Building the perfect game – an empirical study of game modifications
Prior work has shown that long-time players of a game are more likely to buy the future games of the same developer. Hence, gamer loyalty is an important aspect for game developers.
However, keeping up with the changing needs of gamers is hard, which makes maintaining gamer loyalty difficult as well. The increasing gamer expectations and rising development costs are increasing the pressure on game development teams. Developers need to balance their available resources between working on a new(er) game, maintenance updates of an older game, and updates (such as new game levels) that are desired by the players of that game. Hence, the tradeoff between increasing the longevity of an older game and working on a newer game is a challenging tradeoff for game developers.
So-called modders can potentially assist game developers with addressing gamers’ needs. Modders are enthusiasts who provide modifications or completely new content for a game. By supporting modders, game developers can meet the rapidly growing and varying needs of their gamer base. Modders have the potential to play a role in extending the life expectancy of a game, thereby saving game developers time and money, and leading to a better overall gaming experience for their gamer base.
In this paper, we empirically study the metadata of 9,521 mods of the 20 most-modded games on the Nexus Mods distribution platform. The Nexus Mods distribution platform is one of the largest mod distribution platforms for PC games at the time of our study. Our goal is to provide useful insights into the modding community of the Nexus Mods distribution platform from a quantitative perspective, and to provide researchers with a solid foundation for future exploration of game mods. In doing so, game developers can potentially reduce development time and cost due to the increased replayability of their games through mods.
We compare the mods on the Nexus Mods distribution platform along three dimensions: (1) media (e.g., visual improvements) and non-media mods (e.g., complete overhauls), (2) mods with and without official modding support from the game developer, and (3) mods for Bethesda and non-Bethesda games (as the Bethesda game studio is known to be very supportive towards modders). Overall, we want to study the characteristics of popular mods, and we want to investigate how these mods are maintained.
We first conduct a preliminary study to understand the type of mods that are created by modders. We observed that games with better modding support from the original game developers (e.g., through an official modding tool or API) tend to have a more active modding community. We then focus on two aspects related to game mod releases: their release schedules and the post-release support, as a proxy for the willingness of the modding community to contribute to a game. We find that providing official support for mods can be beneficial for the perceived quality of the mods of a game: games for which a modding tool is provided by the original game developer have a higher median endorsement ratio than mods for games that do not have such a tool. In addition, mod users are willing to submit bug reports for a mod. However, they often fail to do this in a systematic manner using the bug reporting tool of the Nexus Mods platform, resulting in low-quality bug reports which are difficult to resolve. Our findings give the first insights into the characteristics, release schedule and post-release support of game mods. Our findings show that some games have a very active modding community, which contributes to those games through mods. Based on our findings, we recommend that game developers who desire an active modding community for their own games provide the modding community with an officially-supported modding tool. In addition, we recommend that mod distribution platforms, such as Nexus Mods, improve their bug reporting system to receive higher quality bug reports.