When Games Allow Mods, Beautiful Things Can Happen

from the externalities-create-value-for-everyone dept

Recently, Mike wrote about the importance of externalities and spillovers in economics, and the fact that it’s often best to allow other people to capture pieces of the value you create and build on top of it. Not only does this benefit the economy as a whole, it benefits the originator, because some of the additional value that people create feeds back to them.

In the video game world, a great example of this is when companies open their games up to mods, so users can tweak them or build entirely new games on top of the same basic engine. Valve’s Counter-Strike series grew from a fan-made mod for Half-Life, which was so popular it has been credited with keeping Half-Life on gamers’ radars for years longer than it would have been otherwise, leading Valve to hire the creators and turn it into its own game, which remains one of the company’s most successful titles. This week another example bubbled up on Reddit, in the form of a captioned screenshot of the Steam store titled “Dear developers, this is why you should make your games moddable”:

The game ARMA II: Combined Operations was on track to be another mostly-forgotten game, still enjoyed by a small group of fans with few other prospects. Then, two years after its release, and without getting any kind of promotional sale price, it started selling like crazy and surged to the front page of the Steam leaderboards. Why? Another team of developers One of the company’s developers released the alpha of a project he’d been working on independently: Day Z, a zombie-survival game built as an ARMA II mod. Fans have been clamoring for a particular type of zombie game for a while now (and Cracked’s Robert Brockway pitched a similar idea recently) and the description of Day Z sounds like it fits the bill—so when the free alpha of the mod was released, lots of people bought a copy of ARMA II so they could give it a try. The developer was expecting it to be a hit within the existing fan community, but he had no idea that it would cross over into the mainstream.

In this situation, everybody wins. Gamers get a new game, ARMA II gets renewed sales, Day Z gets to exist (without the need to build a brand new engine). The sales boost to the original might be temporary, or it might spark new interest in the game and revive it entirely, or it might inspire newer and even more popular mods, or… well, there are a lot of possibilities, none of them bad. All because the ARMA II creators had the foresight to let people add value to what they created.

Update: A commenter pointed out that Day Z is the independent project of one of the developers working on ARMA 3. Post has been updated to reflect that fact.

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Companies: valve

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Comments on “When Games Allow Mods, Beautiful Things Can Happen”

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Patrick (profile) says:

DRM but not Bullshit

I realized that some people believe that all DRM is bullshit. Some days I feel that way myself.

However, DRM does exist and when we evaluate DRM the question can be is this DRM worse or better than that DRM. To that end I argue that while Steam is DRM it is not “Bullshit DRM”. Steam’s DRM differs from many other DRM schemes in several important ways.

1. They are honest about what DRM the games they sell contain and how it works.
2. They provide other benefits that help to balance the “cost” of DRM to the user (the ability to install games on more than one computer, the ability to download my game whenever I want, the fact that they remember all of my CD keys, social features, etc.)
3. They sell games more cheaply. If DRM makes a game just a rental (as some argue) that’s fine as long as I am paying rental prices.
4. Offline mode. This is huge as it means that Steams DRM will rarely actually be a burden to the player.

Basically, If DRM protects the seller and doesn?t hurt the consumer then let?s keep the pitchforks aimed at the worst offenders.

TDR says:

Another shining example of a game that has not only stood the test of time, but grown because of it, is id software’s eternal classic, DOOM. What self-respecting PC gamer hasn’t cranked out a few levels of their own, even just for themselves? I know I have. And nowadays there are a ton of source ports, such as ZDoom, Skulltag, and JDoom, that incorporate many modern features into the game, giving this timeless classic new life. This was all possible because id had the foresight to release the game’s source code into the wild and let the fans have at it. You can still buy DOOM and DOOM 2 at Good Old Games, and I’m sure it gets a decent amount of sales thanks to all the source ports and mods that are out there for it.

Mr. Smarta** (profile) says:

Two years? That's nothing.

Two years is ok. But Neverwinter Nights I is a game by Bioware that was released in 2002. They allowed people to create their own mods, worlds, etc. and the game is still around today. It’s still a lot more popular than Neverwinter Nights 2. NWN 1 had SecuRom as a DRM, but the developers removed it completely. There’s no verification server anymore, but the game still plays without a hitch.

People are still releasing mods, server worlds, and non-Bioware enthusiests are even releasing a patch for the game (Bioware didn’t release the source code, so the patch seems to be viewed as worrying). Just another example of developers doing something right.

DCX2 says:

Modding FTW

Look at the top 20, you’ll see Left 4 Dead 2 is still there, despite being almost three years old. Why? Because it can be modded, and you can host your own server on your own network.

