100 Experience Points
An Adventure in Indie Game Development

The Proper Care and Feeding of Modders

In the somewhat off chance that you don’t know what a modder or a mod is, a modder is a person who makes mods, and a mod is a custom user-made tweak to your game, usually in the form of changes to art assets (often loading their own) and configuration settings. It comes from the world modify.

Some games lend themselves to modding better than others. Tetris would stink with mods. But other games, like Civilization and Minecraft, work really well with mods.

I suspect that my game would be very interesting with mods. Yours may or may not.

Some platforms lend themselves to modding better than others. The PC is a prime target for this. It can run pretty much any software and since the user has a keyboard and mouse, and often a large screen to work with, modding can be done pretty easily. Even if the designers didn’t intend for it to happen.

But this article isn’t about how to do modding, but whether it should be encouraged or discouraged.

Should you make it tough for users to tweak your game? Should you do what you can to enforce playing the true game, as it was intended?

Or should you encourage modding? Make it easy for modders to play a variation of the game that they wanted?

There may not be a single one-size-fits-all answer to this question. To some degree, it depends on what your user base likes. Some types of users expect fidelity to the original creator’s design, while others encourage shamelessly stealing things to make it your own.

But my recommendation is to allow modding. In fact, my recommendation is that you encourage modding.

My primary reason for saying this is that this is the kind of thing your loyal players will eat up like it was a free flight to Disneyland. If these loyal players love your game, then modding it is allowing them to take it to the next level. The game becomes even more theirs. You’ll have them on your side forever, and they’ll spread the word about how awesome your game is to everyone they meet. You’ll get at least as much out of it as they will.

Here’s what I’d suggest, as far as allowing and encouraging modding.

Start by not preventing it. Allow the user to tweak things in your game. Don’t triple encrypt everything. Don’t go out of your way to bury configuration files in binary executables.

Give them some of the tools that you created to build your content. If you have an object designer that lets you specify details about objects in the game, give the players those tools for free.

Enable it in the user interface. It doesn’t have to be front and center, but put appropriate menu items in place that help the player load specific mods. Sometimes, seeing that it’s an option is all it takes for your fanatics to dive in.

Finally, make it a part of your community. (More on communities another day.) Make it easy for people to share their mods with others. For people to talk about the mods that they, and others have made. For people to collaborate on mods. And for you to shamelessly steal back good mod ideas to place in your actual game.