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Making mods mainstream


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#1
Dark0ne

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Back in the summer I wrote out a letter to send to the UK version of PC Gamer, a UK print magazine for, you guessed it, PC Games. I thought it would be interesting for some of you to read through so decided to post it here and on the PC Gamer forums too. Here goes...

I have been meaning to post this small article for a while now on both the Nexus forums and on PCGamer. I sent out a similar email to PCGamer over the summer but did not get a response. Probably understandable.

My motivation for writing this article came from the UK version of PCGamer issue 214 and its "Let's Reboot PC Gaming" feature. In the article PCGamer provide ideas to "fix" PC gaming and bring out the best of the platform. They included amusingly farcical concepts such as reworking the innards of PCs to make them simpler for gamers ("make modular PCs") and improving the controls/controllers support "bringing multi-touch to PC gaming" (just what PC gaming needs, gimmicks!) and ignored some very strong arguments for PC Gaming such as mod support.

My bias aside I'll just come out and say it; we need more mod support. Long gone are the 200 hour epics of the Baldur's Gate series. We're now stuck with 10 – 20 hour games with the stumbling rise of episodic gaming and planning for DLC's rather than expansions ever decreasing that number. For games like Oblivion and Fallout 3 there's been a respite from this in the form of well supplied modding communities.

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Baldur's Gate: how I miss thee



Mods are obviously not a new concept; my modding days began tweaking INI files for Command & Conquer: Red Alert and before that Doom and Quake really showed themselves off with a considerable amount of modifications. In spite of this modding has never really hit the mainstream; the vast majority of PC games coming out today are released without SDK's and with locked away files making them hard to modify. The holders of the current generation of consoles (Microsoft and Sony) won't even consider the concept of allowing mods on to their platforms.

The beauty of mods is in their freedom and ability to increase everything from the lifespan of the game (quest mods, landscape mods, new weapons, armour, NPCs, etc.) to its aesthetics (texture mods, animation mods) and stability (bug fixes, performance tweaks).

SDKs open up video games to normal gamers like you and me to expand on the original game allowing us to treat the "vanilla" game as a foundation for pretty much anything and everything. And it doesn't have to just be for open-ended games. An SDK for RTS's mean more units, more locations, more maps. An SDK for Puzzle games means more puzzles. An SDK for adventure games means new quests, new puzzles, new locations. The list goes on.

The spit in the face is the game developers must have an SDK themselves else they wouldn't be able to add the content to their games. Unfortunately they simply can't be bothered to do the work necessary to release it to the public. How much work does it take? Bethesda let on that it does take some effort to properly support their SDK release by making the tools more user-friendly and then creating a supportative Wiki or other collaborative site. Is the time and effort worth it? I guess it depends on who you ask.

From my time running and browsing various modding related sites I can say with certainty that the biggest envy of console gamers to PC gamers isn't the mouse and keyboard or the fact we've had HD for years but instead their inability to mod their console games. This is surely something that can be exploited to the utmost by PC game developers.

You can argue that releasing an SDK isn't financially sound; that the cost of making the SDK publically workable is too high or that there's an inherent lack of financial incentive but there's clearly a huge niche market out there for modding that an able bodied developer or publisher could really reap the rewards from. Imagine the iPhone app store meets Steam in a crack-lounge for PC Gamers. It would be pure brilliance, but not without its legal issues. This is just talking about selling user created mods; you could argue for the indirect financial benefits of announcing the release of a free SDK with free modding before a game launch that would boost game sales quite easily as well. You simply couldn't put a tangible number on your balance sheet. It just needs one developer, much like Valve with Steam, to strap a pair on and go for it.

How much of a niche market is there for modding? With the stats from the Nexus sites under my belt (http://www.tesnexus.com et al) I'd say it's quite a large one. 1.95 million members over 4 games, 158 million downloads, 40,000 files and monthly traffic stats more than double that of Game Spy, File Planet and ModDB.com combined. That's for four games. Albeit some of the most modded games to have ever existed (probably second only to the Sims community) but you can get a picture of the sheer popularity of modding the games from those figures. A month and a half after the release of Fallout: New Vegas there's close to 3,000 files with 5 million downloads to their name, of which about 150 - 200 are bug fixes.

