Monday, 27 April 2015

The modding community and why it's a good thing for the games industry


With Steam Introducing a paid mod system for some of the games on the platform I wanted to take this time to discuss why having a vibrant modern community is a good thing for your games.

PC game modelling is one of the main reasons I got into games development, I've been in a big fan since the early days of unreal tournament and quake two. It is also one of the main reasons why you can still find servers online games for both those games.

I am not against the idea of modders getting paid for the amount of time and effort they put into their mods. I do however,feel that steam's approach to charging for mods is flawed and open to exploitation. Firstly, by the way the charging breakdown works 75% split between the game developer and Steam and 25% going to the model. This combined with the fact that steam won't payout for any amount under $100 therefore you need to sell $400 worth of your mod before you see a cent. I would much prefer to see a donation system in place on Steam. This would incentivise the modelling community to continue making mods while still keeping it as a free system. Another issue I see with Valves introduction of paid mods is that when the game updates a lot of mods will be broken requiring an update to function properly again. If the modder has no interest in updating said mod due to lack of sales or disinterest this will leave a lot of people out of pocket.

Valve have a long history of supporting modders even going so far as to release full versions of total conversions such as team Fortress, counter strike and Garry's mod. I would like to see valve expand on this idea by maybe even releasing full versions of Black Mesa and the portal prequel.

Downloadable content all started back in the days of the Atari 2600. There was a server you can connect to which would allow you to download games for the 2600 through your telephone line.
In the early days of download content the idea was to extend the shelf life of the game as such dlc used to be free.. With the rise of classic first person shooters such as doom and quake especially quake the introduction of what they called expansion packs which you would buy from your local game store usually including models and map packs.

These expansion packs in turn opened up an entire aspect of online gaming. Members of the modelling community could create map packs and model packs for popular games. I remember back my early teen years playing a lot of quake two online with custom models.

In my opinion unreal tournament has been the driving force of the modding community for years firstly, with unreal tournament 99 giving you the software needed to create mods on the disc and then when unreal tournament 2004 came out which opened up the entire world with vehicles and custom game modes. Next with unreal tournament three out that allowed you to develop mods on your PC and install them onto your PS3 version of the game. As far as I'm aware still one of the only games that allows you mark the console version. When epic release unreal development Kit a lot of these mods are depending on unreal tournament 3 to run.independent release using the UDK. The UDK alone allowed modders access to the unreal engine to do whatever they wanted with thusly pushing the development of that engine. And now with the unreal engine four and the upcoming release of unreal tournament four they have allowed axis to the early alpha of the game, released the engine for free for personal development and is asking the community to help make the content in a unreal tournament four realising that 95% of the content that will be seen in the game will be community made anyway as has always been unreal tournament.

So much so, that in the early days of unreal 99 no matter what online server you logged into you might have to wait 20 minutes for custom models and maps to download from the server you must remember this is back in the days of dial-up. (You could almost say unreal tournament was a gateway drug to games design)

In recent years I have seen a disturbing trend of companies like EA removing mod support from their games like Battlefield. Battlefield two had a very vibrant modern community which extended the life of the game until recently even past the release of battlefield 2142. It would appear that EA wants to shorten the lifetime of the game so they can be updated each year with a new instalment. While this in the short term might increase revenue it does nothing but cheapen the value of intellectual property that is Battlefield. I paid for Battlefield three when it first came out at a cost of €60 a few months down the line they were selling Battlefield three premium with all the DLC and map packs for the same price. A strategy like this does nothing but penalise fans of the game that bias on day one. In fact it's strategies like this Call of Duty and Battlefield that put me off first the modern first person shooter. EA even went so far as to release a patch for Battlefield 2142 that removed modding support breaking one of the most enjoyable reasons the play that game might call for strike Star Wars total conversion

While doing research for this paper I asked 60 independent games developers how they felt about modelling in games the results of the poll were as follows;

37 people answered "I like them the ad to the shelf life of the game"

13 answered "I'll be adding support from mods in my game but I think they should be free"

10 answered "I think mods are cool do whatever you want with them"

In regards to indie scene and the modding community I feel that they go hand in hand. I look at games like Minecraft and Kerbal Space programme and can’t help but think that those games would nearly be as big without the help of the modern community with the upcoming release of version 1 of Kerbal Space programme due in the next few days and with the development of the game so closely tied to the modelling community since day one. I can’t help but think the success of that game heavily relying on the mining community.

I personally feel that mods should be kept free. Used as a way highlighting the mod developers love for the game and mad skills and used as a way into the gaming industry. I'm just afraid that with Steam charging from mods it will ruin that there has been consistent reports of people on Steam taking mods from other developers from websites and posting them on Steam.

With the burst of the bubble that was crowd sourced games and with scrupulous games developers almost ruining early access on Steam with their get rich quick schemes I’m just fearful of the same thing will happen with the modelling community.

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