• 13 April 2013 16:26:01

    BLOG PIECE: supporting modding in totality

    posted by Dark0ne Game News
    It’s been a couple of months since my last blog piece where I updated you all on what we had planned for this year, focusing a lot on stability and a new server clustering setup. We’re now quite close to rolling this out so I’ll talk a little bit more about that and then talk about what we’re working towards.

    The past couple of weekends have been a bit tough on the servers partly because we’re continuing to tack on new functionality and partly because traffic is still at an all time high. Our solution to this problem which I discussed in detail in the last blog piece focused on completely changing our server architecture to form a database cluster; the idea that you can “link” multiple servers together to make a (for all intents and purposes) single massive database monster that can handle everything you throw at it. If you need to add more power you just add more servers to the cluster, so the potential is practically limitless. We’re almost ready to roll this out which will obviously require a bit of scheduled down-time which we’ll inform you of before taking the sites down for the maintenance. The hope is that everything goes smoothly and when it all comes back up everything is running like a boss. Do things like that ever happen in the real world? Not normally. But hey, here’s to hoping.

    While we wait for the final touches to be finished on our database cluster we’ve optimised the sites a bit more today. We’re hoping you’ll not notice those regular weekend slowdowns we get as much as before. It’s our absolute hope that when the cluster is fully set up and rolled out it’s going to solve our site slowdown issues for good, so it’s a really important step for us as we look to improve on the Nexus further.

    So what’s the plan for the rest of this year? I know I’ve mentioned this already countless times but when I first started the Nexus sites (and the Source sites before that) I had some important principle tenets that were my aim and focus for running the sites; to create as useful and trouble-free resource as possible for modders that would stand the test of time and not be bottle-necked by bureaucracy or any one person, like me. I think we’re almost at this point now.

    If I were to pass away tomorrow (touch-wood and all that jazz) these sites would continue to run in the form of the 4 other programmers working here. Sure, there’d be a ruckus, but the legacy should continue as they have access to much of what goes on behind the scenes. Moving away from this morbid subject, why am I bringing it up? I think the final remaining bottleneck is that of the games we support. In order to support another game for modding a bottleneck forms while I have to go through the process of setting up a new Nexus site. Why don’t we support modding in its entirety for any and all games that people want to mod? Well there’s lots of good reasons and I’ve always wanted to focus on games I know and like because it’s been important to tailor solutions specific to games themselves, rather than diluting our services to try and accommodate a broader spectrum of games. However what I’m finding is that we’re in the start of a little renaissance period for modding that has gone hand-in-hand with the recent prevalence of indie game development that has meant more great games are being released more often, the Kickstarter revolution that has helped to fund this, the launch of Steam Workshop that has helped to spread the word about modding and increase it’s popularity among people who were originally averse to the idea of modding and the decline of the “Triple-A” gaming market, where modding had been abandoned and replaced by lacklustre DLC to eek out more money from gamers.

    While we’ve been focusing on these Triple-A games that support modding (that come along once in a blue moon) there have been lots of indie, or “smaller” games passing us by that have provided modding support but have often lacked a decent place to host their content. We’re talking about games that would have a small modding community that maybe produces 50 - 200 mods. The problem isn’t that I don’t want to take the time to make Nexus sites for these games, the problem is that I’m struggling to keep up with the market.

    I don’t want to support modding for specific games. I want to support modding. Period. While Steam Workshop has been great at demystifying modding as some obscure past-time and brought modding to the masses I personally think it’s taking modding in a troubling direction by essentially DRMifying mods. In order to download a mod from Steam Workshop, currently, you need to have bought the game on Steam or have access to a Steam key for the game and install the game via Steam, essentially negating the whole point of wanting a DRM-free copy of the game (by all means please correct me if this is no longer the case). This would be like changing the Nexus so that you could only download and install mods from the site if you used the Nexus Mod Manager. We certainly would never go down that route. And the annoying thing is that the solution is quite simple for Steam Workshop; they just need to offer a manual download button. Will they do it? I’ve no idea. And the problem with the modding community right now is that there’s not much choice out there in terms of general modding sites. We’ve got, and what a great resource that has been and still is and, thinking about it, they’re the only major site out there that I know of that provides a modding solution to any and all games. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; modding should be all about choice. It’s your choice what you mod and it should be your choice where and how you choose to get and distribute your mods with others. Choice is exactly what is needed and I want to position the Nexus so that it becomes one of those choices, and I can’t do that if I have to cherry pick the games we will and won’t support.

    So what’s the plan? First things first if you only care about modding one of the games we already support then for you things aren’t going to change past what we would have done before irrespective of supporting other games. Skyrim/Oblivion/Fallout/Witcher/etc. Nexus will still exist and look and act just as before. We’ve got design updates in the pipeline but these were always going to come along anyway, irrespective of this plan. So yes, if you don’t care about us supporting other games then for you, “phew”, nothing is going to change. So what will change? Essentially we’re going to be centralising our offering on to, where we’ll support modding for any and all games. It’s actually quite a simple change; when you go to add a mod you’ll be able to choose the game your mod is for. If the game isn’t in our database, you can add it, and then add a mod for that file, so you’ll be able to add mods for games that we didn’t originally support.

