The troubled morality of modding video games stems from the core of ownership in the industry – mainly the fact that a purchase of a game from a consumer does not equate to full ownership of the assets, but merely a privileged usage of the finished product on behalf of the original developer and publisher. The developer has put in the time and resources in order to fulfill a vision which is then presented to consumers, and is within their right to ensure that this vision is not tampered with and spread online to create a false perception of their game.
But as the old adage goes “all publicity is good publicity” and thus consumers stretching their own creative talents in order to utilize the pre-existing engine and assets should not be seen as a betrayal of the game, but rather an embrace of it. Allowing aspiring developers to use the tools already created by a much larger development studio means that they can focus on game design and storytelling without needing to go through the rigorous process of making their own engine. It allows people to become comfortable with storytelling without needing to commit to their own tools by means of Machinima, where they can create cinematic stories from the comfort of their own computers.
Mods usually come from a place of genuine love from the players, those who want to spend more time in the game world and push its boundaries to its fullest. This can range from QOL (quality of life) enhancements in large complex games such as Skyrim which allow players to have further control over the game’s user interface, or fan translations such as the one for Mother 3, which was spearheaded by a passionate group of fans who just wanted to plan the Japanese-exclusive game in their own native language, and remains the only way to do so. Modder’s put in ample amounts of time into their creations, even working just as hard and creating as quality content as the original creators. But there is a social stigma that what they’re doing is simply for fun and the community feels entitled to their creations free of charge, as there is a disconnect between time committed to creating a project and how the online consumers will eventually consume their creation. Modders can commit entire years of their lives to create a meaningful add-on to a long dormant game with a passionate fan base, but will be unable to be compensated for their work by anything other than faint praise. The compromise for this is that many modders utilize their projects and exposure as a platform to eventually get noticed by a development studio and receive a “real” job developing a game from its inception.
Kücklich, Julian. “Precarious Playbour: Modders and the Digital Games Industry.” The Fibreculture Journal, 5
This Spartan Life: Episode 7