Portal 2 is also in the top 20. Probably because of the Steam Workshop and the Perpetual Testing Initiative.

In fact, I’ve recently been playing another game that’s easily modded. Vampire the Masquerade Bloodlines. It’s about *eight* years old, and yet there is still a fan community releasing patches to improve and tweak gameplay. They’re even trying to finish a level whose assets are on disc but it wasn’t finished and so it couldn’t make it into the official game.

Anonymous Coward says:

DRM but not Bullshit

The ONLY benefit of DRM is having to say “mother may I” for the rest of eternity to use/play with something YOU paid for.

I long ago quit buying any games except the ones offered by Good Old Games, since they’re 100% free.

AND I don’t buy books, movies or records unless they’re DRM-free or I can jailbreak them.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: DRM but not Bullshit

I agree but Steam DRM is unfortunately a necessary evil. If they didn’t include it the vast majority of piracy obsessed game publishers wouldn’t let Valve sell their games. So I’m just thankful that the DRM isn’t intrusive and the games tend to be cheap and go on sale frequently.

Rekrul says:

DRM but not Bullshit

However, DRM does exist and when we evaluate DRM the question can be is this DRM worse or better than that DRM. To that end I argue that while Steam is DRM it is not “Bullshit DRM”.

Honest question; What happens when Valve’s license to sell a particular game runs out or is revoked by the original publisher?

The last I heard, they were selling copies of the game Jedi Knight, which is owned by Lucasarts. If their license runs out and they don’t renew it, or LA decides they no longer want the game sold through Steam, will all the copies that they ‘sold’ continue to work? What happens if someone’s drive crashes and they need to re-download the game, but Valve no longer has the rights to distribute it? Also, as they add more and more games to the Steam catalog, will they still be supporting all of these games a decade from now?

DCX2 says:

Modding FTW

Wesp’s Plus Patch is definitely awesome, although some purists don’t like the fact that he changed some things (e.g. adding Blood Heal, nerfing Blood Buff, sending Gimble to Vandal to fulfill Replanting a Lily quest, more Poster Session items to fetch, etc). There are also lots of mods; Camarilla Edition, Final Nights, Companion Mod, Clan Quest Mod…

jaf says:

not just mods

this phenomenon is not just limited to mods entirely new games can revive long dead franchises a good example is the free fan made WingCommanderSaga:DarkestDawn which got 50000 downloads its first day and prompted the classic WingCommander games to go on sale at gog.com like a week later.

but now it looks like EA is going to step in http://www.wcsaga.com/forum/index.php?f=19&t=680&rb_v=viewtopic&start=10 there was also a thread posted by the devs with a C&D letter in it but it disappeared soon after I hit the submit story button

Patrick (profile) says:

DRM but not Bullshit

I agree that there are substantial problem inherent to DRM. As I note in my original post some days I feel like all DRM is bullshit.

The problems you point out are quite real (see EA server shutdowns) and while they haven’t effected Steam yet they could.

The thrust of my argument is that I am a realist. I don’t see the ideal world of no DRM coming to pass any time soon. Steam as DRM is certainly not the worst offender currently available so lets direct our focus and energy at the people using truly “Bullshit” DRM first.

Also lets give Steam and Valve credit for what they do get right. Their games and client are available cross platform, are incredibly mod-able, and are sold at reasonable prices with frequent significant sales.

Basically this my whole post was spurred by one word “bullshit” I just don’t like to see Steam (a relative good guy) get lumped in with the Ubisofts and EAs of the world.

Rekrul says:

Re: DRM but not Bullshit

Also lets give Steam and Valve credit for what they do get right. Their games and client are available cross platform, are incredibly mod-able, and are sold at reasonable prices with frequent significant sales.

One of the things that Steam gets very wrong is that it can retroactively change the minimum requirements for a game. It’s already happened once. Retail packages of Half-Life II list the minimum Windows version as Windows 98, however since Steam has been changed to require at least Windows XP, it’s no longer possible to play HL2 on anything less. Many of the older games that they sell through Steam were also designed to work under older versions of Windows, but have now inherited Steam’s minimum requirements. When Valve decides to up the requirements to Windows 7, anyone still using XP is going to find themselves unable to play any of their Steam-crippled games.

Most will say that people using older versions of Windows are too few to count, or that they’re dumb for not using the latest version, but that doesn’t change the fact that when Valve upgrades Steam, they are effectively taking away software that people have paid for.

Franklin G Ryzzo (profile) says:

DRM but not Bullshit

Simple… If the legitimate version of something you paid for no longer works, you download a version that does work. Now this may not work with online games that require external server support, but you have to accept that as a possible consequence when you purchase that type of game.

