The modding community in its current form is one of the most creative and vibrant scenes in gaming, consistently spawning some of the weirdest and most inspiring creations on the internet. The practice has brought new life to decades-old games, created whole genres, and made developers out of otherwise passive consumers. Here, we take a look back at where modding all started, and how the community grew into the success it is today.
The first community dedicated to modding formed around id Software’s 1993 title Doom. Having noticed some fans’ earlier modding attempts with its previous releases (including the infamous ‘Castle Smurfenstein’ mod), the game was released with all the loose assets necessary for players to create their own levels, essentially endorsing modders’ activities. The move was such a success that official level editors for the game were released soon after that made modding more accessible and kickstarted the community for good.
Six years later, a coder named Minh Le developed a total overhaul of Valve Software’s Half-Life called Counter-Strike. Despite the relative infancy of the modding scene at the time, the project was a groundbreaking success, transforming the game into an objective-based multiplayer shooter like players had never seen before. More than just an impressive feat, Le’s project demonstrated the limitless potential of modding and set an important precedent for the community going forward. Of course, Valve promptly hired Le and acquired the rights to Counter-Strike, which is still a massively successful franchise almost two decades later.
Valve has since continued to be a major supporter of the modding community, often building its games with modding in mind and incorporating user-generated content in them as DLC, including Team Fortress 2’s cosmetic items and maps. Additionally, the Steam Workshop is a platform with which users can create and upload mods directly to Steam, making mods easily accessible for both creators and users. This has given rise to some of the most prominent mods to date, some of which have even been developed into successful standalone titles, such as DayZ and The Stanley Parable.
Valve’s approach has since further proven the great value of mods for developers, inspiring many to follow in its support of user-created content. Most notably, Bethesda has wholeheartedly embraced mods as a means of keeping interest in its games alive many years after their initial release, providing users with extensive modding tools and relying on fan-made patches to fix game-breaking bugs. Such support is not only beneficial for players to enjoy free additional content, but for developers as well, reflected in Skyrim’s continued relevance and success due to its massive modding community.
Developers have naturally attempted to capitalise on this success since, albeit to varying results. In 2015, Valve attempted to implement paid mods into the Steam Workshop as a means of supporting creators and incentivising a higher quality of content. However, the proposal was reversed just one week past its announcement due to overwhelming backlash, with the community passionately defending the inherently free nature of the medium. Others have nonetheless tried their hand at similar concepts, such as Bethesda’s Creation Club, but given the already established communities dedicated to sharing mods for free, they have seen very little success.
The modding community is still alive and well today thanks to these years of growth and improvement, aided by an ever growing acceptance of the practice by developers and players alike. If this is any indication of the community’s future trajectory, it seems it can only develop further going forward.