Note: WriOps is the intersection of writing and opinions on controversial topics in the gaming industry. The opinion of this article does not necessarily reflect the official opinions of NextLevel Gaming Online as an organization.
With how the AAA game market is continually pushing out games every or every other year, it is sad to see such good games like Battlefield 3 fall to the wayside to make space for a regular schedule of sequels. EA/DICE put out Battlefield 4 three years after its predecessor, and with that, they completely shut down the patch releases and support for Battlefield 3. At the time of BF4’s release, BF3 was still a big and popular game and the removal of support was quite upsetting to me because Battlefield 3 was still so relevant and enjoyable. Other studios like Treyarch/Activision push out games on an annual or bi-annual basis and don’t support their old titles after the new release. What would motivate a studio to stop supporting a huge success? Why make it more likely to die out?
“But Evan!” you may be crying, “It’s not profitable to support an older game with patches or DLC. If no one’s buying it new, the studio won’t make money.” That’s absolutely true. However, I have a suggestion for a solution that would allow continued support for an older game without taxing a studio’s wallet: Mods.
This proposition might seem unorthodox, but mods can breathe life into an unsupported game. Studios like Bethesda have loudly advocated for community mods. Encouraging the community to creatively interact with their games could possibly explain why their game Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is still a major success 6 years after it was released. You can go on the Steam workshop, a place where fan content creators go to share the product of their hard work, and find a litany of Skyrim mods that do everything from adding high resolution textures to giving players lightsabers to turning dragon models into “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Theoretically there is no limit to the number of mods allowed on your game at a single time, so you can effectively customize your game to be as entertaining as you please. Another Bethesda game that is popular to modify is Fallout: New Vegas. Often times when modding fans play, they will load at least a dozen mods into the game, covering everything from better head models to expansive side quest trees. Those dozen mods, and everything else on the Steam workshop, were made by fans who thought it would enhance the title’s game play and extend the life of the game itself.
Earlier in 2017, a third party group released a modification for Skyrim that reintroduced content from Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion but after 200 year time difference between Skyrim and Oblivion. The expansion is entitled “Beyond Skyrim – Bruma”; it contains the city of Bruma and its surrounding area some 200 years after the events of Oblivion. Included in the modification are tens of thousands of lines of dialogue, loads of new side quests, hours of new music, and the ability to use your Skyrim character in a setting from Oblivion. This mod is only part of a bigger project that is called “Beyond Skyrim – Cyrodiil” which is still under development. It aims to capture the entire experience of Oblivion within the updated software of Skyrim. Advanced fan projects like these are what give extended lifespans to games, offering hours upon hours of extra content in tandem with the base game.
Counter Strike: Global Offensive is another game that encourages modifications by the community, predominantly in the form of level maps. Valve has in interesting way of dealing with these modders and their maps: they select maps every so often that are exceptional in design and include them in a free expansion, called an Operation, that runs for about 10 weeks and includes at least half a dozen maps for players to play on in both competitive and casual settings.
Some game fanatics go a little bit further though. One such example is the duo of NoFaTe and kiwidog making the breakthrough mod Venice Unleashed (VU) for DICE’s 2011 hit shooter Battlefield 3. This project has been slowly progressing for years and the steps it is taking in the modding community is big. Their mod seeks to add content that was disabled or missing from the core game upon release, such as a spectator mode, ability to host your own servers, high frequency servers, and many other mechanics of the game that change it to its very core. Many of the changes in VU are community suggestions that make the aesthetic of the game more appealing or the removal of old mechanics that didn’t contribute in a wholly positive way to the game play. I have played several rounds of this modification on its servers and compared to the base game it is far superior not only in its looks, but also its feel. They have completely removed the shackles of the original game and made it into something amazing that when at full release will be happily welcomed by the community.
Something aside from mod support that studios could consider to extend the life of multiplayer games and reduce the financial impact on both themselves and the community is allow community run servers as opposed to their current system. Currently the way the system works is people pay “Company X” to use their hardware to host a server for a given game for everyone to play on. The financial burden on the community is very large and sometimes prohibitive to people hosting quality servers. However, if studios were to turn server hosting over to the community I am almost positive fans would jump on the opportunity to host and customize their own servers. This would be something that would boost sales of games and allow games to be thoroughly enjoyed for years after the release date.
Granted, different styles of games lend themselves to different amounts of entertainment and replayability, there are still some games that are a total burnout because of either the multitude of options, or because you act like a broken record and replay a lot of content. Modifications allow you to have a more unique experience in gaming and you get to experience the creation and creativity of a fan who is just as enthused by the experience.
Some studios don’t want mods on their games because of varying reasons, probably to keep their proprietary software under wraps, which may or may not be justified. However, when they allow modifications on their games of varying degrees, the games generally have a greatly increased life span in the community at no general cost to the studio. Garry’s Mod, a.k.a. G-Mod, has been around for almost 15 years. 15! This is because the game is always getting Steam Workshop content uploaded and older content is getting bolstered with updated submissions. This type of long-term success is legendary in today’s fast-paced AAA market, where games come and go like passing cars. Once a game’s successor is published, support for these older games disappears and the developers move to managing their newest title. It makes a bit of sense that a company wouldn’t want to support a game that doesn’t make loads of money, but they could at least turn “support” for the game over to the community by making parts of it moddable. If even a handful of old games (by “old”, I mean 5 or 6 years old) opened themselves up to modding, many members of the gaming community would probably be spurred into playing and creating for them. I know if some of my favorite games would allow for modding, I would create even simple content for it, and recommend the game to my friends. If we can learn anything from the success of Skyrim, Fallout, and G-Mod, allowing mods increases entertainment for players and keeps a crowd in your game, long after developer support has finished.