Why Developers and Publishers Should Embrace Modding

Updated: Aug 11



As many of you probably know, I am a big fan of mods. Many of my all-time favourite games are technically mods. These include Anomaly and Lost Alpha for S.T.A.L.K.E.R., Blue Planet and Scrolls of Atankharzim for FreeSpace SCP, and Morgul Returns 2.1 for Turrican. What’s more, I rarely play games vanilla unless I have to.


This is why I find it disappointing when a game does not accommodate modding, thus forcing players to play it in a very specific and non-adjustable way. Even more disappointing are the instances of publishers aggressively pursuing modders who have made mods for certain Intellectual Properties.


Thankfully, this anti-modding attitude is not shared by all of the gaming industry. Indeed, several publishers have fully embraced the modding community to the benefit of all.


I contend that all publishers should embrace the modding scene by making their games mod-friendly, and by working with mod teams instead of unleashing their lawyers on them. I posit that doing so would be beneficial to everyone, including the publishers themselves. I will be making the case for this below, broken down into nine distinct reasons.

1: It Fosters Goodwill



Making a game mod-friendly is almost guaranteed to generate goodwill among the community towards the game itself, its developers and its publisher. Some devs/publishers go even further, releasing dev tools and source codes which will allow modders to fully unlock their creativity.

Some free-to-use game engines, Unreal Engine 4 in particular, are designed to be mod-friendly from the start. In theory, this should enable any game using that engine to be made mod-friendly relatively easily.


2: It Allows the Community to fix Broken Games



In an ideal world, games would never ship full of bugs and game-breaking exploits.


In a slightly less ideal world, devs would quickly correct these problems once identified.


In the not-ideal-at-all world we live in, sometimes a buggy broken game will be left buggy and broken by its developers.


There are several reasons why this might happen, including the dev team no longer existing. This is what happened to Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines (VMTB). Its developer, Troika Games, went belly up soon after the game’s 2004 release. This left the game as a broken, buggy, unplayable mess, which was a shame since it had great potential.


Enter Wesp5, a prolific modder of various franchises (including The Babylon Project for FreeSpace Open). He created the Unofficial Patch, which not only fixed the game-breaking bugs, it also optionally re-inserted cut content absent from the retail release. The unofficial patch has been regularly updated and improved since then. It is now up to version 10.6, which was released as recently as February 17th, 2020 - sixteen years after the retail game’s release.


This is by no means the only broken game that had to be rescued by the modding community. Other examples include the restoration projects for S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky and the more recent Templar mod for Aliens: Colonial Marines.



Aliens Colonial Marines with Templar mod

This game might actually be worth playing now


3: Maintains Long Term Interest in a Franchise Which can Lead to Commercial Sequels



Most games have a shelf-life, single-player games especially. There are only so many times a player can complete the same campaign before getting bored of it. Mods can extend this shelf-life almost indefinitely. Games such as Skyrim, S.T.A.L.K.E.R., Half-Life 2, Homeworld, and the aforementioned Vampire the Masquerade Bloodlines all have active modding communities that are still creating fresh content to this day.


Not only is this good for the community, but it can also benefit the developers and publishers too. Maintaining interest in a franchise long-term via mods may allow devs to create sequels for games that would otherwise have been long forgotten.


Look up the games mentioned above. How many of them have sequels in development now, despite their last commercial release being almost a decade ago? (Or more than a decade ago in some cases.)



Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodline 2


If it were not for modding keeping VTMB alive this game might not have happened. NB - NSFC



4: The Modding Community can Serve as a Huge Multi-Year Focus Group



The modding community will often tweak a franchise’s retail game to suit their tastes. Some of these mods will become very popular due to many members of the community feeling the same way. By keeping an eye on a game’s modding scene (perhaps by ‘lurking’ on the various forums, subreddits, and Facebook groups) devs can find out what players do and do not like and act accordingly when it comes to making a sequel.



