Mariina Hallikainen, CEO of Cities: Skylines dev Colossal Order, believes the industry needs to not only embrace mods but also find a way to enable modders to charge for their content.
Speaking to Develop at last month’s Unite Europe, the studio boss said user-created content has been instrumental in the success of Cities: Skylines.
"For us, it’s important and inspiring to see people creating their own thing with our game, and I think that’s something that can bring more people to your game," she told Develop. "If you think about visibility, people sharing their creations and talking about the game is extremely valuable. A lot of the press around Cities: Skylines has been about the mods."
Hallikainen explained that of the team’s two programmers, one spent a full year working on the modding tools – more than half the game’s year-and-a-half development time.
"If we didn’t have the modding tools, we could have made a much bigger, more polished game," she says. "But we made the decision to actually have the modding tools done at the same time so that at launch people could start creating their own thing.
"We can now focus on those big features, while the modders can do a lot of cool stuff that we have never thought of, like an in-game flight simulator for the planes. Somebody even imported helicopters into the game, and now there’s a simulator for those too."
Naturally, the Colossal Order CEO kept a close eye on Valve’s recent attempt to introduce paid mods to steam with popular games like Skyrim – an initiative that was met with a lot of criticism and eventually pulled after a matter of days.
But Hallikainen says the industry mustn’t give up on the idea of paid mods.
"My personal opinion is that it’s good to give choice to people," she says. "Paid mods is something I’m looking forward to seeing in future. But what we absolutely have to do is make sure modders can’t steal each other’s content. There needs to be a way to establish ownership of that content so that it’s not easy to break copyrights.
"We also have to implement modding tools in a way that ensures mods don’t break with developer updates. So if we update the game, we risk breaking certain mods that go beyond our modding API. We have no idea what code they’ve been touching, if we touch the same code the worst case scenario is that people with that mod can’t launch the game. If you have paid for that mod, it shouldn’t break.
"When we have figured these things out, I think it’s very cool that we’ll give people the ability to get financial gain for making mods."
Colossal Order is hoping to have a roadmap established later this year, publicly revealing the studio’s plans for the modding tools so that the community can plan ahead in terms of what they want to build.