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Modders' Opinion #1: Mod Distribution

On interview des moddeurs sur leurs attentes concernant les mods et CC ! #1
Image Written by Nicolas Gauville on 02/9/2024

Co-founder of VirtualSociety - PhD in Computer Science
Founder of the VirtualSociety project, and is in charge of the development and communication of VirtualSociety
After a PhD in autonomous robotics at Safran Electronics & Defense, Nicolas started the video game studio Cats & Foxes.

Modders' Opinion #1: Mod Distribution

Hi! Mods and community content are super important for life simulation and sandbox games, like the Sims, Minecraft, or, of course, VirtualSociety! As we want to do things right, we started by asking a lot of experienced modders about their expectations for modding in VirtualSociety!

Over time, we've gathered a lot of responses on tons of topics; a big thank you to them for responding! This article will present the first part of this work, with the responses from three great modders who agreed to respond to us, and to allow us to share their responses publicly. A huge thank you to Wild Frenchie, Sandy / arroundthesims et AlexSixam!

In this first part, we're going to talk about the distribution of mods and cc (cc: creator content). We'll discuss technical points and content in other articles on modding!

Mod Distribution

Our first questions were about mod distribution. Among the most classic options, there are dedicated stores that allow players to directly access all the available mods, or, conversely, direct distribution from the modder to the player via various channels (websites, social networks, Patreon, etc.). Each of these options has its advantages; the store can be easier for finding all the mods, while the other means allow modders and players to be in more direct contact. To get a better point of view, we therefore asked some questions.

Question: do you prefer an in-game mod distribution platform, or external distribution (blog, Patreon, Twitter, etc.) ?

  • Wild Frenchie : "integrated into the game! Sure, Patreon is cool for funding equipment purchases or charitable projects, but it's really chaotic having to go to each creator's page, and lots of cool mods remain unknown or ignored because they're poorly referenced in search engines. So, an in-game mod list, sorted for example by categories, seems more appropriate and more convenient to me."
  • Sandy : "As a modder, I prefer being able to distribute my creations on an independent site rather than on a common platform (like what EA does with CurseForge). I don't like the shopping mall aspect of the system, where you find everything and anything, without really knowing where it comes from and who made it. I spend hours (for years...) creating stuff for the Sims, and I don't want it to be downloaded by accident, because someone clicks on all the items in a list. I like to keep a certain notion of "craftsmanship." We often discuss this aspect with friends who are Sims modders, and many share this opinion (but maybe it's because we share the same opinion that we're friends, I'm not talking about all creators in general, only those I know!, even if some are also on CurseForge, as long as they can keep their personal sites and/or their Patreon/Tumblr page... Personally, I've chosen not to be on CurseForge. As a player, I also prefer personal sites to an integrated store, but I understand that such a system can be convenient. I like browsing from site to site, but it's especially when updating creator content after a patch that I feel lazier and would like a centralized place, but there's always an aspect that bothers me in these "agglomerative" platforms or sites that goes along with the "non-race for 'likes'" you talk about: it's the download counters and "likes," precisely. I understand the usefulness of sorting, especially when there's a lot of content, but having everything under permanent judgment, rated, evaluated, and ranked, I find it depressing."
  • AlexSixam : "It depends, for now working on an external platform works very well for me, however I think if the CC was integrated into the game it would be easier for players and would give us creators more recognition."

These responses rather reinforce our original idea: to allow a centralized store to facilitate the sharing of mods and searching, while leaving other modes of distribution for those who wish. We understand that a centralized store is not inherently a good or bad idea, and that particular attention must be paid to how it is set up. The philosophy of the store must be to help players and modders share, and to protect creators as much as explorers.

Having a centralized store also allows several particularly important advantages in the case of VirtualSociety:

  • For multiplayer worlds, the mods used in the world can be downloaded automatically,
  • Mods installed by a player can be synchronized between their devices and platforms (consoles, phone, computer, VR headset),
  • Mods can be updated automatically.

