Mods and The PC Gaming Master Race

PC developers talk modding and server-side gaming at the PC Gaming World Congress.

News by Mike Williams, .

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 that

DayZ 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?

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Comments 8

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  • Avatar for weevilo #1 weevilo 5 years ago
    When I was younger I loved mucking around with mods and other player made content. Some of my best early experiences were making .wads for Doom and levels for Marathon. The older I get though, the less time I care to spend trying to extend the life of one game out of hundreds in my backlog, or in rectifying design issues with the original game that the developer still hasn't patched.

    Skyrim is a good example of how beneficial a strong modding community can be for a game, it's still selling well years after release for $30. However, I find myself not giving many games a chance if the initial base game experience isn't up to scratch. I played Skyrim for about twenty minutes before giving up. The UI and graphics were a complete turn off. There're fixes out there now for all of those issues, but I have no desire to go back and spend hours trying to track down the best combination of mods that I'd personally enjoy.

    If you're the type of gamer that tends to get fanatical about a game and play it for months on end, modding is hugely important, but I think there's a growing number of PC gamers that just have too many games on their plate now to find the time or inclination to muck around with modding. But if you're like me, you're glad those people exist!
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  • Avatar for twopenny #2 twopenny 5 years ago
    @weevilo I can definitely see where you're coming from in avoiding Skyrim for its shoddy UI--no mods really fix this to my satisfaction, either. The steam workshop has changed the face of more casual mod usage, too, and it's easier than it's ever been to get started. I can safely say that I played Skyrim more than any other game this generation, and it's entirely due to the strength of these tools and the dedication of the modding community.

    When it was first released, I remember a reading complaints that Skyrim felt like the most watered-down Elder Scrolls to date--and they're mostly right--but I had managed to cobble together an experience that felt as epic as some of the scenery. In addition to the giants and dragons, my character had to contend with exhaustion, hunger and hypothermia. He could build campfires, tents and harvest wood from trees. While it might seem like over-the-top realism, these additions gave me a much more personal experience with the land. Suddenly, the journey--reduced to quick-travel-icons in the base game--becomes rather more compelling, and the journey's end a great deal more satisfying.

    The experience of playing an Elder Scrolls game has always felt uniquely personal to me, where my friends and I treat the game like a ball of clay, working it into something resembling the game we want to play--and it's always different. I absolutely believe that the day modding tools disappear from the Elder Scrolls will be the same day i stop paying attention to the series.
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  • Avatar for limbeckd #3 limbeckd 5 years ago
    @weevilo I'm pretty much with you. If a game is sub-par, I want to play something else, not muck around with it. If it's good, I want to play the "real" version.
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  • Avatar for Bilstar #4 Bilstar 5 years ago
    Mods are a great addition to some games, Skyrim's an obvious example but I've really been enjoying some on Euro Truck Sim' 2 also. Actually making mods is beyond me though.
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  • Avatar for metalangel #5 metalangel 5 years ago
    Chris RobertS.

    Skyrim is transformed by mods. I have no races, new abilities, a hardcore mode that tracks body temperature and diet as well as the usual sleep/food/water... I took my 360 copy back to the store.

    GTAIV is transformed too, Liberty City First Response (LCPDFR) lets you be the cops and deal with realistic crimes. Muggings, robbery, drunk drivers, injured pedestrians... all the way up to riots, planting bait cars.

    Euro Truck 2 has embraced the mod community. Railworks/Train Simulator by contrast has done its utmost to push it underground in favour of their raft of poorly produced, overpriced DLC.

    Mods give games back the depth that executives have ordered developers to take out.
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  • Avatar for WillowWolf #6 WillowWolf 5 years ago
    *squee!* I love mods so much... My copy of Oblivion on my computer isn't even really Oblivion anymore. What with the pokeballs, added out-of-character outfits, more interesting questlines, and new areas, houses, pets, followers, and weapons... Yes. Modding is definitely a good thing. Until your mod load order causes the game to crash before you even start :|.
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  • Avatar for FranceGamer11 #7 FranceGamer11 4 years ago
    One game I cannot wait for the mods for is GTA V. The mods for it are going to be awesome!
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  • Avatar for TheGreatOne11 #8 TheGreatOne11 3 years ago
    Mods for GTA 5 are going to be awesome! Mods are what make the PC platform so much better than consoles, especially for a game like GTA. Can't wait...
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