Yes, you might be surprised about this one, considering that many of the games that we play do indeed come from mods themselves. Half-Life is a loosely modded version of Quake, and the first version of Counter-Strike came from Half-Life itself. Dota 2 and League of Legends, among all other multiplayer online battle arenas (MOBAs) out there, are all either direct or spiritual derivatives of Defense of the Ancients (DotA), which is, in turn, a map modded from Blizzard’s WarCraft 3 editor.
And do not even get me started on Skyrim, Grand Theft Auto (GTA) 5, Team Fortress 2 (TF2), Dawn of War, and all the other ones out there that have extensive modifications of their own.
To be honest, developers stand across all areas in the spectrum when it comes to the question of game modding. On the one hand, developers do provide extensive official tools for their players to mod the game: this is considered to be a staple feature of Bethesda’s games, in which the developer provides easy-to-use kits in order to enable gamers to add content to the game. Usually, it ends up in a very smooth experience for the modders involved, as well as a voluminous amount of high-quality content that makes players play these games over and over again.
On the other side of the coin, companies like Nintendo are notorious for taking a lot of legal actions to defend their intellectual property (IP) rights. They have sent many cease-and-desist letters to modders, especially when they get wind of the persons behind these modding attempts. However, this is no fault of Nintendo’s alone, as the Japanese approach to modding is straightforward and strict. Here’s the deal, according to an article on modding published on JD Supra:
“The Japanese government recently expanded regulations under its Unfair Competition Prevention Law to make modding game save data and game consoles punishable by up to five years in jail and up to $46,000 in fines.”
A hefty price to pay indeed, don’t you think?
One possible reason why developers do not like modders is that their creations reduce the value of official downloadable content (DLCs) that may come out for the game. After all, why spend more money for the game if you could just get free (and arguably high-quality) content for free?
The history of modding has always been interesting to watch.
In the old days, Electronic Arts (yes, that’s EA) released the Adventure Construction Set, a computer game creation system, in 1984 on the Commodore 64, an 8-bit home computer introduced in 1982. It gave users the chance to construct their own adventure games. It served as an ancestor and direct predecessor of the numerous map editors that game developers would later package with games to facilitate modding in the form of editing in-game content, map creation, and campaign conceptualization. This went to another level later on in the 1980s and 1990s, when computers became more accessible to the commoner out there.
Doom, the iconic first-person shooter game, was the title that defined PC gaming and modding in those decades. With the game’s code being published in 1997 by id Software, Doom’s fans have instituted one of the earliest, largest, and most active modding communities ever.
With the fact that anyone could use the code as long as it did not have any commercial intentions, Doom fans have been able to endlessly download, install, and change the source code underlying Doom for over two decades.
As for the end result? It became a eureka moment in gaming history: The Doom mod community took a 24-level-long game and added near-infinite levels to it, made different varieties of the game, and even ensured that future releases of the game, such as Aliens TC and Brutal Doom, would be optimized for everyone to enjoy.
Then, everything else followed: We all know the stories of how Half-Life and Counter-Strike were made, as well as how a completely new gaming genre came into existence, thanks to Defense of the Ancients (which is in itself is a mod of a popular RTS title called Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos).
Basically, there are three general ways that games approach the question of modding. First, there is something called a “free-for-all” approach: Electronic Arts, for the most part, followed this model. In this approach, people can do what they want with the open-sourced aspects of the game, so long as they give credit to the original developers and they distribute any mod’s source code under the same license.
In this way, developers are able to benefit from the mod community’s experience with the game and produce a game that best suits its most likely demographic. Win-win solution indeed!
The second approach is the “contractual” approach, where people get paychecks whenever they make a mod that helps improve the game. Bethesda is one big example of this; same goes for Valve (especially for its skins). In this way, companies are able to benefit from having programmers fix and improve their games without employing them (though there were many modders who became permanent fixtures of the gaming industry afterward).
The third approach is the “middle ground” system, where developers allow you to do what you want, as long as you do not inject cheats or inappropriate content within a game. They may not publicly support or expressly allow for the modding of their games, but at the same time, they do not enforce their rights against modders, which is a way of saying, “cause no harm, and we will let you be.”
The final approach is the “no mods at all” state, where developers actively deter and prohibit modders from touching any part of their game. This is done by publishers who would like to keep their IP as clean as possible.
In the current setting, there is a spectrum of contexts in which the game modding community exists. However, as long as developers give people the tools to edit their games, modding is here to stay.
Besides, if you were a game developer, won’t you appreciate the free content?