Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, March 26, 2024
Microtransactions and mods

Dragon's Dogma 2, an otherwise decent action RPG, caused a lot of negative reactions by having "DLC" in the Steam shop that are essentially microtransactions. You can buy a currency, or items like fast travel stones or resurrection items for cash. While most of the things you could buy for real money were also available in game, these microtransactions for a single-player game weren't popular. So there was much rejoicing on the news that modders had found a way to give out these cash shop items for free. I wasn't feeling the joy. In fact, I am kind of worried.

I like mods. There have been numerous cases where I wasn't happy with a game design decision, e.g. the standard size of the inventory in Starfield, and then used a mod to change it more to my liking. I couldn't have played Elden Ring without a mod that made it easier for a slow person like me to play. I even wrote and published my own mod in Age of Wonders 4, because I wasn't happy with the geography of the "land" type of random map generation. Yes, ideally a game has settings for different difficulties and features, but often it hasn't, and then a mod can be extremely useful.

In many cases, game companies either support mods (I couldn't have written the AoW4 mod if Paradox hadn't provided a mod editor with the game), or simply ignore them. There are only a few cases in which a mod causes bad publicity, e.g. the Hot Coffee mod for GTA. But what is called a mod in a single-player game is called a cheat in a multi-player game, and there are various kinds of "anti-cheat software" and ways to make it more difficult or even impossible to modify a game.

I don't think we have seen the end of microtransactions in single-player games. And if mods give you items for free that the game company had planned to sell you, the game company is going to go after those mods. We might very well end up with single-player games that have some sort of protection against mods and cheat software. And that would most likely not be limited to mods that circumvent microtransactions, but make all modding more difficult. I think that would be bad. Sometimes game designers have really bad game design ideas, like Dragon's Dogma 2 not having a "new game" option. Mods can make a game more fun to play, or make it accessible to people who couldn't otherwise play. If we would lose mods by companies defending their microtransactions, games would change for the worse.

I'm kind of weird in that I don't use mods in games. I can't remember the last time I tried a mod, I think it was a skin pack in Minecraft when I played it with my children when they were young. Game companies are an interesting bunch. They use psychology in their stories and gameplay to influence gamers emotions and game behaviors. However, when it comes to their business model they seem totally oblivious. I'm guessing it's different sets of people that are involved with those decisions. Companies cannot make something limited in game and then offer it with cash and expect people not to feel like the company made that decision to "milk" more money out of them. They would've been better served by just charging an extra $2 for the game and people wouldn't have complained.

I think more companies need to hire a consulting psychologist or anthropologist to be involved in their marketing decisions. It seems like they are oblivious to how things will be interpreted by their communities.
I don't think it's that weird, I almost never use them either. I do like player made scenarios sometimes, and of course taken to their conclusion those become mods (like Fall from Heaven in Civ4 etc.) Though some games work fine with just scenarios - I played a lot of HOMM3 ones in the day.
I don't think this is anything to worry about. Even games with intrusive anti cheat systems can't stop cheats(mods) they only detect them. And for games that are primarily single player, like say Elden Ring, the solution to modding carefree is to simply install a mod that disables the anti cheat system.

Game modding isn't going anywhere as long as there are folks out there willing to write code for them.
Yeah, DD2's decision is out of norm for a single player game. But due to DD2's pawns and their gear being shared between players, they have some legitimacy about treating it as a service game, though, and trying to prevent outright cheating.

I don't think we can expect some sort of effort to stamp out modding. Especially given the major backlash. I mod all the time and have for decades. Currently playing Outward, and a single mod is making it tolerable by giving me easy access to a shared stash in every major hub town, a la Diablo. Without it I couldn't have played it without massive inventory management headaches, and quite possibly quit.
Great insight into the potential impact of microtransactions on the modding community. Mods have enriched gaming experiences for many, and it would be unfortunate if their accessibility was compromised for the sake of monetization.
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