Indie Development vs Modding
Created on June 28, 2011, 1:33 p.m.
There are two main areas where amateur game development happens. The first is the Indie scene, which encompasses most forms of game development done by a single developer. This can mean cheap action games on Steam, cult hits like Minecraft and Braid, flash developers working on Newgrounds or mobile and smart phone developers. These games are often simple, 2D, and tend to be creative or puzzle type games with accessible graphics.
The second area is in the modding scene. This consists of unofficial add ons, changes and modifications to the games called mods. The modding scene has existed since PC gaming began. It has had wavering popularity but game developers such as Epic with the Unreal series still herald their games "moddability" as a selling point.
The interesting thing about these two scenes is their complete isolation from each other. It sometimes even goes as far as hostility. Modders can see indie developers as stuck-up and pretentious - working on mediocre puzzle platformers with pixel graphics. Indie developers can see modders as simple fan boys, making Call of Duty machinima videos set to "let the bodies hit the floor" and yet more tedious realism mods.
On course, in reality, neither of these are exactly true. My background is the modding scene, so perhaps I have a natural bias toward it; but I've been lingering in the indie gaming scene and increasingly I'm seeing the void between the cultures as doing increasing damage.
Artists and Programmers
One of the major differences is that the indie scene is largely constituted of programmers - often contracting out artwork for games. The modding scene, on the other hand, has an abundance of artists, across all skill levels, willing to get their hands dirty.
It isn't really the obvious benefit that could be gained by a more balance skill set that bothers me most. What I find most annoying is the disjointed and boring artistic direction in both scenes. In the modding scene I don't want to see another Star Wars mod, another Lord of the Rings mod, another Graphical Enhancement mod - and this is coming from someone who loves all these things like no one else.
In a similar way, in the indie scene I'm so bored of pixel graphics, cartoon graphics, crappy looking 3d games, terrible assets.
In both scenes we have very uninspired and boring artistic direction, with poor technical features due to the tiny number of graphical programmers working with, or being, artists.
More collaboration, sharing of ideas and passions, would be amazing great!
Individuals and Teams
For the modding scene the de-facto standard is to bring a team together to put our your mod. This is seen as essential on anything large at all, and timescales are assumed to be as short as possible. Indie development is the opposite.
I'm not going to discuss if team development or individual development is better or worse. That is one for another time. They clearly have their strengths and weaknesses. Team development is all but useless without someone in charge who is organised and knows what they are doing and individual development is powerful but suffers from burnout.
I think both sides just need to view (or experience) the benefits of the other. Indie developers seem unkeen to share their vision with untrusting individuals, missing out the benefits of a shared workload and new and interesting contributions. Modders set their sights too high, assuming the team will carry the weight, just to fall at the unreliability of others.
More importantly though, I think there needs to be more communication from those with successful and released modding projects and indie games - giving insights into what is needed to finish a product.
For many indie developers making games is a way to make their living and the idea that they are developing for money is a no-brainer. modding on the other hand is almost always free and has a feel about it akin to the open source community.
The result of this is that modding can be more fun - you don't feel the pressure, and legal complications are greatly reduced. The problem of course is that there is a huge uproar when someone wants to charge for their mod - they are often benefiting off much previous development made by other teams in tools, tutorials and tips. There are strong feelings of betrayal and greediness.
The ideal situation would be that modding remains fun, with reduced legal issues, but developers are more motivated due to potential of making money. The modding community needs to have a serious think about this if it wants to progress, and there are lessons to be learnt from indie developers. I don't want to make games if it isn't fun, but I, like everyone else, am sick of failed projects.
So this is my modest proposal: A community for indie developers and modders to get together and find ways of working on projects that everyone is excited about.