Unlock the True Potential of Your Community with UGC

A question every game developer must ask themselves is whether to keep their code locked and hidden, open up segments of it for modding, or release a fully documented, open source code people can edit and experiment with.

In this article, we’re going to focus on the second and most common path, and underline the potential value of opening up the gates in a controlled way. We will also look at relationships developers are building with modders, app creators and third party platforms, as well as look ahead to the future we see for these collaborations.

TL;DR — Devs working with third party creators to generate user value can be very successful whether they work on game mods or external apps, and the gaming ecosystem still has plenty of untapped potential when it comes to third party value generation as well as monetization.

Some mods just let your medieval character wear what you like wearing

A Learning Process for Developers

Developing a game is one hell of a demanding journey, so it isn’t surprising developers and publishers are very focused on development and gameplay, rather than third party content. Moreover, developers are justifiably protective of their creations, avoiding risks to their IP or game experience. This usually means the historical default stance of devs is simply to avoid third party content or any changes to their own code whatsoever.

Developers fear that any access they grant third party developers might result in hacks, cheats or other unapproved products harming non-modded player experience, especially in multiplayer settings. While many companies have found positive ways to work with third party developers, in the past it was still much easier to just ignore or kick out creators instead of finding ways to work with them.

My Little Pony Jedi in Skyrim? You got it

Let’s look at some of the decisions made by major brands in recent years: Take Two has supported single player mods for the GTA games, but decided to kill off OpenIV, a major modding tool used at the time for fear of online manipulation.

Players, however, did not appreciate the sentiment nor relate to Take Two’s worries of modification, and the end result was negative feedback, as well as accelerated growth of illegal, pirated modding tools and servers for GTA V (as well as a strong web ecosystem around these illegal products). Times are different now, and just this week a roleplaying mod for GTA V brought the game back to the top three games in terms of Twitch viewership, six years after being launched.

Another positive example would be Blizzard: back in the early years of World of Warcraft, players started creating addons that provided them with quality of life features, boss fight guides, healing management tools and more. Initially, Blizzard stayed relatively distant, and occasionally rooted out the ones that went too far in their opinion. It was around 2009 when they changed their approach and established an AddOn development policy empowering creators across the globe to build many great tools for WoW — this time with official support and clear red lines not to be crossed, to the joy of players everywhere.

User Generated Content (or UGC) is not restricted only by the rules of the game it runs on, but also by technology, copyright limitations and other legalities. For example, a fan created a Pokemon mod for Minecraft, so that he can play the game in his favorite fantasy world.

While this wasn’t in breach with Minecraft’s own terms of service, Nintendo who owns the Pokemon IP took legal action and shut down the mod. This is in tune with Nintendo’s previous mass takedowns for fan-made Pokemon games, and similar to Microsoft’s policies when it comes to fan-made games (the Halo IP was the one being protected in that case).

UGC Becoming an Asset

As time passes, game developers and publishers are coming to understand the value of mods, addons and game apps much better. In general, the more content and customizability a game has, the better will the game retain gamers, and the more satisfied they become with the product overall.

Love Master Chief? Have him narrate your games!

Just last year, we’ve seen the ARK:Survival Evolved developer embrace modders fully and start a funding program for modders in their game handing out over $50K per month to drive user generated content creation.

The Ark developers aren’t the only ones to understand that while mods should probably stay free for users, modders shouldn’t work for free and with no support from developers. Just listen to John Romero, game development legend responsible for Quake, Doom and other classics, when he relates to mods: “mod makers should be able to make money from their creations”.

Developers are coming to understand that UGC doesn’t only generate new value for existing players, but also draws entirely new groups of players into the game, expanding their community and improving how gamers perceive both the game and the brand behind it.

What the hell is Thomas doing in post apocalyptic Fallout?

Because of the immense value UGC provides, it is not rare to see companies such as Taleworlds Entertainment providing day-0 modding support for future games following the immense success of their previous game’s mods- and while they chose not to fully open their code, they built a set of dedicated tools giving modders plenty of options.

Another interesting case of games showing off the value of UGC are classics, abandonware and older games with strong community following. Skyrim is a fantastic example for a game almost a decade old and still going strong solely on the backs of cool mods and user content. And if that’s not impressive enough, just recently Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines 2 was announced, 15 years after the original, would that have happened without a strong modding community keeping the game alive for all this time? Doubtful.

Let Partners Do the Work

In many cases, working with a platform makes life easier for developers. Devs don’t often have spare manpower or funds to invest in UGC, whether they’d like to encourage modding or the creation of overlay apps or not. However, working with an ecosystem like Overwolf can create good value for relatively low costs.

Platforms also unlock multiple monetization opportunities that benefit creators and game publishers both — donations, subscriptions, opt-in ad monetization, paid requests for users such as filling out surveys and much more.

These monetization channels help creators turn their passion for your game into a paying profession they can invest themselves in fully. The more resources generated by UGC, the more and better mods and apps will be created by more community members. Some of these models already work in the app space, and we have app creators making tens of thousands of dollars per month just by creating and maintaining awesome content for their favorite games.

Here’s a clip a community member sent over of Riot talking about Overwolf in GDC:

Apps and mods for games increase gamer engagement, reduce churn and create content that you as a developer don’t have to create yourself, giving your players extra value on top of your own core product. Working with a platform means you can have more creators working on more apps, and have your user experience improve in a scalable fashion. 
Partnering with a third party also keeps you safer as a developer, whether it’s a modding website or our appstore here at Overwolf. Platforms safekeep your rules and terms of service without you having to monitor each and every project, and also make sure you are safe when it comes to data protection, GDPR compliance and other legal requirements.

Most importantly, apps and mods connect publishers to communities in ways never possible before. Just in the past few months we’ve built sweet campaigns with Alienware, 20th Century Fox and PUBG engaging thousands of streamer communities, large young audiences and independent developer teams respectively.

It seems that while brands are learning to leverage apps effectively, mods are still an unknown frontier. Outside of publishers building their own mod infrastructures, modders are left to survive on donations while mod users face immense technical difficulties trying to use mods. The way we see it, only a joint effort of publishers, platforms and investors to empower creators and help them monetize can get modders where they need to be.

If you’re a publisher seeking to enrich your game with apps or mods and want to figure out the perfect way to do so together, reach out to shay.zeldis@overwolf.com and let’s talk!