    This will create a new, generic Nexus site for the game you just added. It’ll look and feel like Skyrim/Oblivion/Fallout Nexus, but it just won’t have an updated template and will use the same standard colour set and generic background. From you’ll be able to drill-down in to all the files we support across every Nexus site and every game. This will go hand-in-hand with our new category and search pages that we’ll be rolling out in the next fortnight that I think you guys are really going to like just because it puts so much more at your fingertips to really get to what you want quickly from a single page. But let me just reiterate; the experience you get from the Nexus sites we currently have won’t be changing, or moving. This is about providing support for more (or all) games, and adding to our catalogue, not changing our back catalogue.

    This change will enable mod authors to add mods for any and all games that support modding. I regularly get asked by mod authors from various other games we don’t support (to name but a few of the more popular requests; Minecraft, GTA, STALKER, Sins of a Solar Empire, Crusader Kings 2, Torchlight 2, the list goes on..) whether they can upload their mods to the Nexus. They can’t, because we don’t support the game. The idea isn’t to swamp places and detract from communities, but to offer mod authors who like the Nexus format and like how we operate to share their work via the Nexus itself. Don’t like Steam Workshop? Use ModDB and the Nexus. Don’t like ModDB? Use the Nexus or Steam Workshop. Don’t like the Nexus? Use ModDB and Steam Workshop. Don’t like any of them or want to share with as many people as possible? Make your own site or use one of the many community sites already on offer. It’s all about choice, and you should all be able to have that choice and not be limited to one site alone. I’ve no idea if opening up the Nexus to all games is an option that’s going to be used by mod authors or not. It could take off massively or it could not be used at all and really, that’s not the point.I just want that choice to be there.

    On top of this change we’re also going to open up the possibility on all sites to create your own file categories for your files. When you pick the category for your mod you can pick from a pre-set list. Your mod will go into this category to begin with, just like it does right now, but you can also suggest a category that isn’t currently listed for your file that fits it better. If we agree with the category then we’ll add it to the database and your file will be automatically moved into this category once it’s approved. You’ll also be presented a list of categories that others have suggested to pick from; so if we see that 50 files have been added for a suggested category then we know right away that yes, that category is probably worth approving.

    The subject of supporting modding in general has been on my mind for a long time now and it’s been one of the major driving forces for wanting to get this database cluster setup and running smoothly. I can’t in good conscious begin supporting modding for a multitude of new games with the sites performing as sluggishly as they have; it’d be a kick in the teeth to the people who’ve supported us for a long time and I wouldn’t want you to feel as though I’m abandoning the roots of the Nexus to go tread in new territory. No, we get things working perfectly, confident that we can transition into this next step without screwing up everything we’ve worked on before.

    And to placate the moderating fears and appease those mod authors who’ve been demanding this for a while now it’s likely with this change that we’ll provide mod authors with full comment moderation tools for their mods. I think at that point the gates are open and we’ll have to change our policy to ensure both the sanity of the moderation team and the sanity of the mod authors.

    For me the Nexus up to now has been about supporting the communities I know and love. I’ll continue to do this, and I’ll continue to keep my eye out for games that I’d love to focus support towards. Opening up Nexus Mods to all games is going to be an “as-is” service. We’ll provide the tools and the services “as-is”, but will continue to offer that more focused and specialised service for those Nexus sites we’ve fully committed to supporting. And by analysing the new games that are being added to the database I’ll be able to see at a glance if there’s any games that we can make a full-fledged Nexus site for (i.e. a site with it’s own custom template, colour scheme and background, as it is right now with the current Nexus sites). So if (as an example) 100 Minecraft mods get added to the database then yes, it’d probably be worth spending the extra time on my end to give those folks a custom look to their Nexus site.

    It’s our aim then to open up the Nexus fully with an API for web designers and a software hook for developers, all offered free of charge. Think of a service like Skyrim G.E.M.S.; they’d be able to plug in to our API and retrieve information about all the mods they have in their database straight from the Nexus without the need to program a scraper or manually enter data. On the software side we want to provide hooks and API data to game developers so that they can present and provide mods to gamers from within the games themselves; including being able to download the mod straight from our servers to their games. We’d happily allow that. We wouldn’t look to charge for this service at all (either to gamers or the game developers); we think modding should be open and free to everyone and I want to run these sites on good-will; it’ll cost us a lot of money to provide free downloads to everyone, but I think what goes around, comes around. If you offer a good service that people appreciate then donations (in the form of Premium Membership from users) and top-ups from game developers who appreciate that offering those millions of downloads last month probably cost us a lot of money so they might want to consider helping out with a donation will be more than enough. Running on good-will rather than private investment and money-grabbing has worked well for us so far, and there’s no reason it won’t going forward as well.

    This change isn’t imminent. We’ve got a few things we want to get out of the way first before we look into this but you can consider this a statement of intent. This is what we’re working towards. This is what we want to do, and we’ll try our hardest to not only make it a reality, but a reality that works well and for the good of the gaming community.

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