All my prior blog posts have been about Agile development and selling yourself to employers. So this entries’ subject may come as a bit of a surprise. Today I am going to enlighten my readers on a different form of development that occurs within the computer game software industry.
This form of development is known within the gaming community as “modding.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, modding typically refers to user-created content (ranging anywhere from physics engine tweaks to visual texture redesigns) that is made post-release for commercial computer games.
That term “user-created content” can be found in a variety of software, Google Chrome for example gives community developers the ability to develop extensions for the browser that provide additional functionality. The idea with computer game modding is very similar, the developers ideally design the game with a modding API so that community developers, sometimes small teams but often individuals, can write a “mod” that tweaks some aspect of the game with the intent of making it better, fixing something the developers won’t fix, or just for the sake of humor. If we look at the modding community behind the vast multitude of mods for the computer game “The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim,” we can see that there are mods made for improving the combat system, fixing software bugs that the official development team never got around to fixing, and mods that add things that are just down right silly; such as replacing the appearance dragons commonly found throughout the game with children’s cartoon characters that fly around breathing fire onto the player.
Silliness aside, encouraging an active modding community has some major benefits for development studios that choose to employ it. For starters, the game will grow long past its development life span. This varies depending on how extensive the modding api is, if the modding api only allows access to visual textures then the modding community won’t have much to work with and it will fizzle out very quickly. However by granting the community nearly full-access to the game’s capabilities, the modding community can create new missions for the player, new stories and plot-lines, new dialogue, gameplay, sounds, graphics, scripted events, and a plethora of other possibilities that were probably excluded from the original game due to development budget constraints.
Modders can even go one step further than small additions; in 1998 the Valve Software corporation released the computer game Half-Life. Half-Life’s game engine was easily moddable and the community eventually created such comprehensive mods that the result splintered off into a separate game, known as Counterstrike, and eventually was sold as a retail game itself (Sotamaa, 2003). This active modding community can also alleviate demand for new features from the developers. We can see an example of this in the title “Space Engineers” in which there used to be only two options for thrusters in the game for players to build spacecraft with, the modding community reacted quickly to this void and added a variety of new thruster options to the game, as can be seen in Figure A.
Developers stand to gain quite a lot by building game-engines capable of supporting these user-generated additions, and it ultimately leads to a far more pleasing experience for the user when the game they purchase is continuously improved upon by the community long after the developers have stopped supporting it.
Pong [Image]. Retrieved November 2, 2014, from: http://bit.ly/12cBaCR
Scacchi, W. (2010). Computer game mods, modders, modding, and the mod scene. First Monday, 15(5). doi:10.5210/fm.v15i5.2965
Sotamaa, O. (2003). Computer game modding, intermediality and participatory culture. New Media, 1-5.