Last month, Bethesda Softworks helped tear down one of the great barriers in video gaming by making player-made mods for the PC version of its acclaimed roleplaying game Fallout 4 available for players of Xbox One version. Last week the studio released another patch announcing coming mod support for the PlayStation 4, but it came with a brief, almost seemingly throwaway notice: Anyone making mods available for console play on Bethesda.net would now have to have a version of the game linked to their accounts through Steam, the popular PC digital distribution platform. It addresses a bitter controversy in the game's community, which, like so many other controversies in gaming these days, sparked from good intentions on the part of the developers.
Mods, user-designed additions and "modifications," can greatly extend and enrich the life of a game. Examples include mods that (appropriately enough) improve the experience of Fallout 4 or mods that breathe new life into decades-old games like Doom. When such mods became available for consoles, it seemed as though we were on the edge of a new era in gaming, one in which console players and PC players didn't view themselves in opposition to each other, as they often do on forums and social media.
But of course, reality rarely works out so beautifully. When mod support first hit the Xbox One on May 31, many console players felt the designers of the most popular mods—chiefly available through the third-party site Nexus Mods—were taking too long to upload them to Bethesda.net. Still, many others believed PC mod creators were simply withholding mods from console players out of belief that console players are "inferior" and shouldn't have access to such thing. And so the offended console players started uploading popular PC mods to Bethesda.net on their own without giving credit to the true creators, leading to rancor on both sides.
Take "GamerAim," who claimed in a now-deleted post that he uploaded a "stolen" mod compilation because the original creator was a "PC elitist ... and it is a statement against his classism and elitist mindset."
"He's a troll and garbage person who makes good content, so in retaliation, I shared it with the console gamers he hates so much," GamerAim said. "This was always about supporting my fellow console gamers, never about taking credit for something that was mine."
Bethesda initially addressed the issue on June 6 by encouraging PC modders who found their mods stolen to file a takedown request through the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Yet the flood of stolen mods continued, and the fear of further, future grievances spread after Bethesda announced last week at E3 that it would allow PC mods on consoles for the upcoming remaster of its wildly popular 2011 RPG Skyrim. All of this led Robin Scott, owner of Nexus Mods, to type out an epic 5,100-word blog post on Friday calling out Bethesda for what he saw as its negligence to protecting the rights of the site's mod creators. He also, however, had strong words for the very "elitists" Gamer Aim condemned.
"You need to separate your thinking between 'mods on consoles are bad for whatever reason', which is stupid, and 'mods on console are bad due to how it's affecting the PC modding community', which can be justified," he said. "If you argue the former, then you, sir, are a douche. If you argue the latter, cohesively and without any reference to PC superiority, you're doing it right."
It's difficult to tell if yesterday's patch notes from Bethesda had anything to do with Scott's letter. As Scott himself says, Bethesda's been awfully quiet at all phases of the controversy. More likely, Bethesda had been planning to require users to have PC versions of the game before posting mods for weeks or days now. For that matter, it's also difficult to determine how much of an effect Bethesda's action will have on the tide of thefts, particularly if some of the thieves are so committed that they buy both editions. And then there are the people—like me, incidentally—who have the game for both console and PC.
It's a small but ultimately welcome step. As for a patch's power to heal a rift in the gaming community, well, does anyone truly believe that's possible for anything there anymore?