Mods, mods, mods. I knew it would only be a matter of time before they came back to the spotlight, I just didn't know it would happen like this. First, Bethesda introduces us to its new paid mod marketplace (although they've been tactfully avoiding calling it that) with its Creators Club, where you can buy and download new high-quality mods for your Bethesda games (although at the moment it seems to be limited to Skyrim and Fallout 4) during this year's E3. But then, Take-Two Interactive decided, not long after its CEO announced that they need to do more to increase the monetization opportunities in their games, to start crusading against the cheating tools in GTA V, as well as the single-player modding tools, namely OpenIV, that the community has grown to rely on for so long.
The good news is that the latter case of Take-Two attacking mods has since eased, in the week following the reveal. Rockstar Games, a long-time ally of the modding community, has apparently talked Take-Two into easing up on the attacks against single-player mods and allowed OpenIV to continue to be used by the public. The bad news is, the underlying thinking behind their initial attack still persist: that mods are a threat to a game's ability to make money, or somehow an avenue that people can use to cheat both the game and the developer itself.
But that being the case, it's interesting to see how these two form a perfect dichotomy on the industry's currently split take on the use of mods: one group, who sees them as untapped potential for revenue, and the other, who sees it as a threat that could hurt sales, longevity, and security of a game. Bethesda and Take-Two (although Take-Two is just the flavor of the month here: Nintendo is probably the champion of the anti-mod movement) both represent the logical extremes of these two viewpoints.
Which of these viewpoints is the correct one? Bethesda. That's not even a hypothetical, as there's ample evidence across the industry that modding extends a game's lifespan and makes it more desirable, as well as more likely to be recommended. But that's not to say there's no merit in looking at the Take-Two way of thinking because at the most base level, there's some understandable logic to their reasoning especially when you consider that the game that sparked this all, GTA 5, has a strong and inalienable online component to it.
Mods are, after all, edits to the code and assets in a game. Code that has been trademarked, tested, and represent thousands upon thousands of hard work and man-hours, designed to be a tightly-knit, well-oiled machine. A mod, no matter how well-built, is going to compromise that integrity, and what's more, bring oftentimes unwelcome changes to the vision and direction of a game, which is largely why Nintendo is never going to make games for PCs, even if they did start marking games for other consoles. Much in the same way they've largely resisted DLC (an attitude that's changed, of course). They like cohesive, tightly-made, and complete games: mods would make their perfect game stray from their vision at best, and at worst, distort and pervert their brand image, which they view more highly than anything else in the world. Rep matters, y'all.
And of course, mods are really just a marketing term for what they really are: hacks. Mods are literally people hacking into a game and changing it, which is also what you call cheating. There is no shortage of mods for MMOs and other multiplayer games they're practically mandatory if you want to role-play on World of Warcraft, for example (source: I used to role-play on World of Warcraft) and there are some for, say, League of Legends that are just custom skins, usually Shrek-themed. But those are the exceptions, not the rule: if you try to mod a multiplayer game, there's a better-than-good chance you're trying to give yourself some kind of advantage, and you might even be paying to do that.
For executives, who are so far-removed from their players, the difference between a mod-creation tool and a cheat-creating tool may as well be non-existent. No wonder Take-Two was able to do it without a second thought. No wonder Rockstar had to step in and explain #notallmods. Heck, maybe they even pointed to Bethesda and Skyrim and told them how mods have done nothing but help that company.
Because mods have basically made Bethesda the powerhouse it is today. The company and its use of mods are so ubiquitous I almost feel like it's redundant to elaborate. Skyrim is a good game, but it's only great as a platform to host mods, a canvas to let creative students of game design explore. Fallout 4 is a very good game on its own, of course, but as time passes and we put more distance between ourselves and its launch, we'll see that the only reason people keep coming back to the wasteland is all the new mods that will be coming out for it. Mods are so important to the Bethesda even innovated ways to bring mods to consoles, systems that have always been mod-resistant.
So it makes sense that they would go to the other extreme as Take-Two with the Mod Marketplace, but fans are taking to this news like a cat takes to water: an understandable reaction, but I think premature at this exact moment.
I've said this before, but it warrants repeating that Bethesda was not the reason the first mod marketplace failed: Valve was. For whatever virtues the company may have once had as a developer and marketplace, the ubiquity of the system has made the company complacent Steam Greenlight is ample proof of just that. It was their hands-off willingness to let the community moderate itself, leading to copyright infringement, wild prices, and a generally crazy marketplace that proved a convincing counterpoint to the free market will regulate itself theory the far right keeps tossing around.
Bethesda's Creation Club (whatever they're calling it) is fixing that problem by putting a tight leash on everything sold there. It's all going to be rigorously tested, it all has to have almost no impact on game performance, and only a few select people (employees, very well-known modders, and third-party companies) will be able to put anything up there. So, if anything, it's got the exact opposite problem as the Valve-operated marketplace on Steam. That's probably why Bethesda has gone on record saying that its really more like outsourced DLC than a proper mod marketplace
But that's kind of worse, right? The single benefit everyone could agree on for the Mod Marketplace was that it gave the most talented mod-makers in the world a chance to earn a living (and get some well-deserved cash) for their hard work. If this really is just outsourcing, cutting out the community entirely in favor of a few small regulars who'll dominate this paid marketplace, then that's missing the entire spirit of the Mod Marketplace: it's just a glorified add-on shop, which is actually going to be in active competition with the modding community. A competition, I will add, it will lose. Badly.
Look. I'm not going to pretend Bethesda is equally as bad as Take-Two right now because they are not - not by a very long shot. But both of their problems do stem from the same basic question of how a company is supposed to react to mods. Capitalize? Ban? The answer, you might be unsurprised to hear, is quite simple: Just leave it alone.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it, as the saying goes. And I'm not going to say the modding community ain't broke. I'm not even going to say there aren't ways the industry could fix it: they certainly need to do a better job cracking down on hacks and cheats. But we don't have to turn into Blizzard or Nintendo to do that.
Modern Blizzard, I qualify. Past Blizzard was cool.
But most of the ways it's broken is broken in a way no company has the power to fix. Because while companies are scrambling to figure out how to capitalize on mods, what they fail to realize is that mods don't exist for them. Mods are made by the community, for the community, and no one else. They aren't unwrapped gift-boxes full of money, they are not hidden bombs trying to sabotage your game. They are made by passionate people with a lot of imagination, for other people who share their passion and love for a game.
Look, just wildly brainstorming here, I'd say that if a game developer really wanted to help the mod community, they could make sure their Steam Workshop enabled, and maybe pressure Valve to make an in-client donate button to each mod so people can give money to a mod they especially like. Otherwise, they should just back off and let modders do what modders do best.
It's like a bees nest, industry: it's not going to hurt you, unless you start jabbing it with a stick.
So don't do that.