Although modding increases a game’s community lifespan, drives sales for its developers, and provides extra content for users, it can cause significant problems in multiplayer games. As mentioned in my last post on mods and addons, Skyrim is a single player role-playing game in which the player interacts only with AI-controlled non-player characters, so mods won’t affect other players.
But, competitive shooting games such as the Battlefield series and the popular MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) and esport League of Legends often prevent modding. To allow players to tamper with game files would open up the possibility of additional cheating and exploitative hacking, to the detriment of other players.
According to Karl Troedsson, a developer for Battlefield 3, mods raise all sorts of security risks: “we’re dedicated to try and really limit the amount of hacks and exploits that come out there, but as soon as you let something like [modding tools] out, people have all the tools in the world that they need to sit there and try to create cheats that actually would destroy the experience for a lot of other people.”
This raises a predicament for adaptive liberty in the PC modding community. To make an exaggerated comparison, modding tools are akin to nuclear power. With the forces of nuclear fission at hand, a country can generate clean energy for thousands, but a military can also kill thousands using the same tool. Should the modding community be granted a creative tool that can also destroy? And how would a development company weigh the risks and rewards of such a move?
For most game developers, the risks likely outweigh the rewards, for several reasons. Business interests often dictate the greatest changes within any large company, and the costs of developing a high quality modding tool would be a significant cost in and of itself.
Competitive PC games almost always encounter more cheaters than their console counterparts because there are greater security obstructions and other technical limitations for console hackers to tackle. Providing the means to make hacking easier could raise the already significant number of cheaters and give the game a reputation for unfair, cheater-ridden play, thus diminishing its sales and damaging the franchise’s reputation as a whole. With such obstructions in place, this dilemma raises our second question: will competitive games ever see comprehensive modding support?
As demonstrated by the notorious World of Warcraft, there is potential for some sort of compromise. WoW is a titan of a game, a behemoth that took the world by storm in 2004 and has since held millions of subscribers hostage to its expansive open world and cooperative, if competitive, gameplay. WoW suits many playstyles, both individual and cooperative, against both AI-controlled characters and real players, but its player-versus-player modes feature a competitive ranking system and many incentives to emerge victorious over others. However, WoW also features the use of addons (a synonym of mods), that allow the user to enhance their gaming experiences in non-intrusive ways.
Addons usually take the form of UI changes, which alter a player’s perspective on the game world itself. These changes usually reduce menu clutter and clarify important information so that the player can make better gameplay decisions.
Sometimes mods can add a bit TOO much information. Anything can be bad in excess.
According to a survey done by the International Journal of Computer Game Research, “in 2007, 60.22 percent of participants felt that UI modifications gave them an advantage over other players and a further 18.3 percent thought that it might give them an advantage.”
With the ability to automate certain responses and allow for faster reaction times, addon users could have perfect reaction time and responses, thus granting them an edge in competitive player versus player contests. One might think that such a quantifiable advantage would be perceived as unfair by the majority of players.
However, amongst those same survey responders, “in 2007, 83.8 percent felt that the advantage was fair, and another 7.9 percent thought that the advantage only might be unfair,” (Targett 1). Why would so many users consider this a fair advantage? Is it simply their own bias as addon users? Would such a bias create such an immense majority?
Or perhaps there is more to it than that? WoW addons are free and available to the entire community. Anyone can download and use them if they can find them. Thus, the more dedicated players will seek out the most useful addons and be rewarded from their dedication.
Is this a fair system? On one hand, addons do add a definite advantage. But on the other hand, anyone can use addons, and the only barrier to entry is ignorance. However, whether or not this system could be included in a different form of game is debatable. In a first-person shooting game such as Battlefield 3, the introduction of user interface addons may not receive the same positive response from the community.
WoW has existed for over a decade with addon support, and nowadays, so many players use addons that it is considered a staple component of playing WoW. For now, addons will likely remain specific to WoW and other games that have already utilized these kinds of user-generated content systems in competitive multiplayer environments.
However, one might also argue that addons can help the portion of WoW’s population that does not use them. Popular UI addons highlight flaws in the game’s original interface design, thus enabling the developers to adjust WoW’s built-in user interface and render many addons obsolete. Not only does this reduce the advantages of addon users, but it also does so while improving the experience for the rest of the playerbase.
Indeed, the use of addons can be seen as a collaborative effort between developers and players alike. Addons have demonstrated that they can play a legitimate role in some competitive multiplayer games – whether or not they are suitable for all competitive games is a different question altogether.
Modding communities have seen new challenges in recent years, whether in the form of paid modding systems or in competitive multiplayer games, but with the ever-expanding capabilities of current computers, the road ahead looks promising for modders and users alike.