Video game developer Rockstar Games has removed over 70,000 comments from its own official Newswire website in a 2-year period, a small group of Grand Theft Auto modders has claimed. The group collected all comments in a database.
The modding group, that wishes to remain anonymous fearing legal implications and that doesn't have ties to OpenIV, claims the database contains all of the comments that Grand Theft Auto V developer Rockstar Games has removed from its website in the period between January 2015 and September 2016.
The staggering database of allegedly removed comments does not just contain verbal abuse and trolling, it also contains legitimate comments made by players who criticize the video game development studio or complain about game-breaking issues.
The news comes days after Grand Theft Auto publisher Take-Two Interactive sent a cease-and-desist letter to the popular Grand Theft Auto V modding tool OpenIV.
The cease-and-desist order sparked a massive online protest in the review section of Grand Theft Auto V, Grand Theft Auto IV and Kerbal Space Program on Steam, all titles currently published by Take-Two Interactive.
The Rockstar Games Newswire comments that criticize the development studio often mention Grand Theft Auto Online content as being Grand Theft Auto franchise unworthy, the questionable implementation of Grand Theft Auto Online microtransactions, and bad customer support.
Grand Theft Auto Online, the multiplayer component of Grand Theft Auto V, has received roughly one hundred updates since the game launched in September 2013. Most updates contain new vehicles, a few new game modes and character outfits.
“Please fire whoever is in control of GTAV online updates. Real talk they are sinking the franchise. Please remember what GTA represents and get back on track.
- Allegedly removed comment by IWIKongZilla
Vehicles that are introduced via the updates are often only obtainable through in-game purchase and often require millions of GTA dollars in-game to access them, resulting in thousands of players purchasing Grand Theft Auto Online Shark Cards instead to convert real currency to the virtual GTA dollar currency.
Players also complained about various updates stripping away legitimately earned GTA dollars and virtual items. Rockstar Games has had to battle hackers in online multiplayer since the game released.
Due to the poor implementation of peer to peer multiplayer functionality hackers were able to acquire millions of GTA dollars in-game. The development studio is having a hard time tracking those players for sanctioning, sometimes causing legitimate players to be stripped of all earned content.
“It seems wrong and unfair how Rockstar can alter our GTA Online save profile at any time. Whatever grinding we do in-game...... there is a fear that they will wipe it all clean.
- Allegedly removed comment by Stifler--013
The database of comments was said to be acquired by a web crawler bot developed and set up by the modding group shortly after they received signals that the development studio was removing hundreds of comments from its own website in late 2014.
The crawler bot has been running for almost two years, comparing snapshots of Rockstar Games Newswire articles along with the comments that appear underneath them to figure out what content changes.
The bot eventually stopped working when Rockstar Games revamped its official website in September 2016, locking the entire comment section behind a Social Club login wall in the process, presumably to make it easier for the studio to remove comments and flag and track accounts.
In a short online conversation the group of modders explained that it wanted to see what type of comments the studio removed and was "shocked" when they found that the studio often removed legitimate comments. The group decided to seek contact when they read about the recent cease-and-desist letter that was received by OpenIV developer GooD-NTS.
The Newswire website is an official website maintained by Rockstar Games. As such, the studio ultimately decides what comments they wish to display and which they wish to remove.
“Technically speaking, there is nothing wrong with removing Newswire comments because it is still a website controlled by Rockstar Games, so they are free to do whatever they want.
The problem is that the studio also removed comments that criticize them, creating the false assumption that everyone on their website praises their games and stifling the voice of the community in the process.
With Take-Two Interactive now actively targetting Grand Theft Auto modding we feel it was important to show that Rockstar Games isn't exactly the nicest video game company either.
Take-Two Interactive and Rockstar Games are a tight-knit alliance. I am pretty sure that Rockstar Games knew about the take-down requests beforehand.
- * [Ed: username not published]
In total 154,000 comments were crawled in the 2-year period of which 70,000 were allegedly removed, which is roughly 45% of all comments. We estimated that more than half of those comments were criticizing the video game developer or the games they have created in one form or another.
In over 4,000 removed comments players complained about virtual GTA dollar currency and virtual items being wrongfully removed, totalling at several billion in-game GTA dollars, and in over 1,000 removed comments they complained about in-game content being too expensive.
In over 3,000 removed comments players complained about a lack of game updates for either the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 version of Grand Theft Auto V.
In over 2,000 removed comments players complained about server connectivity issues that either prevented them from playing or prevented them from downloading updates.
2,000 of the total amount of comments mentioned hacking and/or cheating, which is a relatively small number of complaints compared to the entire dataset.
The top five of posters who saw most of their comments being removed are PS4-GTA-V (570), 1Knackers (356), ssickk (300), Two7offsuit (288) and Lampard8_2000 (256).
Whether the entire database will be released to the public at a later date is still unknown. We have received and analyzed the database and consider it to be an authentic dataset.
Rockstar Games did not respond to our requests for comments.