On Bethesda and Mods

Bethesda Game Studios is known for the popular Elder Scrolls series, and in more recent years, the Fallout franchise.  Their open-world RPGs have consistently topped the charts on sales and replay value. But ultimately what makes these games so popular is the ease-of-access for modifying the games files, and the helpful communities that have evolved around this key feature. So the question is, who really makes the content players keep returning to? The developers, or the fanbase?

The original Falllout games were published by Black Isle Studios, and where spiritual successors to the Wasteland series by Interplay Productions from the 1980’s. A post-war aesthetic mixed with the crumbling, post apocalyptic landscape helped the games to stand out against other RPGs of the time.The first two games are set in California. Fallout 1 and 2 did not officially recognize any mods, although they do exist. In 2008, Bethesda Studios released Fallout 3, set in the ruins of Washington D.C. and the surrounding area. As someone from Fairfax county, it was fun to explore this alternate version of my home.


I can see my house from here!
I can see my house from here!

Later, Bethesda published (but did not develop) Fallout: New Vegas, a full size game by Obsidian Entertainment, many of the developers had worked on the original Fallout series. The game ran off of an improved version of Fallout 3’s engine and was set back on the west coast, specifically in the Mojave Desert and the ruins of Las Vegas,  several years after the events of the second game.  There is debate over which game is the best, but one major change (aside from transitioning from isometric to first person) was the support of mods. Bethesda had supported mods since their first 3D game, Morrowind. In fact, the Fallout 3/NV engine appears to be a close relative of Oblivion engine. The inclusion of mod support, as well as the release of tools like the Creation Kit and the G.E.C.K. for Skyrim and Fallout, respectively, boosted the fanbase of each game.


“So what?”, you may ask, “Why do I care?” Because, after a certain amount of hours clocked into a game, it gets stale. You’ve beat every boss, cleared every dungeon and have the best weapons and armor. Maybe you’ve even played through a few times with a different play style each time. But eventually, you move on to another game and leave it leaving dust. But if there are ways to put user-created content in your game, near infinite replay value is generated. You might set the game down for a few months only to go check out some new mods and start a new file. Maybe this time I’ll explore massive new lands, or completely change the balancing of the game.


Not all mods are serious though, and that’s the beauty of it. The original game developers are limited to what fits within the lore of the game world, but modders can do whatever they want. You could even have Thomas the Tank engine instead of dragons if you so desired. But the real question here is, do people come for the epic gameplay with the added benefit of mods, or do they come for awesome fan-made content running in a neatly organized game world?

The Ikea-born, fated to save the flat-packed Swedish furniture of Skyrim.
The Ikea-born, destine to save the flat-packed Swedish furnishing of Skyrim.

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