Even as consoles become more like PCs, there's one thing that will still remain out of their reach: modding. It's unlikely console-only gamers will get down into the code or craft a 3D model for their favorite title. Frequently, even with a PC-version of their favorite 360 or PS3 title, console-only players don't have access to mods. It's one of those things that's brought up when discussing that "Glorious PC Gaming Master Race" meme started by Zero Punctuation.
In a talk at the PC Gaming World Congress hosted by PC Gamer, DayZ creator Dean Hall, Wing Commander creator Chris Robert, and Uber Entertainment co-founder Jon Mavor talked about mods. One fan got up and asked the panel what they though about the new SimCity, who's multiplayer-focused and developer-controlled servers mean no mods are coming. Its predecessor, SimCity 4, has a thriving mod community, but Maxis decided that always-online gameplay was more important than supporting mods.
"Well, I don't want to kick SimCity while it's down, but I suspect that was probably part of the design," said Hall, whose DayZ game actually began as a mod for ArmA II. "It's like, I think that if DICE wanted to kill Arma, all they'd need to do is release some modding tools tomorrow. It always really hurt me when Battlefield 2 was the end in terms of modding, so I'm pretty obviously supportive of the whole modding idea."
The entire panel seemed to agree that it's about a different type of community. A larger, more stable community favors no modding, because developers need to be able to control game and server conditions. This is different from games based around player servers, like Nadeo's Trackmania. These player servers are full of mods and original tracks, but your experience is hit or miss depending on which servers you connect to. When Pete and I reviewed Trackmania 2, every new server was like jumping into the deep unknown: would the server's chosen tracks be good? What about the leaderboards? Would they be readable or an incomprehensible mess? Generally, it was the latter. Console publishers and developers tend to err on the side of stability above all else.
"That's the challenge that we're trying to deal with with DayZ at the moment," added Hall. "How do we have the stability and security of an online community, like Wargaming has, at the same time as support modding? I don't have the answer for that.
How do we have the stability and security of an online community, like Wargaming has, at the same time as support modding? I don't have the answer for thatDayZ creator Dean Hall
"There's going to be games that are going to allow it and there's going to be games that aren't, and the difference is going to be: 'Do you have access to the server?'" Mavor chimed in.
Chris Robert explained that his upcoming game, Star Citizen, allows both options. You can play on private servers with mods, but if you want to play with everybody else in a persistent universe, no mods for you.
"You definitely can mod and you can run your own servers, but if you want to be on the big persistent universe everyone else is on, obviously you can't mod in that situation, because it wouldn't work if someone built a battleship that could blow everyone up, " said Roberts.
Steam Workshop has provided a decent method for getting around some of these issues. Developers can choose to let players only create specific items - Team Fortress 2's hats are simply visual in nature - which can then be reviewed before being integrated into the game. Steam Workshop brings developer oversight and structure to the modding process, making modded items safer for all players. Sony Online Entertainment is heading in a similar direction with its Player Studio for Planetside 2 and the upcoming Everquest Next.
Sometimes developers and publishers just give their blessing to community-created mods, like Square Enix letting fans create a multiplayer mode for Just Cause 2. The mod even has Steam authentication to make sure that mod users actually have a real copy of Just Cause 2.
"It is fantastic what the team has done, but I haven't had a chance to try it out yet," said Avalache Studios founder Christofer Sundberg told Gamespy about the mod. "Even though we would love to help out, it's a quite complex process, considering all the agreements and so on. I know this sounds extremely boring and corporate, but unfortunately that is the sad truth. With that said, we try to support the team any way we can. "
Sqaure Enix has even found that a strong mod community can keep a game visible and profitable long after release.
"It's a similar story with Just Cause 2, a game which is over 3 years since release and yet still has over half a million active and unique players each month, enjoying the larger than life world of Panau, and we're looking forward to the launch of the community created multi-player mod later this year," said Square Enix head of product development Darrell Gallagher two weeks ago.
User-created content is beginning to grow in the console space, with titles like Little Big Planet and Disney Infinity or the user-created missions coming to Metal Gear Solid V. These titles allow developers to have their cake and eat it too. All the assets used to make levels have been tested and re-tested by developers, meaning there's less of a chance for a buggy experience. These levels aren't as robust as the insanity created by the Grand Theft Auto V community, but they're a great start.
Do you love mods, or find them useless distractions most of the time?