrents give me viruses and whatnot I clicked the thing and it gave me a virus and error”), as the initial hype dies off, and the normies who are on the technical level of a Macbook owner think they’re going to get thrown into cyber jail for playing an unapproved™ video game. It’s popularity for the future is only going to be isolated at this point to diehard Halo fans and school computers.