Anomaly Update 3.0 New Features


Anomaly mod includes almost everything the community wanted in a S.T.A.L.K.E.R game. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 *might* include some of its features. NB - NSFC



5: Modding can Attract New Players who Missed the Game When it was Released



There are all sorts of reasons why someone might miss out or overlook a game when it was first released. Here are a few examples;

1. Perhaps the game was a platform exclusive and they did not own the platform in question at the time.

2. It may have been a genre they were not into back then.

3. They may have been too young to legally purchase it at the time, or they simply hadn’t been born yet.

That last example may sound extreme, but it is far from far-fetched if you think about it. For example, GTA III is rated 18+ and is now 19 years old. Someone who was born in 2002 - i.e. a year after it was released - would only be old enough to legally purchase it now in 2020.

If said person happened to stumble upon GTA III’s ModDB page they may find mods that have been released this year. This might entice said person to buy GTA III, which will of course line the pockets of both the developer and the publisher. If they enjoy GTA III and its mods, they may well go on to purchase other games in the franchise.

I can attest to this. One of my all-time favourite franchises is the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series. I missed it when the retail games were released in 2007, 2008, and 2010 due to the games being PC exclusives at a time when I was a console gamer. It was the 2012 Black Mesa mod for Half-Life 2 which both tempted me back to PC gaming and introduced me to ModDB. It was the Lost Alpha mod on ModDB that introduced me to the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. franchise in 2014.

This led me to purchase all three retail games and I am waiting with bated breath for S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2, which *might* be released in 2021. If it were not for modding I probably wouldn’t have heard of the franchise, and its developers would not have benefited from my custom.



GTA III Graphics Mods Evolution


GTA III with mods. “We have come a long way baby…”



6: Modding can Identify Talent Which Devs can Hire for Future Commercial Titles



A mod can be an excellent way for a budding programmer to show off their game-making skills and hopefully get noticed by the big-name gaming companies. This is especially true if the modder is showing proficiency with a gaming developer’s/publisher’s game engine.


Valve, who has always had an extremely mod-friendly approach to business, was so impressed with the Half-Life 2 Mod MINERVA Metastasis that they offered its creator, Adam Foster, a job with Valve. It seems Foster’s work at Valve includes working on Half-Life Alyx, which was probably the most exciting development gig in the gaming industry for over a decade.



MINERVA: Metastasis Mod for Half Life 2 - Episode One


MINERVA. Arguably the best mod for Half-Life 2



7: People may Purchase a Game Just to Play a Mod of it



Some mods become so popular that gamers buy the base game just to play the mod, and may not engage with the base game at all. DayZ - a zombie apocalypse survival Total Conversion for the realistic modern military WarSims ARMA II and ARMA III - may be an example of this.



“Aim for the head!”



8: Mods can be Turned into Commercial Releases


Mods can be adopted by developers and publishers and then sold as a retail release. Valve is arguably the market leader in this, with a number of its games starting life as mods. Black Mesa, Garry’s Mod, The Stanley Parable, Dear Esther, Counter-Strike, DOTA 2, Team Fortress 2 and Day of Defeat to name but a few are all examples of this. The aforementioned DayZ is another excellent example of a mod turned full commercial game.



The Stanley Parable Launch Trailer


The Stanley Parable will break your brain. In a good way



9: Mods can aid Accessibility



Development teams often struggle to make their games truly accessible to players with sensory, physical or cognitive difficulties. This is likely due to a lack of first-hand experience of living with such difficulties or knowing someone who does, especially for small development teams who may not know many people in general.


By making their games mod-friendly they throw open the doors to a global modding community. The chance of someone in said community either having these difficulties themselves or knowing someone who does is considerably higher. As such, modders may create accessibility options that the devs didn’t think of.


This could increase sales. How? Because potential players - who would have been unable to play the vanilla retail game due to having such difficulties - might be tempted to purchase the game after these accessibility mods are released.



Conclusion


And there we have it, my reasoned arguments in support of my assertion that support for mods and the modding community should be near-universal. It benefits the customer, benefits the modder, benefits the developer and benefits the publisher. Everyone wins.


What are your thoughts on this? Do you agree? Are there other reasons to support mods I may have missed? If so, please feel free to leave your answers and anything else you would like to state, in the comments section below.


Iain is a 40+ author and gamer from England, who started his gaming journey on the Atari 2600 36 years ago. His specialities include obscure cult classics, retro games, mods and fan remakes. He hates all sports games and is allergic to on-line multi-player. Since he is British, his body is about 60% tea. He can be reached via Twitter at https://twitter.com/IainBaker17, and contacted via email at the_nomad78@outlook.com


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