Watch Dogs 2 got its final patch yesterday, which makes impossible to use mods while online if you're playing on PC. The game's publisher, Ubisoft, says that this is to ensure fair online play, but the game's small modding community is very frustrated.
The 1.17 patch wasn't announced as a modding blocker. The features rolled out in it include tweaks to the recently-added four-player party mode, as well as bug fixes for co-op. Shortly after it was released, some modders noticed and began to complain. If Watch Dogs 2 had been the blockbuster Ubisoft hoped it to be, that complaint might be loud, but instead it manifests as less noticeable venting on places such as the increasingly barren Watch Dogs 2 subreddit. There, loyalists who stuck with the game expressed their anger.
"As of this morning, I found out that the latest update on PC killed modding," Deebz__, an active and vocal Watch Dogs 2 modder, posted on the subreddit yesterday. "Any positivity from my original message has been rescinded. Instead, I'll just leave you with the list of a few issues in this utter mess of a game that you have failed to fix." He listed a half dozen issues, including players on the opposite team being unmarked or marked as "friendly" during multiplayer modes and the game outright crashing when you shoot people.
The Watch Dogs 2 modding community is small. "The modding community of WD2 in particular consists of like 10 persons," one of the active modders for the game told Kotaku over Reddit. According to Steam Spy, the game currently reaches a maximum of about 1000 players per day. Modders use the game to to fix graphical issues as well as a few bugs. Deebz__'s favourite mod allows players to use the camera mode while in the helicopter.
Deebz__ says he helped "pave the way" for modding Watch Dogs 2 and remembers multiplayer for the original Watch Dogs as being a "lawless wasteland", with most players using mods to cheat. He says that he and his fellow modders use their mods ethically. "Only a few of us know how to mod the game properly, and we've all agreed to use our knowledge ethically," he told Kotaku over Reddit direct messages. "We only play online with mods that do not give us an advantage, and we never released anything that could be used to cheat."
According to those players, modding was a means to having a smoother gaming experience. Ubisoft, however, says modding has also at times hurt online play.
"Though we appreciate that many in our community are very careful about not using mods while being online, this isn't true of all players," Kris Young, producer on Watch Dogs 2, told Kotaku over email. "In order to create a healthy and fair environment for all our players, we had to fix this problem. You can now still enjoy your favourite mods while playing offline and disabling the [Easy Anti-Cheat] system (though we can't offer official support for this) or enjoy a more fair online experience when playing online with your friends."
Even knowing they can still use mods, this isn't an acceptable solution for members of the modding community. "The online modes are too much of a part of the game," Deebz__ said. Watch Dogs 2, like its predecessor, has passive online modes where other players can invade your game, as well as PvP multiplayer, all set in the game's shared open world. "Considering how few of us there are who actually do mod the game, and the fact that we do not release or even use any mods that give unfair advantages online, there really was no reason for this change in my opinion."
Deebz__ was an obvious person to talk to for coverage of Ubisoft's mod-blocking patch, because Deebz__ has been visible in discussions about this game. He is the kind of outspoken gamer who uses the tools available to him to tell developers how they can improve their game. When he noticed a problem with the escape key being bound to too many functions in the game, he didn't just complain about it on Reddit, he typed out changes to the game's code that he said would solve the issue and posted them for Ubi reps who monitor the game's subreddit to see.
"A Ubisoft representative told me that they would not fix this issue because it would allow players to skip scenes in the story that they were not supposed to skip, breaking the game in some cases," he told Kotaku. He insists that his solution was totally fine. "I can say this with absolute certainty, because I actually played through the entire story a second time after using this fix, and skipped just about everything I could in the process."
Deebz__'s problem now may be that Ubisoft says they can't distinguish between mods that help players cheat and mods that don't. This solution was a compromise they had to make, Young told Kotaku. "It's a topic that has been on our minds since it was raised by community members who visited the studio well before the game launched," Young said. "We've come back to it several times since, but with the nature of our seamless technology, it's a tradeoff we had to make to maintain healthy and fair online play."