Just to clarify, I don’t think that you should have to do any of this, but it’s easy enough and it is the solution to your question. I have a couple dozen games I purchased on Steam, and if any of them stops working because they lost the license (or for whatever stupid excuse is given at the time), I will fire up my favorite torrent client and download a version that isn’t broken. And not a single moment of sleep will lost.

Xenophorge (profile) says:

DRM but not Bullshit

Real world example:

EA pulled Crysis 2 off of Steam, yet I can still install and play it from Steam. They only took it off the store, but they support and give me the game I paid money for. Even took the time to make it a seamless transition for me. It doesn’t point me to Origin (like I bet EA would want it to), it just installs and goes, with not a problem to be had.

So that’s what happens when Steam loses a game. Nothing at all.

Anonymous Coward says:

DRM but not Bullshit

Yes the copies already sold will continue to work. There was an issue with EA when they started Origin and most EA games were taken down. I had a few already and they continue to work just fine. I could be wrong but I believe that Steam will no longer be allowed to sell the games in the market but the game will still remain on their servers for those who have purchased it already to re-download.

Anonymous Coward says:

DRM but not Bullshit


I don’t see the ideal world of no DRM coming to pass any time soon.


I don’t know about you, but I am living in that world right now, I don’t have to worry about DRM, I only have to worry about the devs and to that end I contribute everything I can, work, money and ideas.

Anonymous Coward says:

DRM but not Bullshit

Personally, I find steam DRM suits me fine.
I always managed to play offline when I needed to, I never once was locked out of a game due to lack of Internet connection (except for cases where the publisher’s DRM is at fault, such as Dragon Age).

The one thing I worry about with Steam is what happens if one day Steam won’t let me play my games anymore? As you say, this is something that could happen. Steam could shut down one day or ban/block my account for some reason or block access to a specific game for any reason…

If that day ever comes, I’ll go to the Pirate Bay to get my games back. It’s as simple as that. And I’ll download games I never bought in my life while I’m at it. This way I keep what I paid for and the publishers have an incentive to make sure Steam keeps giving me access. And downloading music and games is 100% legal in my country.
I realize this solution might not work for everybody but it suits me personally.

Of course I wish Steam wasn’t DRM and had less restrictions, in fact I try to avoid Steam as much as I can. But often it’s worth what I get out of it, for me at least. And again, any problems Steam DRM can cause, the Pirate Bay can solve. Simple as that.

The Moondoggie says:


I don’t think this is a cause for celebration as modding has existed before Steam and has done wonders to a lot of old video games, making them cult classics and the measure we judge modern games today.

DOOM, Starcraft, Warcraft, Diablo, Red Alert are a few classics that are still completely playable today due to modded levels and maps.

I’d go so far as to say that the real strength of PC games is not the beauty of the graphics, but in the possibility of re-playability and the extension of the player’s fun.

Ninja (profile) says:


Sorry but I don’t agree with that “don’t buy if you don’t agree with DRM” stance. I recently started playing Diablo III and it’s a quite enjoyable game, much like its predecessors. However, unlike D2 for instance (which I bought the original after years playing the pirated copy) D3 requires an internet connection. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve copied D2 folders over (in usb sticks and DVDs) without ever reinstalling. I’ve lost count of how many times I got together with a few friends to link our lappies over a router to play in the local network (sometimes we didn’t even bother to make a copy in every computer). D2 is over a decade old and I still play, regardless of battle.net supporting it or not. Total

Annihilation, from Cavedog. I’ve built my own custom units for that game. It’s incredibly fun even now and it’s AGES old. I can carry around in an USB stick if I want.

I’ll finish my comment with a single question:

Will I come back here in 10, 20 years and say the same about D3 and these Steam DRM games?

Anonymous Coward says:

Are there any PC games that aren’t modable or haven’t been modded?.

Really, every PC game I have has been modded in some way. This includes games on disc, and games by major publishers. Take the Sims franchise for example, despite being published by teh ebil EA, they are some of the most modded games available. Teh ebil EA has, to date, not made any attempt to stop or limit the Sims modding community and openly encurages such practise.

Why is this article acting as if game modding or the modding comminity is new or somehow unique to DRM free sources. Modding is as old as the hills and is an accepted practice even by the worst of the “Old Guard Gate Keepers”.

Meh says:

Modding is just fancy talk for limited sandbox editing, underneath the hood there’s allot more shit going on than what they want the general public to know. Some of it are trade secrets others are simply a level of abstraction that would be useless to the general audience at large. Modding is not the same tools devs use to build games, that’s a load of hype geared to promote more sales otherwise no one would buy the product. It’s all in the economics of virtual trades, you want to make games? Try your hand at UDK or Cryengine!

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