This multiplayer Skyrim mod has been accused of stealing code, and it’s turned into a war that’s cost them almost $10K in Patreon donations

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Modders are the hard-working heroes of today’s gaming world. The stuff they do to delight, help, or just straight-up frighten gamers is astounding (not to mention that most of them do it for absolutely zero charge), but in a corner of the Skyrim modding community things are getting messy. Skyrim Together, a mod currently in development that’ll let up to eight people play Skyrim in co-op mode, has been accused of stealing code from the Skyrim Script Extender (SKSE), a firmly established and respected mod that allows modders to make more complex adjustments to Skyrim’s script than usual. It’s been used to create a huge number of mods available for Bethesda’s game, so if you’re fond of modding Skyrim till it breaks (as you should be), you’ve probably heard of it. 

The allegations

It all kicked off when a SKSE developer posted on Reddit accusing Skyrim Together of stealing code from SKSE, citing the fact that they’ve found core components of the SKSE mod deep within Skyrim Together. Here’s the entirety of their accusation:

"Skyrim Together is stealing SKSE code, uncredited, without permission, with an explicit term in the license restricting one of the authors from having anything to do with the code, who denies using any of it…The proof is pretty clear when you look at the loader and dll in a disassembler… Common is of course MIT-licensed and doesn't require attribution (but is always appreciated), but the main SKSE source isn't. It's technically always been under common copyright law, but after Yamashi's terrible behavior towards the script extender team (best left to another post if you really care) he earned a special callout in the license: ‘Due to continued intentional copyright infringement and total disrespect for modder etiquette, the Skyrim Online team is explicitly disallowed from using any of these files for any purpose.'"

The Yamashi mentioned in their post is the Lead Developer of Skyrim Together, who had previously worked on Skyrim Online, and addressing the claims about him is a whole other thing which I’ll get back to later. 

Skyrim Together’s response

Skyrim Together issued an official statement on the matter six days ago, stating on Reddit that “there might be some leftover code from them in there that was overlooked when we removed it, it isn't as simple as just deleting a folder, mainly our fault because we rushed some parts of the code. Anyway we are going to make sure to remove what might have slipped through the cracks for the next patch”. In their subsequent March Activity Report posted three days ago, Skyrim Together owns up to their mistakes, apologises, and stated that they were “most likely going to end up handing over our first open beta binaries to the SKSE team to do their tests before offering them to you [the players]”. So the team are attempting to be as transparent as possible with SKSE, which in my book is commendable. 

Where this all gets dicey is Skyrim Together’s Patreon, which was earning the team $33,000 a month as of February 23 according to Zaric Zhakaron, a YouTuber whose area of expertise includes the Elder Scrolls community. That number has plummeted to $25,292 as of the date of publishing this article (overnight alone they’ve lost over 300 supporters), although that’s definitely still a lot of cash. Most mods are free, yet these Patreon donations mean that Skyrim Together is thought by some to fall in the realm of ‘paid mods’ (however, upon release it will be free of charge), as supporting them on Patreon got you access to January’s Closed Beta. So SKSE’s code-stealing claim pretty much means that the Skyrim Together team - whether knowingly or unknowingly - stand accused of making money from someone else’s work. Whether this was done deliberately is of some debate, and be warned: the whole thing gets messy from here on.

Did Skyrim Together deliberately steal SKSE’s code, or was it an innocent mistake?

Right. So. Let me introduce the two key players in this he-said-she-said debate about whether Skyrim Together knowingly stole code from the SKSE team. In one corner is the aforementioned Yamashi, Lead Developer of Skyrim Together. Then in the other corner is Lagulous, a modder who claims to have had the original idea for Skyrim Together and says that he was pushed out of the Skyrim Together team. In return, Skyrim Together says that all Lagulous did when he was on the team was to “drive everyone crazy and got multiple devs to quit. He never wrote a single line of code and just wants his internet fame”, justifying his expulsion from the mod. 

The two are bickering because Lagulous claims that he has proof that Yamashi knew that they weren’t allowed to use certain parts of SKSE’s code. Things have got unpleasant with each side making rather frank allegations about the other’s character.

Lagulous has Discord screenshots that he claims backs up his argument that Yamashi knowingly stole SKSE’s code. The screenshot below is especially important to Lagulous’ allegations, where Yamashi is made aware of the specific section of the SKSE license that prohibits his former team, Skyrim Online, from using any of the SKSE code. Yamashi’s response is “too bad we renamed the project”, which Lagulous argues proves that Yamashi was trying to find a workaround for using SKSE’s code in Skyrim Together. But that doesn’t prove they stole SKSE’s core code, just that they were knowingly including other bits of the code, which Yamashi’s old project was banned from using. SKSE haven’t clarified exactly why Skyrim Online aren’t allowed to use their code beyond mentioning him by name and citing “continued intentional copyright infringement and total disrespect for modder etiquette”. Which, admittedly, sounds pretty damning, though I haven’t found out what exactly was Yamashi did to merit SKSE’s response. Lagulous says that it’s because Yamashi reverse engineers their code quicker than them, using this screenshot as evidence, but it’s worth pointing out that without the larger context of the Discord message chain it’s hard to clarify whether Yamashi is referring to SKSE. 

Skyrim Together haven’t yet specifically responded to Lagulous’ screenshots and their validity. However, in their March Report they do apologise to SKSE, indicate that they’re trying to make amends by letting them test the open beta to see if it still has any of their code, which is a step in the right direction and shows that the team are owning up to their mistakes. As for how the Skyrim Together community is feeling? Well, this pretty much sums it all up. 

Want to download more mods for Skyrim? Here’s the best Skyrim mods around right now for PC, PS4, and Xbox One, or just watch the video to see the best things you can see in Skyrim!