In an announcement posted to Halo series developer 343 Industries’ website, Microsoft has announced that it is officially shutting down the fan-made ElDewrito project. The mod was created as a fan-made continuation of Halo Online, a multiplayer-only Halo 3 spinoff that Microsoft was developing exclusively for the Russian Market.
Halo Online was cancelled – or as Microsoft says, “put on indefinite hold” – before being officially released. However, assets from the project leaked in 2014. Despite Microsoft’s attempts to suppress the leak with DMCA takedowns, a team of modders continued working with those assets to create ElDewrito.
The purpose of ElDewrito was similar to that of Halo Online, but with a few twists. It was intended to be a free, highly moddable, community-driven multiplayer Halo game for PC. The team got so far as releasing version 0.6, the announcement of which put the project back on Microsoft’s radar and resulted in this shutdown.
Microsoft elaborates on the decision, below:
“Community created content has long been a key pillar in the Halo franchise and something we have continuously sought to support – from the early beginnings of Red vs. Blue to Forge-made maps & modes to the “Halo Custom Edition” to original recent fan creations like “Installation 01.” These projects, and others like them, have one key factor in common – they fit within Microsoft’s established content usage guidelines.
While we are humbled and inspired to see the amount of passion poured into this project, the fact remains that it’s built upon Microsoft-owned assets that were never lawfully released or authorized for this purpose. As this project reverberated across the community, our team took a step back to assess the materials and explore possible avenues, while Microsoft, like any company, has a responsibility to protect its IP, code and trademarks. It’s not optional in other words."
"While we are humbled and inspired to see the amount of passion poured into this project, the fact remains that it's built upon Microsoft-owned assets that were never lawfully released or authorized for this purpose."
This shutdown is of special interest to the mod community, as Microsoft has previously been relatively lenient when it comes to fan-made Halo projects. So why did they put their foot down for ElDewrito? The company’s statement is refreshingly forthcoming:
“In the case of the original Halo Custom Edition, that was as a specific add-on to Halo PC to officially empower the mod and content creation community to essentially go nuts with Halo: Combat Evolved (it even required a valid Halo PC retail key). More recently, Installation 01 has garnered some buzz and even made headlines for receiving a thumbs-up from 343. Installation 01 is an original work, built from the ground up in a separate engine, that abides by Microsoft’s content usage guidelines. With Halo Online, there’s a common misconception that once it was canceled, the assets were either turned over as “open source” or left for the community’s whims as “abandonware” – neither of which is actually true. Not only did Microsoft issue takedown notices at the time of the original leaks, but many elements of that underlying code and content are still actively being used today and will continue to be in the future.”
"...We hope to be able to partner with the ElDewrito team and broader mod and content creation community to help inform the types of experiences and features our fans desire."
In what appears to be a show of good faith, Microsoft has stated that it recognises how important the PC Halo community is, and is working on plans within that space for the future – possibly involving partnerships with the ElDewrito team:
“One thing remains clear – the community really wants more Halo on PC. As we look ahead, we’re very excited about the prospects of an official classic Halo experience making its way to PC and we hope to be able to partner with the ElDewrito team and broader mod and content creation community to help inform the types of experiences and features our fans desire. While we have nothing to announce today, please know that the PC community is very important to us and top of mind as we work towards the future."
Microsoft’s Phil Spencer, head of the Xbox division, went so far as to single out the passage in a tweet:
"I doubt they'll risk more severe action such as a full shutdown since doing so will be extremely bad for their image."
Today, the ElDewrito team posted a response to Microsoft’s actions, and it doesn’t paint as rosy a picture as Microsoft is trying to make out. The response states:
“At the moment things have gone quiet on both ends … I just want a discussion on whether we should be pushing this more as a community, we already have Microsoft in a head-lock with this PR nightmare, they already look bad enough. Further pressuring MS is a win/win situation. I doubt they'll risk more severe action such as a full shutdown since doing so will be extremely bad for their image.”
A further PSA posted to the official Halo Online subreddit confirmed that, despite Microsoft’s threat of legal action, Halo Online is technically still playable and not completely shut down:
“ElDewrito requires a copy of 1.106708 ms23 from the original closed alpha of Halo Online: if you have a copy lying around or can find one somewhere: great - just add ED! The servers won't be going down for the foreseeable future. :) Even if the server browser or master server is taken down one day, the game offers a direct connect function through the "connect" command (in the F1 console) as well as Discord invite integration.”
Ultimately, this is a sticky situation for both parties, and does not follow the patterns of normal legal threats that we tend to see from fan-made mod projects using a developer’s intellectual property. Microsoft appears to be aware of how easily this could tarnish the company’s image, and so has placed deliberate emphasis on its apparent willingness to work with the ElDewrito team and service the PC Halo fanbase. The modders, however, understandably see the situation differently, and will need to figure out how far they can continue to push development of ElDewrito if, as they say, Microsoft truly has gone quiet. We’ll continue updating the situation as it develops.