I was a huge fan of Oblivion. I loved Morrowind and I loved Oblivion. Some folks didn't like Oblivion; they thought it had been dumbed down, "consoled" and made lacking by the level scaling system and the generic dungeons. How many times have you seen people type "Oblivion was a bad game, the modding community saved it"? I've seen it a lot. Is that good press for Bethesda? Of course it is. It meant people were disappointed with what they made but were still willing to buy the game due to the strong modding community that was supporting it. They've come away with a lot of good feedback for their next game as well as a hefty amount of cash in the bank.

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Dive Rock and the Adoring Fan - why wouldn't you like Oblivion?



The real question is: do you like modding and do you think more games should come with modding support? Personally I wouldn't understand why you'd answer no to the latter. And lastly is there anything we can do about it?

PC Gamer and other gaming magazines, internet publications and blogs have a role to play in this. PC Gamer's mod coverage in the magazine isn't particularly dazzling. Lacking might be the word. Mods generally get mixed in with indie games and demos in the "Extra Life" section and I never see any mention of even asking the developer "any chance of an SDK?" in the magazines previews or word on an SDK in the game reviews. Why not ask that question and report on it? I do when I go to Bethesda's events just to let them know there's people waiting on an answer. At least try to make the developers and publishers commit to it.

Sites like moddb.com prove that there's enough modding news each month to fill all the pages of any PC gaming magazine. Realistically speaking there must be strong argument for having a dedicated section for mods. 5 pages, 10 pages. Separate it from the indie games and demos because they're not one and the same. I want an actual section I can flip to in the magazine that is dedicated to mods each month just like there's one for news, previews, reviews and so on. Mods can't be made mainstream if the mainstream publications aren't supporting them. I see that many online publications are getting in to the viral nature of
gimmicky mods, top 10 - 50 lists and so on and that's great, it definitely helps spread the word, but lets get those mods in print too.

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Nehrim - Oblivion's crown jewel of why modding is so great



If those terrible, terrible "I'm a PC" Windows 7 commercials you see on TV were about PC Gamers you can bet that one of them would be "I'm a PC Gamer, and I mod my games". So support the modders out there more, take on a positive role in making modding more mainstream among PC Gamers so game developers have more reason to support modders with official SDK's and modding tools. Don't do a modding interview once every few months, do it once a month. Don't review mods in-between game demos and indie games, give them their own section. In all honesty, why wouldn't you give mods their own section?

#2
prettyfly

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This article is only too true. I spent two years playing Oblivion on the console before I moved over to the PC. The UL mods wre originally what drew me over, but once I was in the community boggled my mind. The quality and quantity of what the modding community has put out for Oblivion is incrediable, and I'm still constantly stumbling across new, amazing mods.

Bethesda owes a lot to this community. They've been able to transform a good game into a timeless asset. And full kudos back to Bethesda in return for taking the time and effort to create a SDK (if a slightly buggy one) and provide support for it.

Which brings me to the same conclusion as Dark0one. Why isn't more support being provided for modding? Its the only real strong point I really feel computers have for gaming. Furthermore, these mods provide the sort of quality that you hardly even see in commercial releases nowadays.

In fact, I'm surprised Bethesda doesn't work a bit harder at promoting its mod community or getting mod sections into magazines. The user base of its games is only going to swell the more the modding community is exposed to the gaming scene.

#3
Fallout Maniac

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I agree as well. Mods are what make me keep playing a game. There are so many talented individuals out there and not providing mod support for your (meaning publisher) PC game is just asking for it to die. PC gaming needs full modding support, it makes the games more interesting and more fun. Full mod support will make the PC gaming market prosper farther.

