Activision has sent cease-and-desist letters to two makers of popular fan clients for legacy Call of Duty titles in recent weeks. The move cuts off access to the many gameplay and quality-of-life improvements brought by these clients and stops what fans say is the only safe way to play these older games without the threat of damaging hacking by opponents.
The first victim of Activision’s recent efforts was SM2, a major Modern Warfare 2 modding project whose development started over two years ago. Since then, the modding group has been working on updating that seminal 2009 release with new weapons, in-game perks, a redesigned UI, new streak and progression systems, and even a recent move to a more modern game engine.
Those efforts stopped last week, though, before the mod could even release its first version. The SM2 Twitter account reported that “a team member received a Cease & Desist letter on behalf of Activision Publishing in relation to the SM2 project. We are complying with this order and shutting down all operations permanently.”
The SM2 project website now simply redirects to that tweet, but the site is still available on the Internet Archive. A Discord used for project discussion has also been shut down, leading to fake Discord servers claiming to take up the project’s mantle. The project’s YouTube account is still up, though, and it shows multiple examples of the kind of new gameplay modes the mod would have enabled.
Roughly a week after the SM2 shutdown, a similar fate befell X Labs, the creator of a number of custom clients and servers for classic Call of Duty games, including Modern Warfare 2, Ghosts, and Advanced Warfare. In addition to new features and quality-of-life improvements, these X Labs launchers reportedly provided a safe way to play these legacy titles without being exposed to the widespread hacking and cheating that have made it nearly impossible to enjoy the official versions.
“They are the reason that some of the old Call of Duty games still have active player bases,” popular streamer Modern Warzone said of the recently shuttered X Labs clients, adding the “security is nonexistent” on the official servers for these older titles.
Hackers on those official servers can kick other players from the game and reset their in-game rank and unlocked content, as Modern Warzone said he found out personally during a recent “throwback day” event in the player community. Playing these older games on PC also risks exposing your IP address and letting hackers insert malicious files onto your machine, he said.
“Basically, it’s just not safe,” Modern Warzone said. “If Activision Blizzard wants to continue to send out these cease and desists, they at least need to handle their security problems because it is egregious. You can’t just take away the ability for your fan base to play old games when it’s not harming you.”
The multiplayer version of Modern Warfare 2 has averaged 227 players on Steam over the last 30 days, according to SteamCharts. That’s just 2 percent of the peak measured player count the game hit in late 2012. Steam player counts for other classic Call of Duty games are even lower these days.
Activision’s latest wave of cease-and-desist demands has yet to hit Plutonium, a competing set of Call of Duty custom clients that enjoys thousands of active players across multiple games and servers. The devs behind that project tweeted that they’re “currently OK” alongside a Spongebob GIF suggesting worry that they may be next on the chopping block.
Activision Blizzard has yet to offer a comment in response to a request from Ars Technica.
Listing image by SM2