It’s no surprise that Microsoft is very close to making their announcement of the next generation of consoles. We’ve already got a glimpse of what Sony has to offer with the PS4 and while the next Xbox will no doubt have very similar to identical hardware, setting itself apart we need to come software side. Aside the ever growing shift to becoming a full entertainment hub, the Xbox 360 had unique features that wasn’t available for other platforms until recently or even at all. Apps straight from the dashboard, party chat and the indie game store is naming a few. I think that the next Xbox has a chance to become the next innovator, have an edge over the competition, even PC and change the way we play games for next generation. One key example of this is simple and it’s in the form of Mods.
Mods or modifications in its general definition is a small alteration, adjustment or change to something. This term is normally used for PC gaming and requires the original game, code and or tools from the specific game to make such changes. Some well known mods out there are DayZ (ArmA 2 mod), Dota (Warcraft III mod), Star Wars: Galactic Warfare (Modern Warfare mod) and even CounterStrike which started out as a mod to Half Life. Many say this is one of the few things that hold console gaming back from PC gaming and I would have to agree. While modding is reserved for PC this isn’t entirely new or completely foreign to console games though. We’ve had plenty of games feature their own editors before. Games like Far Cry 3, Halo’s Forge mode, Minecraft and even upcoming games like Disney Infinity’s Toy Box mode have their own map creation and game editors. While everyone can dismiss this by saying “it will never happen”, “they’ve tried this” or “they just can’t do it”, I say they can!
Star Wars: Galactic Warfare action (Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare mod)
Now some people may be wondering why this even matters to them? Well here are a couple of key points to why modding in games would not only change the way you play, but benefit and even be successful as well.
• Infinite possibilities with mod creation
• innovation coming from gamers and developers alike
• Letting gamers possibly experience things they never have before in console games
• Longevity of games would increase exponentially
Before diving right into the actual process of how these can be achieved, there are two key factors of what’s needed to make this work in the first place.
• A set of consumer friendly developer tools need to be available when a game launches
• A Mods for games section in the marketplace would need be in place for them to show up on
So how would this work? Getting into what is listed above, game developers would need to release a set of tools that could be used for PC or maybe even a console friendly version like Halo’s Forge to make small or big modifications. This would let someone create something that can be then transferred into the game. While mods raise the question of possible bugs, malicious code or exploits that could be transferred, a small certification could be run through each before it appears online.
Where would this go? As one of the points above, the indie game store is available on a section of the Xbox dashboard today. The same can be reserved for mods that users create. It can be listed by genre, game title, popularity, recent and most downloaded. If the tool set in the next Call of Duty allowed you to create/modify vehicles, weapon type/look and character models, that would appear on the Mod store for download. If the next Street Fighter allowed you to create character skins and possibly new moves in a game mode, that too would also be there, so long as someone has created it. The possibilities are endless and ever growing.
Xbox dashboard Mod section mockup
Why does this fit for next generation and not today? With new hardware comes new possibilities that could not be achieved with what we have currently. Sony announced a new record and share feature that would be built into the software for the PS4. It allows you to playback and record a moment from which a person had just been playing, much like a DVR. Such a thing while probably not impossible would have proven difficult on the PS3 but with better hardware and integrated software makes this much easier to do. Same can be said for the next Xbox if integrated into the platform itself. An example is the music override feature for the Xbox 360, this feature while introduced on the original Xbox wasn’t meant to perform such a task and wasn’t integrated to begin with., nor was it for the PS3 making that feature not available for it.
There are so many questions and concerns and while I have them as well they all have a way of working out if pursued in the correct manner. A big one for example is “how would developers make money on DLC. or why would we even need it?” The answer is quite simple actually, the tools that developers would release to make modifications would or could be restricted to certain modes, stages or elements within the game. Call of Duty for example can reserve a game mode or anything that is not ranked to allow mods to happen. This let’s gamers play competitively in the respective modes while playing a modification someone created in a noncompetitive mode. Same can be said for single player focused games. A developer can release tools that allow you to make modifications but only to a single section of a game or stage/s to use. If someone wanted to create an entire small campaign or story surrounding a single stage or two in game it can be done, so long as the developer released the tools for it.
An example of something small yet effective is tools set for a game such as Skyrim could allow a creator to manipulate textures and behaviors in a game. As big as adding a new town, as small as a set of armor or even a co-op patch that someone created to play in a section of the game. When DLC from the developer is released it will be new content that can’t be created by the tools given, and to take it a step further possibly be used for new modification with the DLC after release.
While gamers would be the biggest beneficiaries and users for this, that doesn’t mean developers can’t use or even learn from what’s out there. Instead of a developer having to wait to release content through higher means and several forms of certification or even pricing schemes, if they wanted to add something small like co-op in a game, a vehicle or new skins they can through the mod section. Dota is an example of a small mod created by someone for World of Warcraft III which took on a life of its own from the community. The popularity allowed a team at Valve to create a stand-alone sequel Dota 2.
Street Fighter 4 PC skin mod on Ken (Terry Bogard from Fatal Fury)
How do we get developers to incorporate these features? Much like rumors swirling around about the next Kinect having to always be on all the time. There is a reason this debate is still going on and that’s because Microsoft wants Kinect to have some functionality in every new game to be released for the next Xbox. If Microsoft was to make it the standard to have a set of tools right out of the gate when being submitted then every game as you know it would have custom downloadable content in the form of mods that would make it much more worth while to own on the next Xbox then the PS4 addition.
As we move into an age of next generation consoles and having the ability to download everything it only seems fitting that something like this can exist moving forward. There are still many unanswered questions and those concerns should be commented on but at its minimum should be recognized that this should be a reality. Some may think it will never happen and it might not but whether it be the next Xbox or PS4 to be honest the possibility could change everything we know about console gaming.