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Should user-generated content be a key game discovery focus?

We talk to Mod.io's Scott Reismanis on the promise of the market.

Simon Carless

May 19, 2022

6 Min Read
The logo for Mod.io

[The GameDiscoverCo game discovery newsletter is written by ‘how people find your game’ expert & company founder Simon Carless, and is a regular look at how people discover and buy video games in the 2020s.]

Greetings, kind game discovery adventurers. We appear to be venturing fearlessly into what we hear some people call ‘the middle of the week’. So that’s why I’m back by your side, offering malformed sensei-like tips on the video game world as we know it.

Ah, music album of the week: apparently everyone I know got this YouTube rec. at the same time, but vaporwave all-star Macroblank has some very smooth ‘jazzsample’ albums currently being up-algorithmed by ‘The Toob’. (Please enjoy.)

The UGC boon: chatting to Mod.io on modding ftw!

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Good news: the fourth episode of our Tales From GameDiscoveryLand podcast is here. (Reminder: you can easily listen in-browser via our official podcast page, and also via Apple Podcasts, Spotify & more. If you need it, here’s our podcast RSS feed.)

In this episode - recorded just after GDC 2022 - we talk to Scott Reismanis, founder of platform-agnostic game mod host/platform Mod.io about the evolution of UGC (user-generated content), the impact of this content in games, and the future of the space.

Scott was also the founder of ModDB and IndieDB, and has been involved in the mod scene for more than 20 years. His new VC-backed company, which helps run cross-platform mods for games like Snowrunner, Totally Accurate Battle Simulator, Deep Rock Galactic & Skater XL - is doing some interesting work to make mods available multi-platform.

We’ve done a full, lightly edited text transcript of this podcast alongside the audio, with plenty more specifics. But we wanted to highlight some interesting angles here:

Modding is a ‘broad church’ nowadays, in terms of output

Scott notes: “Historically, when I got started in modding with ModDB back in 2002, mods were all total conversions. There really was no such thing as cosmetic mods back then. Fast forward to the last… 10 years. Modding's become, I would say, much more accessible, somewhat more cosmetic.”

In part, it’s because you needed do a bunch of fiddling around with directories and files to get mods to work - and it was a bother to do that, just for tiny game changes. But the rise of Steam Workshop - and now third-party services like Mod.io - make it way easier for players to just press a button to install a mod.

In addition, some games - like Space Engineers, or Besiege, deliberately make user-generated content a core, easy-to-access part of the gameplay: “you build your own machine and you share it.” (Scott says: “We've got a lot of truck and bus and car related games on the service”, and notes that games like TABS have a ridiculous amount of mods of in-game fighting units.)

But maybe it’s worth enabling modding in your game, even if you haven’t built the tools to make it easy and it’s not a core gameplay consideration. Scott says: “In the case of Snowrunner, I think there's like a 40 to 50 page PDF document on how to make levels and vehicles. That’s what the community started with - a deeply technical guide that involves a lot of different skill sets.”

“And at first glance for someone, it is daunting - there's a lot to it. And yet there's been, I think at this point, over 1500 vehicles submitted. So that's a classic example of ‘never underestimate the power and talent and the resourcefulness of your creative community’, because with very little they can figure out a lot.”

Console games can still have mods - if handled differently!

Game modding on console is something that definitely happens. But the console platform holders are naturally nervous about allowing users to mod, uhh, anything they want in there. So how do you approach this?

Reismanis notes of safer possibilities via Mod.io: “There is the option for full curation if [devs] want it - and then they can be in complete control of that. They can also release more simplified creation tools that don't allow people to bring outside assets into their game.”

But the best current approach seems to be curating ‘drops’ of modded content regularly on console: “Some of the rules that the console systems apply actually appear to be almost beneficial. On PC, in some of those titles, they allow all mods. So any mod that gets submitted is instantly available for all players. On consoles, they curate every week or month… on to those platforms.”

“As a result of that curation, where they validate that the mods work and then approve them for the console device - it almost becomes an event that players look forward to. They know that every week, Snowrunner has its mod drop on Xbox and PlayStation… That then drives a lot of engagement for that game.” Neat.

How about monetization? What’s the UGC ‘catch’ here?

It may not have escaped your notice that Mod.io has tens of millions of dollars of funding, and is awaiting bigger revenue streams. Or as Scott says, the company is “going through a market education phase.”

We did check, and the current biz model seems agreeably transparent: “For indie titles and smaller titles - Mod.io is an entirely free platform for you to use. For larger titles and triple A titles, especially ones that want custom branding and a more ‘white label’ experience where it's integrated with their community and their single sign-on provider, we charge a nominal fee per piece of content downloaded.” Works for me.

What also interests Mod.io, its backers and other adjacent folks like Overwolf in the long-term is the ‘modder-dominated and mod-monetizing’ business model of metaverse-adjacent games like Roblox - and even Minecraft, which monetizes third-party content a lot more than it used to.

As Scott notes on potential long-term mod monetization ideas: “Step one might be just as simple as the Twitch model, where it's patronage and it's just backing creators. Step two might be allowing a curated marketplace of your top [user-generated] content, almost like season passes… and then step three might be a full marketplace and a much more open system.”

For some devs, it might seem like a bridge too far. We did talk about Skyrim’s failed attempt to monetize mods mid-stream, and Reismanis agrees the timing was poor - “suddenly having it all be monetized meant that there were certain conflicts.”

But Roblox has made it work, and that can’t be unique in the marketplace. I do think there are some types of sandbox-centric game where this could make a lot of sense, and where you’d want a third party to manage the mechanisms. Meanwhile, unpaid mods are really good for extra content and ‘long tail’ on your game. And we think more people should be considering them - whether via Mod.io or another service.

[Thanks again to Scott for the chat! You can read the full transcript or listen along at home for more detail, including how mobile game modding can make sense, DMCA as a mechanism for enforcing copyright issues in mods, and lots more besides.]

[We’re GameDiscoverCo, an agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your premium PC or console game? We run the newsletter you’re reading, and provide consulting services for publishers, funds, and other smart game industry folks.]


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Simon Carless

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Simon Carless is the founder of the GameDiscoverCo agency and creator of the popular GameDiscoverCo game discoverability newsletter. He consults with a number of PC/console publishers and developers, and was previously most known for his role helping to shape the Independent Games Festival and Game Developers Conference for many years.

He is also an investor and advisor to UK indie game publisher No More Robots (Descenders, Hypnospace Outlaw), a previous publisher and editor-in-chief at both Gamasutra and Game Developer magazine, and sits on the board of the Video Game History Foundation.

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