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Massive Skyrim multiplayer mod under fire after code-theft accusations

Frowny-faces at the $25,000 a month Patreon-funded mod

There are so many elements of this story which elicit slow, confused blinking from me, but honestly, the revelation that an Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim mod has been pulling in $25,000 per month from Patreon was the one which really twisted my melon.

Unfortunately, the rainbow which leads to online multiplayer mod Skyrim Together's pot of gold has lost a little of its lustre this week, following an acknowledgement that its developers had pilfered code from another mod.

The mod in question is Skyrim Script Extender, aka SKSE, a venerable mod framework/loader which anyone who ever installed a Skyrim mod will instantly recognise the name of. The developers behind each mod have been raising dragonskin handbags at dawn for a while now, with SKSE dev Ian "extrwi" Patterson taking to Reddit to provide what he claimed was proof that the Skyrim Together folk had been "stealing SKSE code, uncredited, without permission."

Skyrim Together dev "Yamashi" initially disputed this, arguing in an interview with Eurogamer that "We did not steal anything", and that any SKSE references were the legacy of prototyping Skyrim Together using SKSE back in 2012. "We rewrote the parts that were using files from the SKSE project so we do not rely on it anymore. We just have an automated build system that included some SKSE files but they are not used in the actual mod."

However, subsequent to the Eurogamer interview, the Skyrim Together team posted their 'March Report', in which they acknowledged that "code from prohibited libraries was in use. These usages have been removed and any associated code is being reworked."

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They go on to offer "an apology to Ian and his team behind SKSE... There is no excuse as to why this code has remained in the codebase for this long and was distributed without credit or acknowledgement."

This has had the side-effect of shining a great deal more light on the Skyrim Together project, which has been at great pains to claim that the mod will be free, and rather it is its development that the Patreon pays for, in order to not fall foul of Bethesda's general stance against paid mods. (Following the publisher's earlier, abortive attempt to launch a paid mods programme in partnership with Steam).

Together's Patreon take is, apparently, spent exclusively on actual costs, with the March Update claiming that any excess money is "kept in a pool", untouched by any staff, and that "all developers have agreed to be be a volunteer and accept no payment for their work when they signed up for the project. This has not changed." But what did change is that, as of January this year, their monthly Patreon take leapt from a couple of thousand bucks a month to over $25,000, and over 23,000 Patrons.

Not coincidentally, January 2019 saw the launch of Skyrim Together's now-ended closed beta - which was only available to Patreon backers. In order to head off accusations that this constituted a paid mod, there was talk of a public release hot on the beta's heels, but, following the SKSE dispute, "currently plans for release are back to "when it's ready, as we are hard at work rewriting code to comply with the SKSE team's request".

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Whether the shock financial triumph of Skyrim Together, ostensibly for early access to its beta, earlier this year sends Bethesda a-runnin' remains to be seen, though Yamashi told EG that "they have stated in the past that they have nothing against our mod as long as it's free which is what we intend to do."

SKSE's Patterson, however, is concerned that this whole business could cause greater shockwaves - and that if any legal action were to follow, it might spell trouble for the script extenders that have long been the bedrock of modding Bethesda RPGs. This does seem unlikely, but there's no avoiding that this argy-bargy is a bad look for the Skyrim modscene.

Maybe Bethesda should make a multiplayer Skyrim themselves instead. Or maybe they shouldn't.

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