In a post on the Halo Waypoint platform, Microsoft announced that it has taken steps to "protect its Halo intellectual property in the wake of the recent 'ElDewrito' PC release." The posting, which goes into brief detail on the history of Halo Online, states that the "[ElDewrito team] understands the need to press pause on this work." The posting does not elaborate upon what steps Microsoft has taken to protect their IP, nor what exactly the future is for ElDewrito. As of writing, Microsoft has taken down the Halo Online code base, but you can still download the ElDewrito launcher/patcher.
Microsoft did respond to our request for comment, and while they couldn't comment on the specifics of their legal actions, it did shed some light on what exactly they took exception to. Essentially, because the Halo Online packages rely on code and assets that were "never distributed under license [emphasis mine]," Microsoft still owns the rights to such assets. Some aspects of the code utilized by the original Halo Online are still in use by Microsoft today, and thus, cannot be released publicly.
Understandably, the reaction to this move by Microsoft has been negative. You may recall that 343 Industries, current developers of Halo, effectively gave their approval to the team behind Installation 01, a separate Halo fangame. Installation 01, notably, was found to be in compliance with Microsoft's "Game Content Usage Rules," a set of guidelines for every developer. ElDewrito did have a run-in with Microsoft previously, as Microsoft issued a DMCA notice to Github, after one of the original files for Halo Online was posted online. The team has otherwise been left to their own devices since.
If you haven't kept up with the development saga of Halo Online and ElDewrito, here's a quick rundown: Microsoft partnered with American developer Saber Interactive to create a new, free-to-play Halo title in 2015. Designed for Russian markets, it featured many of the same abilities found in Halo 4 and 5, while still including microtransactions. Halo Online's beta test was later leaked to the internet at large, where modders got their hands on it, and found rudimentary networking features. Halo Online was later canceled in 2016, but the modders continued to work, then still using the Halo Online name. After considerable development, version 0.6 of Halo Online, now called ElDewrito, was released last week.
For what it's worth, Microsoft's move to protect their IP is an expected step for the company. Video games, mods, and intellectual property have struggled to navigate the legal quagmire that the medium presents. Rutgers School of Law professor Greg Lastowka wrote that copyright law offers almost zero protections to game designers as content creators, to say nothing of people who create content for games using external tools. Indeed, Christopher Pearson suggests that user-created content using third-party tools may belong to the original copyright holder, but states that there's just not enough legal precedent at this time..
It would be remiss to not mention Another Metroid 2 Remake (AM2R) or Pokemon Uranium here, though. Both games ran into legal trouble with Nintendo, with AM2R getting shut down via DMCA, and Pokemon Uranium ceasing development a short while after its major public release. The Copyright Act of 1976 affords copyright protection to works that are "sufficiently original," a defense that ElDewrito, which itself is imagined as a superior port of Halo 3's multiplayer to PC, might struggle to use.
There is some precedent for fan games getting their stamp of approval from the rights holders, however. The Silver Lining was at one time known as King's Quest 9: The Silver Lining. After negotiation with Activision, the developers of the fan game were allowed to continue, albeit removed from the King's Quest property.
Then again, the mods and staffers in the Halo Online Discord server don't seem terribly concerned with the news. If Microsoft has sent a DMCA, or a Cease-and-Desist notice, the team clearly hasn't taken notice. The ElDewrito team did respond late last night to Microsoft's move, and their blog post goes into great detail the sort of steps Microsoft has taken to protect the Halo IP. In short, no DMCA, no cease-and-desist, just a strong recommendation that they take down any Microsoft-owned assets, i.e. the original Halo Online code.
The crucial paragraph in the blog post states that even the development team isn't sure what to do next. Without any further guidance from Microsoft or 343, there's no clear indicator of what, if anything the team can do. The team was asked to "temporarily halt development until more information is available," without an indication of when exactly that might be.
If you're wondering if this means the end to ElDewrito, fear not. The ElDewrito mod itself will be taken down, as it's just an open-source wrapper/launcher for Halo Online. Without the underlying files, however, ElDewrito isn't terribly useful. The team does go on to say that anyone who's got Halo Online downloaded currently can continue to play it, worry-free.
Of course, that does not mean Microsoft hasn't been hard at work issuing DMCA notices to streamers and videos. While the bans are only temporary (24-hour suspensions), such a ban would be far more devastating to a larger streamer, than a small one. More importantly, the original 0.6 launch trailer uploaded by the ElDewrito team appears to have been taken down, along with similar videos or reuploads.
It's not all bad, however, as Head of Xbox Phil Spencer called attention to an "important point" in the blog post on Twitter. Specifically, he called out that the team at 343 and Microsoft was hoping to partner with the ElDewrito team and broader mod community. Whether this means that PC release of a Halo game is imminent is hard to say. Microsoft has clearly understood the demand for a true Halo PC release for some time, after the abhorrent Halo 2 Vista version. With E3 just around the corner, hopefully we hear more news from Microsoft soon about their future for PC gamers.
Microsoft's steps to protect its IP are profoundly frustrating, to be sure, but necessary. It would be nice for 343 and its parent company to pay more attention to the neglected PC platform after the bare-bones Halo 5 Forge was released to little fanfare almost two years ago. In an ideal world, Microsoft would hire the ElDewrito team, and everyone would get a chance to play Halo Online on PC for free. The reality will likely not be so kind. I can't help but wonder if Microsoft plans to bring the Halo: Master Chief Collection to PC, and only wants to make way for the anthology. In any case, this is disappointing, but not unexpected.