Fallout 4 isn’t the first game to bring mods to consoles, but it will be the first to popularise the system.
There’s been a lot of cynicism about this bold initiative, but it’s unwarranted. Although The PlayStation 3 version of Unreal Tournament 3 has the honour of being the first game to allow mods on consoles, that oft-forgotten experiment was an artefact of a different time. We live in the future now, and although time has not yet granted us flying cars, it has given us Steam Workshop and Skyrim.
To understand why mods on consoles are inevitable, you need to look closely at Steam Workshop; it’s too easy to forget how important this development was in making modding mainstream.
These two developments are like twin roosters crowing to herald the dawn of the age of console modding.
To understand why mods on consoles are inevitable, you need to look closely at Steam Workshop; it’s too easy to forget how important this development was in making modding mainstream. Prior to the launch of Steam Workshop, modding was something only hardcore PC players did, tracking down potentially dodgy files on third-party sites, fiddling with game files to install and make them work.
That’s not to say the scene wasn’t thriving, creative and populated – but it was closed off to those whose relationship to their gaming rigs was a little more casual. Steam Workshop changed that by making finding, installing and uninstalling mods a matter of a few mouse clicks – something you did right from the Steam client.
Bethesda and Valve both benefited from the arrival of Steam Workshop in early 2012, just a few months after Skyrim released. The biggest game of late 2011, Skyrim attracted millions of players – on PC alone – spending over 70 hours with it, compared to the general triple-A average of below ten.
Skyrim is believed to have sold well in excess of 20 million copies worldwide – a culturally phenomenal success, and one which put fantasy RPGs back on the map after years of mainstream struggles. Its success was enough to make other publishers take another look at the once-niche genre, and to send developers scrambling to live up to the new king. We talk about new RPGs as “Skyrim killers”; we live in the post-Skyrim era.
On PC, it’s still going; at time of writing, Skyrim is the 13th most popular game on Steam. This kind of success – these sales, this enduring interest – in a single-player, offline game with only a handful of premium content drops, is – well. If it’s not unprecedented, it’s certainly the most notable modern example.
Some of this success has to be credited to the incredibly numerous and active pool of devoted modders, who supply everything from the usual clumsy nudes and game-breaking cheats to complete story modules, intriguing rebalances and even entirely new games – as well as one of the finest collections of jokes gaming culture has ever seen. And absolutely anybody with Steam can get involved, at least on an audience level; just subscribe and off you go.
When the official Creation Kit launches and Fallout 4 embraces Steam Workshop, we expect Bethesda’s latest to take its place alongside Skyrim as one of the few single-player games to achieve hugely extended longevity. But what if this industry-beating lifespan could be extended to consoles, tapping into the huge audiences out there with a proprietary box under the telly?
I’ll tell you: Fallout 4 could become immortal. Free content, forever? You’ll never need another game.
That is, of course, if Bethesda can replicate the success of Steam Workshop on consoles, but we have good reason to believe it can. The picture Bethesda has painted of its vision for modding on consoles sounds very like the one Valve delivered to Steam.
“We want to do it in a way that’s easy,” Pete Hines said in a chat with Xbox’s Larry Hryb in November 2015, as transcribed by Gamespot.
“The idea is you go to play the game, there’s a menu option, you click on it, and there’s a bunch of stuff for you to download. And you click on the stuff that you want and you start playing a game with these new mods.
“We want it to be a really streamlined, fun experience.”
You might expect Bethesda to want to tightly control what mods are made available to console players, but apart from plugging security leaks it apparently intends to give modders almost free rein.
“We don’t want to,” Todd Howard told IGN back in June when asked whether Bethesda would curate console mods.
“The plan is that it goes through Bethesda.net, but outside of things that we would normally take down – we take down things on Steam Workshop if it’s got things that are illegal, or things like that – we’ll do the same thing.”
Asked to elaborate, Howard said Bethesda takes down nudity, porn and stolen assets, although a quick browse of the Skyrim Steam Workshop shows its content guidelines are pretty lenient. We may see the publisher enforce more severely as a result of Microsoft and Sony’s prodding, however.
Meanwhile, mods so wild they ruin everything and break the game? Totally okay, thanks to a save partition system. When players want to use mods, they’ll make a duplicate save, so they’re main game is protected from whatever horrors they unleash by downloading and using half a dozen mods at once.
“Just like Skyrim, there are mods that can break your game pretty wildly, and so we have some safety things on the console for that, but at the same time, we are going to let people break their game,” Howard said.
It’s pretty much going to be a free for all, in other words. If Bethesda is willing to let you turn your game into a buggy, non-functioning mess, it’s probably willing to let you spruce it up (within the limitations of the hardware), give yourself god-like powers and wear whatever underwear you fancy, bar licensing issues.
Bethesda announced modding for the console version of Fallout 4 alongside everything else as it kicked off a five month blitzkrieg PR campaign which certainly seems to have paid off. It’s said very little since, beyond yesterday’s vague release window, but as we know it had been negotiating with both Microsoft and Sony when it was last talking to press there’s a good chance the early comments quoted above hold true today.
In a pre-Skyrim world, you might have expected Sony and Microsoft to balk at the idea of allowing mods on their precious machines. Mods can provide security holes for more nefarious activities. Sony’s experiment with UT3 may have convinced it the whole endeavour’s not worth the bother. Microsoft seems to have reversed its attitude of the XBLIG days in favour of an even more tightly walled garden.
But no: both platform holders were on board within months of the RPG’s announce. That’s indicative of just how compelling and powerful this idea is.
Fallout 4 already has a brilliantly lively modding scene. The Creation Kit release is only going to kick things up a notch, enabling a whole new group of creators while removing many obstacles for existing contributors. PS4 and Xbox One players should be as excited as anyone.
Featured and header image shows Armorsmith Extended by Gambit77
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