#4
JimboUK

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Like many other industries gaming companies are run by bean counters, not by those who actually understand the market they're in. If the bean counters can't be convinced that a SDK will improve sales and not eat into DLC revenue then nothing is going to happen. Arguing that they prolong the life of a game won't win them over, that's what DLC is for and they make money from that. Arguing that mods improve games won't necessarily win them over, they've shown time and again that once they have your money they really don't care. The Sims 3 is a good example of their mindset, they've made that a lot harder to mod at the same time they've started selling their own add ons. It could be argued that mods increase sales over the long term but short term gain is all a lot are interested in.

There is a disconnect between those in the industry and the end users, while looking into the row between Steam and High Street retailers I came across a few industry sites, many there fear a backlash from gamers because the industry repeatedly fails to engage with it's customers. When was the last time as a gamer were you asked what you want? Some pay lip service to customer engagement but lip service is all it is. A good example is the current bust up over sales of second hand games, retailers and publishers are trying to stitch something up with no concern for the paying customer. Large numbers of used game sales sends a clear message from the consumer, games are too expensive and short lived. Can they hear that message? can they hell. We could make an excellent case for modding but it's all to no avail if they're not listening.

Dark0ne makes a very good case but greed from publishers combined with apathy from most gamers will see that user made content stays a sideshow, shame really because there could be so many possibilities.

http://www.pcgamer.c...read.php?t=4558 The lack of a reply speaks volumes.

Apologies for the rambling and pessimistic nature of this post, it's late and I'm tired.

#5
Herculine

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I've always felt that there's enough talent in the modding community that a bunch of folks should get together and create their own retail game. Famous modders all the way back to the days of classic Doom have become noteworthy enough to be hired by game developers, so why not?

#6
HanLoner

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Not only are Mods amazing when it comes to the longevity of a game, but I have heard countless times that Bethesda, the wonderful people that they are, actually look to mods for tips on gameplay features in later games. Just look at New Vegas' "Hardcore Mode", that was all the rage for Fallout 3, it gave gamers new challenges to contend with. Not to mention the Weapon Mod... er, Mod. These are wonderful, immersion enhancing, gameplay boosting features that may not have come into being were it not for Bethesda ENCOURAGING its fans to come up with new ideas.

The other's are correct though, it's all about profits these days with most companies. Lets just be glad companies like Bethesda exist.

#7
HellKnightX88

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Dark0ne, I'd give you more Kudos if I could. I fully agree with the article. It's amazing that some devs refuse to support their games with SDK, letting users having to resort to obscure self-made utilities, hex editing etc. to do things that would take 5 minutes to do with a SDK. I've even seen devs actually shutting down and legally threatening modding attempts (not just one mod but the entire aspect of modding).

That's why Beth are my favorite development studio. Apart from providing huge sandbox games where there's always interesting stuff to do (they're unmatched in this aspect IMO) they release SDKs for their games and encourage people to mod them.

#8
Povuholo

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Imagine what a proper SDK for Assassin's Creed, Mirror's Edge and Bioshock could've done for those games...

Edited by Povuholo, 02 December 2010 - 11:06 AM.


#9
Lisnpuppy

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Wonderful article, Dark0ne. I fail to see, how any company that looks at the TES Modding Community and doesn't have little, dancing dollar signs in front of their face is beyond me. Extending the life of this game has gotten Bethesda lots of my money with the purchase of multiple games, versions of the games and sometimes lackluster DLC/addons just because I knew about mods. How old is Oblivion and I am having MORE fun now than I did when I joined this site the better part of three years ago.

In the current economy and the ever rising cost of computer and console games...embracing the modding community could only serve to make fat the pockets of many game developers.

Come on you Corporate Big Wigs!! Viva la modding revolution!!!


#10
roquefort

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"It could be argued that mods increase sales over the long term but short term gain is all a lot are interested in"

Good post Jim_UK. On that last, I also think that the unquantifiable nature of those increased sales unsettles the bean-counters, who like proper sales projections and associated profitability estimates. The mod scene is all a bit too feral & out of control for them to feel comfortable with, I suspect, and this attitude carries over into the mainstream magazines.

Edited by roquefort, 02 December 2010 - 01:23 PM.





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