Evidence has proven that a strong community of modders can be an invaluable boon for a game developer hoping to improve the longevity of their title. So how might a strong modding community be fostered? And what motivates the modders themselves?
The history of modding is rich and vibrantly creative. One of the earliest – and most significant – examples of sanctioned alterations to a video-game was prompted in 1993 by id Software’s groundbreaking first-person shooter, DOOM.
Having seen the potential for consumer-created content in their previous game (Wolfenstein II), the developers at id Software decided to package a copy of DOOM‘s maps, sprites, and textures separately, allowing users to create their own levels. The decision proved so successful that the following year, the developers produced one of the first ‘creation kits’ for aspiring modders to construct their own DOOM content using an intuitive set of tools.
A quick browse of the Steam Workshop or Nexus Mod pages will reveal just how far modding has come since then. Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is currently idling at around 56,000 individual mods, whilst sister franchise Fallout 4 is displaying 24,000; these are all community creations, and they range from minor game adjustments to total cosmetic overhauls.
Leading from the front
Skyrim is a great example of the power of a fierce modd tying community. Originally released in 2011, the open-world RPG has since seen revitalisation from modder and developer alike, and has been purchased over 30 million times. Remarkably enough, Bethesda studio head Todd Howard has recognised the effect of the modding community on his game’s longevity, particularly on PC; speaking to Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Howard rationalised Skyrim‘s success on PC by stating that the platform was “where the mods are.”
But it’s not just Skyrim. Bethesda Softworks has a proud history of producing mod-able games – it is, after all, the current publisher of the DOOM franchise. What makes the firm such a perfect example is that it makes the modding process as straightforward as possible. The Creation Engine is the game engine that powers both the Elder Scrolls and Fallout franchises: based on a modular construction system, the Creation Engine is accessible to newcomers and experienced modders alike, and has been packaged in a free-to-download program called the Creation Kit.
Echoing id Software’s first attempts at an accessible modding tool, the Creation Kit has paved the way for tens of thousands of PC mods, and has brought Bethesda’s most recognisable games an unparalleled lifespan.
A pulling factor
Of course, the appeal of mods has always been in their unrestricted nature. With the exception of a few extraordinary modding efforts, most mods for PC are completely uninfluenced by the producers of the games that they affect. They are free of charge, wildly imaginative, and often wonderfully silly. So when developers and publishers such as Rockstar Games or Bethesda Softworks attempt to impose restrictions or introduce paid variants, the push-back from the gaming community is usually fierce.
Last year, Bethesda attempted to monetise their modding scene, revealing the Creation Club at E3 and provoking a heated debate within the gaming community. The benefits, according to Bethesda, were simple: talented modders would receive payment for their efforts, and the Club’s security would ensure that their assets were not stolen and sold by other gamers. And whilst a sweeping majority of consumers would surely prefer that mods remain free, there can be no denying the considerable interest in the Creation Club from modders themselves.
After all, these are individuals who create hugely popular content – some of it extraordinarily detailed – in their spare time. It is clear that many of these modders are simply indulging a passion for game development, something that publishing companies such as Bethesda have made very easy to do. But the implications of a system of paid mods, the negative connotations and upended traditions that such a system would inevitably catalyse, means that implementing the Creation Club – or similar concepts – is a daunting task.
There can be no doubt that modding will continue to prove exceptionally popular as the gaming industry progresses. Further attempts to capitalise upon the success of tireless modders will inevitable ensue, and so perhaps the most pressing concern here is finding a model that will benefit both consumer and developer.
MediaMolecule, the company behind the LittleBigPlanet series, have struck metaphorical gold in this regard. Their games rely upon community created content so heavily that a significant portion of the LittleBigPlanet experience is given over to making use of the same tools as the developers to produce your own functional levels. As a result of this creative nurturing – not dissimilar to that offered by Bethesda – the development team responsible for MediaMolecule’s latest title, Dreams, is comprised of an assortment of community creators whose popularity on the original games has landed them a job. Perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned in this interaction by both modding community and developer alike.