Toldain Talks

Because reading me sure beats working!

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Toldain started as an Everquest character. I've played him in EQ2, WoW, Vanguard, LOTRO, and Zork Online. And then EVE Online, where I'm 3 million years old, rather than my usual 3000. Currently I'm mostly playing DDO. But I still have fabulous red hair. In RL, I am a software developer who has worked on networked games, but not MMORPGS.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Mods 4 the Win!

With Live Update 16, the standard UI now contains a checkbox that allows a user to enable or disable the display of waypoints submitted through the map updater, which is probably the most popular mod for EQ2 ever.

There are of course, many UI mods avaliable, though most of them focus on aesthetics and screen arrangement. The map updater allows collaboration at its internet finest. Members of the eq2map community can submit waypoints with short descriptions and they will automatically show up on everyone's in-game map.

Sony doesn't consider this a cheat, they like it a lot. Though the purists may wish to try to explore certain dungeon areas without consulting a map first.

What's really interesting about the recent development though is that it highlights the relationship between SOE, a commercial enterprise, and the modders, which are not. Game developers have realized that it's good for them to allow modding. When a third party makes the game more playable and enjoyable for some slice of the customer base at no cost to the game developer, that's a good thing for everyone.

The basic fact of life for a software company is that development costs the same regardless of how many people use it and pay for it. Which makes developers shy away from taking big risks, or working on features that won't be widely used, or are not seen as contributing to selling the product.

Which is why the modders can exist. Most UI mods are made by hobbyists that really only are out to please themselves. And frankly, not all of them do even that. But there are some that manage to make things that other people like, and overall, it gives people more of a sense of ownership of the game, which keeps them as paying customers longer.

When a mod such as the map updater becomes highly successful, it raises a question as to what the game developer should do about it. Should they copy the mod? Try to buy it? or continue to ignore it altogether? Let's go through the options one by one.

Should they copy the mod, they will engender bad will from the modders. One of the primary motivations of a modder is public credit. They don't do it for the money, they do it for the satisfaction and recognition. Someone who did something to make their game more appealing to the customer base gets cut off at the knees. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but unless the game developer can add significant value to what the modder has done, they will be seen as a corporate giant squashing people who were trying to cooperate with them.

Buying a mod isn't feasible, because mods are usually distributed without any intellectual property rights. Furthermore, why should you pay for the cow when you can get the milk for free? So it's good to have fairly clear boundaries about what things you're going to handle as a company, and what things are going to be left to modders. In short, you need an interface, which EQ2 has, in the form of a bunch of XML files deep in your Program Files/Sony/Everquest II/UI/default folder.

Unfortunately, this interface changes periodically, and when it does, some of the modded user interfaces will stop working. Many modders will keep on top of the situation and have new versions available within a day or so that work correctly with the new interface.

But SOE didn't quite ignore the map updater, it put in a checkbox. This is interesting in that it marks the beginning of a symbiotic relationship that was parasitic before. The standard EQ2 interface now can enhance the utility of the map updater. That says a lot about how useful and pervasive the updater has become.

I highly recommend it. Either Google "eq2 map updater" or go directly to http://maps.eq2interface.com.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Milia said...

Yet another good one! Wow, where ever did you get the idea for this one? It was inspired.

Milia

10:08 AM  

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