[Warcraft III] Should Developers Try to Monetize Their Mod Communities? How?

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The recent news about how Warcraft III: Reforged is just the most recent example of a game developer or publisher trying to find a way to get some kind of revenue out of the user-generated content made from one of its games. PC game developers have tried a few different ways over the years and most just result in blowback from mod communities.

Blizzard seems to be doing something particularly heavy-handed here — taking ownership over all the custom content players build in the remake of Warcraft III and forbidding them from using licensed IPs in that content.  Basically it lets them make money directly off stuff modders made for free. Fans are unhappy with this, along with other aspects of the remake.

The most successful mods of PC games end up becoming whole games and genres of their own. The original Warcraft III spawned DOTA, which started the MOBA genre. Other PC game companies like Riot Games and Valve have found a lot of success with MOBAs, but not Blizzard. That’s just an extreme example, but mods add a lot of content to PC games that’s essentially free, a developers have never been able to exercise complete control over the most expansive and successful mod communities.

Another company whose game spawned a mod arguably just as successful as DOTA, but whom I couldn’t currently imagine doing something like the Warcraft III: Reforged mod policy, is Bohemia Interactive. Battle Royale games started out as mods of Bohemia’s Arma games, but you don’t see Bohemia trying to own everything modders make for Arma. Hopefully it won’t try that when the next Arma game comes around (you could argue it did with Ylands but I haven’t heard from that game in a whlie), but for right now Bohemia seems to accept that simply having the mods there already increases sales of its base game. These days most Arma modding is done on  Steam Workshop and Bohemia’s own forums, but the company still allows Armaholic to exist outside its control.

Doom has one of the oldest vibrant mod communities, with new mods the size of full games still being made for the 90’s Doom games over 20 years later. The 2016 Doom game tried to harness some of that energy with its “SnapMap” community. As opposed to classic Doom mods though, which you can download from just about anywhere, the entire SnapMap experience is contained inside 2016 Doom itself, and it never quite gained the same reach as its forbear. The upcoming Doom Eternal is dropping mods entirely.

At the same time though, Doom developer id is letting those who buy its recent ports of the old Doom games download some of those mods into these new versions. In the future it plans to work with that mod community to curate selections that’ll be accessible on consoles for the first time. It’s more of a light touch to working with mod communities that players seem pretty excited about.

Then you’ve got how Bethesda — the same company that publishers Doom, has handled the massive mod community for its totemic Skyrim. When it tried to introduce paid mods through Steam Workshop things didn’t go so well, but at least Bethesda tried to work out a way for modders to get a cut. It’s just that they couldn’t arrive at an agreeable split between the modders, Bethesda, and Steam operator Valve. Now Bethesda just has its own free mod portal set aside for Skyrim and Fallout 4 which helps get those mods onto the console versions, but it exists alongside Steam Workshop, Nexus Mods, and other communities.

From what I can see, the most effective way of leveraging mods to generate revenue for the original developer has been for that developer to simply pick out promising mods and modders, and then help build them into full expansion packs or games. That’s pretty much how we got Final Doom — a collection of map packs from fans that id packaged and sold commercially. Bohemia itself just did something similar with its “Creator DLC” for Arma III. I think at least one of the Mount & Blade expansion packs was originally a mod or was made by a mod team. You could say the same for Valve’s Counter-Strike and Team Fortress, which started as mods for its own Half-Life.

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