With a mod store, and the possibility to share mods elsewhere as well, we now need to think about how the distribution system works, with several points like monetization, ranking, and comments on mods, etc.

A Store, But Not Only!

In general, most content stores offer different monetization methods. Many competing platforms primarily earn revenue by taking a margin on the content sold (Roblox, for example), and it is essential to be clear about this type of choice.

Question : which modes of distribution do you consider essential? (direct access, sale, access with a password, distribution limited to certain user groups, limitation according to other mods used, languages, etc.)

  • Wild Frenchie : "Monetizing the mod seems risky. Offering users the option to support modders if they wish is one thing, but asking for a contribution to access the mod... that’s not really advisable. This is probably a personal opinion, but modding (when it respects laws and people, not the WTF stuff) contributes to the democratization of video gaming and should remain as accessible as possible. With probably a filter by language, obviously, for mods that offer content related to language."
  • Sandy : "I prefer direct and free access with the option to make a contribution to the creators (possibly with a symbolic counterpart, like early downloads, Patreon style, or facilitated downloads, but not necessarily)."

We note that on the modder side, most independent content creators prefer to operate on donations rather than sales. On that note, we will not particularly focus on monetization for the time being and will likely offer more a donation system or the integration of links to donation platforms.

Comments and ratings

To properly construct a marketplace gathering the game's mods, comments, ratings, and bug reports are essential. Therefore, we asked several questions to get modders' feelings on what they expect in terms of feedback from their mods and creation.

Question : what are your expectations for player feedback? (mod ratings, comments, bug reporting, or inappropriate content)

  • Wild Frenchie : "Feedback is super important! We all make mistakes at some point, and we need to be able to correct them. But feedback that relies on collective intelligence and in a benevolent way (not the frustrated user who did a bad install and comes to vent their frustration for pleasure, in short). Maybe not a point rating system but leaving a space for discussion for feedback and ideas, and for example, allowing users to tag the mod: utility, functionality, experimental, alpha, beta, etc."
  • Sandy : "I'll say again here that I don't like counters, not too fond of "likes" either. In addition to what I was saying about the competitive aspect, I'm also afraid that a counter might influence my creations: if I see that a certain set wasn't downloaded much, I might not dare to make another one on the same theme, even if that was my initial desire (I try never to look at my stats so as not to be influenced, precisely, but well, it's not effective, marketing-wise!)
    Actually, what I would like is something quite simple but that I don't see (neither on CurseForge nor on Sims aggregator sites like TSR or MTS): I would like to be able to be contacted without what is written to me being public. I always feel like someone is reading my mail over my shoulder when there are public comments, and I find it unpleasant both as a recipient and as a sender, I don't necessarily want everyone to be able to read what I have to say to Z. I don't think it's very trendy or very realistic, as a request, but I mention it anyway because it would allow contacting someone even if you're shy, or not to be afraid of being judged on your spelling by everyone... But I understand that it can also be problematic with minors where it might be better for messages to be exposed to everyone to be potentially moderated. I don't know how to combine the two, but it's something that bothers me."
  • AlexSixam : "Comments and bug reporting."

Feedback thus constitutes one of the most critical points: on one hand, players need to be allowed to express themselves; on the other, it requires a lot of moderation, protecting creators from aggressive or inappropriate feedback, and obviously enabling everyone to easily understand what each mod can offer. We will return to this later with much more detail, but we have started working on several ideas, including a tag system, to allow for effective and useful feedback, highlighting content according to what each person is looking for while protecting players and modders. Bug reports and private messaging also seem essential in addition to tags and public comments.

We agree with Sandy on the principle of like counters: often, they provide little information and go against communication. On social media, for example, many people will like their friends' posts and not interact with them further, where the absence of a like button could have been a great opportunity for real conversation.

Community sharing and modified mods

One of the other questions we have pondered at length is the creation of derivative mods or worlds. In other games, we have all probably wanted to download someone else's creation to modify it in our own way. However, should we allow sharing a modified version of someone else's creation? It's a complex question, with, of course, no systematic answer; it must depend on the original creator's wishes. However, even when everyone agrees, it's not that simple. Preventing redistribution would be really problematic in many cases, for example, preventing the translation or adaptation of mods, but allowing it often raises several ethical issues. So, we also asked modders about this.

