Mods and UGC have had a substantial impact on the video game industry over the years. User-generated content ranges from simple cosmetic changes to total conversions and entirely new gameplay experiences beyond the game they were created for. This content not only increases the longevity of your games long after release but can even spin off into its own standalone game or even define an entire genre.
Counter-Strike has been around for over 20 years now, and few gamers remember that it started life as a mod for the original Half-Life. The original mod, released in 1999 by Minh Le and Jess Cliffe, was a college project that ultimately caught the imagination of both gamers and Valve, the original game creators. This led Valve to purchase the IP rights to counter-strike, hire Le and Cliffe, and ultimately see two decades of success with what has become one of the most popular and enduring competitive shooters of all time.
It's hard to imagine a world without Counter-Strike, but it's an excellent early example of how the success and creativity of user-generated content can influence the future development decisions of even major studios.
Team Fortress (Quake)
Believe it or not, Counter-Strike wasn't an exception for Valve; it's just one example of a successful mod that become a hit franchise in its own right, generating billions in revenue. Team Fortress also began as a mod for the original Quake, adding goal-based Capture the Flag mechanics, class systems and team play, which was incredibly unique and innovative back in the early-mid 1990s.
The incredible success of the Team Fortress mod has not only lead to it becoming a stand-alone game but spawned an entire online economy, where players trade various cosmetics and skins that players can wear within the game.
DayZ (Arma 2)
DayZ is another example of a hugely successful game franchise that spun out from a popular mod. Originally a total conversion for Arma 2, DayZ transformed a fairly serious military simulation game into an open-world multiplayer experience that featured zombies, unique emergent gameplay, and dynamic enemy AI. It proved hugely successful and arguably was one of the catalysts for the open-world survival games we see today.
Arma 2's developers, Bohemia Interactive, recognised this success and hired the mod's creators to develop a standalone game. As a result, DayZ proved to be a huge success story, being one of the first games to launch on Steam Early Access, and still sees around 20,000 concurrent players at any given time.
PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (Arma 3)
DayZ isn't an exception, either. Another game initially created as a mod for the Arma franchise is PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, more commonly known as PUBG. The success of PUBG hasn't just lead to success as a standalone game, either; it's defined an entirely new genre of game, the Battle Royale. Players face off against each other in a large open environment, scavaging for resources and trying to survive, as the play area slowly shrinks until only one player remains.
Battle Royales have become a huge trend within gaming, with arguably one of the most popular games right now, Fortnite, being directly inspired by PUBG. Call of Duty: Warzone, Battlefield V, and Apex Legends are all similar examples of Battle Royales that have all been directly influenced by one mod.
Garry's Mod is unique in that it doesn't just serve as an example of a mod that became a standalone game - it's also a platform for user-generated content in its own right. The concept of the mod, created by Garry Newman, was to provide players with a sandbox for creativity. There are no objectives, simply tools and assets that players can use to create their own worlds, scenarios or gameplay experiences.
This, in turn, has lead to many different mods and spin-offs from Garry's Mod, from entirely new multiplayer games to role-playing servers, and largely enabled the popularity of machinima throughout the 2000s.
Black Mesa was a mod that aimed to port the original Half-Life into the more modern Half-Life 2 engine, with overhauled maps, graphics and sound. It proved popular enough that, with Valve's blessing, the project became an official, third-party remake of the original Half-Life with a team of 40 developers.
It's another example of a studio allowing fans to turn their user-generated content into a success story that has proven beneficial for both the creators and the original developers. Black Mesa has proven hugely successful on Steam as a stand-alone title and has evolved beyond a simple remake, with a new definitive edition expanding on the original Half-Life experience.
The Forgotten City
The Forgotten City, a mod for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, is not only in the process of becoming a stand-alone video game in its own right, but was the first mod in history to win an award, scoring the Australian Writers Guild Award for "Interactive Media", an astonishing achievement. This recognition has lead the mod's creators to work towards a standalone game within the Unreal Engine.
The Forgotten City is a narrative-driven murder mystery game set in an ancient city in Rome. It's set to release as a standalone game later this year but remains one of the most popular and most downloaded mods for Skyrim.
The Stanley Parable
Probably one of the most unique gaming experiences out there, The Stanley Parable originally started life as a mod for Half-Life 2 and saw players make choices that would influence the game into one of dozens of branching paths and endings. Its complex branching pathways, quirky sense of humour and unique storyline proved hugely popular, leading to its eventual release as a standalone game.
The standalone game itself is now being remastered as The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe, with new content, endings, and updated visuals, and is set to release later this year, a decade after the mod's original release.
DOTA, or Defense of the Ancients, was originally developed as a mod for Warcraft III and introduced the concept of MOBAs to the world. It saw two teams attempt to reach their opponent's base and destroy their structure. Originally released as a mod in 2002, using the Warcraft III world editor tools, DOTA was eventually spun off into its own standalone game, called Dota 2.
Its success, much like PUBG, defined an entire genre of gaming known as MOBA, or Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, leading to several similar titles such as League of Legends and Smite. MOBAs have proved a huge commercial success for studios, generating billions of dollars of revenue through the free-to-play business model and the sale of cosmetics and skins to players.
Killing Floor started as a mod for the Unreal Tournament 2004 and was created by Tripwire Interactive. The mod saw players survive escalating waves of hostile creatures before facing a boss fight and lead to the popularity of zombie shooters such as Left 4 Dead and Call of Duty's Zombies mode.
The mod itself helped launch Tripwire Interactive, which developed it into a standalone game in 2009, before releasing a sequel, Killing Floor 2, in 2016. The studio has also released a VR game, Killing Floor: Incursion.
The impact of all of these mods on the gaming industry is huge, from entirely new genres such as MOBAs and Battle Royales to success for both modders and game developers through collaboration. User-generated content also allows creators and game developers to experiment with new gameplay mechanics and concepts.
Although these are some of the more notable examples through the last 2 decades, even smaller mods and user-generated content can help influence the future direction of game development. Insight into popular content and player trends can prove invaluable to you as a game studio, driving success for future content updates or titles.