Is it fair to compare Paid Mods to DLCs?

Back in March this year, I attended the EGX Rezzed convention in London where I had the pleasure to discuss with 20+ indie game developers. Discussions were (obviously) revolving around modding; one interesting thing that came up in a lot of discussions was the comparison to DLCs (see note), and the fear that mods could become similar to what I call the “DLCs of Evil”.

At this point, it’s crucial to explain what I mean by DLCs of Evil. Since DLCs became quite common — especially with the advent of the Xbox Live and Playstation Network — there have been a few examples of DLCs whose release timing, pricing and content have been questioned by gamers and industry critics alike. Some of the DLCs have been released on Day 1, with players wondering if this could have been included in the actual game (for free)(see note). Others have been considered way too expensive for what you actually get in terms of content. Finally, you have what I call the “real ending DLCs” — probably the most annoying of all — those that makes you feel that you’re not getting a complete game on Day 1 (even though it’s totally intended that way) and that in order to get the whole experience, you will have to spend more money to download additional content released weeks or months after.

Don’t get me wrong: in principle, the concept of DLC is great as it allows player to get extra content and extend the lifetime of their favorite games. But the questionable DLCs explained above have casted doubt on the actual value and necessity of DLCs in general (at least from consumer perspective). And this is something developers — especially indie — are aware of. When discussing “paid mods” with them, they do recognise the potential behind them but some fear that they [paid mods] will be perceived as another type of bad DLCs. But is it really fair to compare paid mods to DLCs?

Completing vs Complementary content

When the paid mod market will reach a certain level of maturity, it is very likely that these paid mods will become part of a game developer product strategy, just like DLCs nowadays. Game developers would for instance release tools and dev kits to modders, thus attempting to foster the creation of content for their own games. Examples already exist but with game engines such as Source 2 or the Unreal Engine 4 (designed to facilitate content creation), modding will certainly gain momentum in the near future.

However, there is something that the game developer can not control with modding: the creative output of modders. In simpler words: if modders decide not to create content for your game, there’s very little you can do to change that. This is the major differentiation between traditional DLCs and paid mods. Consider this: If a game developer decides to break its game into pieces (with a core game and additional DLCs to complete it), then it becomes a strategy that is sustainable. The game developer is in control of producing and releasing all those pieces. But in the case of paid mods, nothing guarantees that modders would answer the call.

What does this mean for gamers? The very unlikely case of having paid mods as pieces of a core game. It would be extremely risky for a game developer — looking to release a complete game — to have a product strategy relying on paid mods or user-generated content to complete the blanks in their games (see note). Sure you might have paid mods of questionable quality and pricing, but this content will only be complementary rather than actually completing the game. And this is exactly what would often conclude my discussions with game developers: “You [game developers] can plan to use paid mods as a complement, but you still have to go out there and create a complete game experience first”.

Najib, Founder/CEO @ modblock.

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