Question : would you allow other community members to modify mods you have proposed? (for example, taking an existing mod providing benches, to add the functionality to lie down, add a translation, etc.)

  • Wild Frenchie : "Since I'm mostly a texture artist and a bit of a noob at scripting: YES DEFINITELY! But some modders are less open, maybe offer to check a YES/NO to content modification permission at publication?"
  • Sandy : "I would say... it depends! :p I've seen people offer paid translations of free items, and there, I do not agree (but we're in the realm of scams, far from the positive universe of Virtual Society) Even without these extreme cases, it depends on the project. For example, a modder had asked me if she could use some medicine boxes I had drawn for her health mod, I agreed, and we even ended up collaborating more closely and I made all the boxes she needed. On the other hand, a modder had asked me if she could use my objects (wines, cheeses, perfumes, toys, and I forget what else...) to make a delivery box mod for the Sims, where they would receive, randomly, one or another of my objects, according to their subscription. There, I refused because I disapprove of these boxes IRL (it seems to me to be a bit the pinnacle of overconsumption, even if I wouldn't necessarily be against receiving a surprise box filled with cheeses from time to time, but I digress!...), but it was also using a lot of my objects, for a use that didn't excite me (received randomly) It also depends if I make something free and it's turned into something paid, even with real added value (lots of new interactions), I'm not for it. But in most cases, I'm totally OK with people using my objects."

A more human and warm mod store?

As Sandy gave us a more mixed view on stores, we added some questions to detail her point of view a bit.

Question : if creators had a real space to introduce themselves, present their work, etc., could that rehumanize the store, the creators, and their creations a bit? What would the store that allows you to exist as a digital artisan look like for you?

  • Sandy : "Indeed, having a small presentation page with a banner and one/some personalized color(s) would allow us to know at a glance where we are (on the store, because of the common visual, but also at Z's, because we recognize the colors and the banner) and would allow us to differentiate a little. It still feels too much like a "shopping mall" to me, but if we can have our little "free stuff shop" elsewhere, why not! In fact, what I would like is for the Store to also have something playful about it, that it's not just an agglomeration of creators. An example (and which requires a lot of web development), but instead of a banner, creators could build a storefront/house facade with pre-designed elements, choose a color, add a decorative element (a flowerpot, a trash can, or even a banner) on the presentation page, or graphic elements that replicate facades of buildings from Virtual Society, each creator would thus have their personal corner, it would be like a virtual city (well... lol on a large scale). I believe the clean aspect of Store sites adds to the anonymity where we all become numbers, and a project like yours that cultivates diversity could emphasize that, making everyone feel a bit unique (but without stars! ) I'm not sure what this idea is worth, but that's the kind of Store where I'd like to be, and also want to go (just as I'm not on CurseForge as a creator, I don't use it as a player either, it's ugly to cry, and everything can be found elsewhere, less easily accessible but less ugly!)"

Again, our extensive specification for the mod store part is getting longer (for those who follow us on Patreon, you can see all this in more detail in our complete roadmap!). We will make our best effort to create a customizable store for modders, easy to navigate for players, and facilitating sharing, communication, and kindness for all!

We will continue to talk about all these exchanges in upcoming articles, and to improve our project taking into account your opinion! If, as a modder or as a player you want to talk to us about your point of view, do not hesitate to discuss it with us on our Discord and on Patreon!

A huge thank you to Sandy, Wild Frenchie, and AlexSixam for responding to us, and for agreeing to share their responses with you!

Image Written by Nicolas Gauville on 02/9/2024

Co-founder of VirtualSociety - PhD in Computer Science
Founder of the VirtualSociety project, and is in charge of the development and communication of VirtualSociety
After a PhD in autonomous robotics at Safran Electronics & Defense, Nicolas started the video game studio Cats & Foxes.

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