console mods are finally available, and the roll-out hasn’t been smooth.
In the months since Fallout 4’s release, a thriving modding community has sprung up on PC, just like with all of Bethesda’s recent games. Bethesda has shown wide support for modding their games, often releasing developer tools to the public to make modding easier. From simple mods like new armors to vast user-made expansions that introduce new areas, stories, or gameplay mechanics, mods are an important part of Bethesda games.
Bethesda recently brought Fallout 4 modding on consoles out of beta for Xbox One and will be expanding to PS4 shortly. Many console players were excited to finally experience mods in a Bethesda game. Up until now, mods have only ever been the domain of PC players. However, the ability to mod on consoles has been met with a great deal of controversy, and in many ways doesn’t live up to the experience PC players have. I talked to four different modders about the experience of modding for PC versus console and the many difficulties they’ve encountered.
Console limitations is one of the primary problems for many Fallout 4 modders. “Modding for consoles is a bit different because not every mod would be able to run on a console even if they could performance wise,” says modder Foreverasir, who’s made popular environmental mods.
“One of the biggest downsides is that console owners will not have access to the Fallout 4 Script Extender, which requires hooking into lower-level system files. The Script Extender is important because it allows mod authors to write scripts that can access things that the developers didn’t take into account when they created the game,” says Chesko, who has made the settlement mod Conquest along with many varied mods for Skyrim. Script Extender is an external application, vital for creating more complex mods, such as quests or new characters and companions.
Modder Elianora points out that even if a mod doesn’t use external applications like Script Extender, it still may not be able to run on consoles due to the weaker hardware and performance issues. “My mods are very graphical (tons of little clutter, details, 2-4k textures, massive cramped rooms full of stuff), so I’m afraid of the impact they will have on console performance,” she says. Elianora focuses on creating intricate housing mods that give the player new homes to live in as well as new armor and clothing mods. The housing mods are often filled with decorations, many of them created or altered by Elianora. Due to both the lack of Script Extender and the inferior performance, converting a mod to console is rarely as simple as just uploading it to Bethesda.net. Both Elianora and Caliente are wary of the large amount of optimizing they will have to do to get their mods to run on consoles, including downsizing many of their textures or just removing more system-heavy parts of their mods.
Unfortunately, the limitations don’t stop with just the hardware. The cumulative size of all downloaded mods cannot exceed 2Gb. “My mods are at best 150Mb large and I don’t want to carve off a major part of a console user’s mod quota,” Elianora says. This size limit severely restricts both the scope of mods that can be put on console as well as the number of mods a console owner can have at once.
“For me the thing is, and I think this applies to many modders, is that I do not own a console,” Foreverasir says, while discussing the challenges of testing mods when bringing them to console. “So I am unable to actually try my mod before releasing it. Apart from the awkwardness in releasing a mod that simply doesn’t work (Bethesda showed my mod on their Twitch channel and it did not work at all), I rely heavily on console users to report back to me [...] It took a long time before I actually had enough information to realize what the problem was with my mods. The mod worked for me on PC, but I had [console] users report that it did not work, and other [console] users that reported that it did work,” he says.
“I felt like I revealed my mods, blindfolded, to a lot of people. I could not see what they saw, and the reactions I heard were not helping me,” Foreverasir explains.
The de facto modding platform on PC is NexusMods.com, launched in September 2007. Most well-known modders of Bethesda games host their mods on Nexus. Bethesda created a portal on Bethesda.net where modders can upload mods and interact with other users. Fallout 4 connects to Bethesda.net and has an interface for downloading mods in game for console users. “I welcome Bethesda.net. I really appreciate that they care for modders and embrace the phenomenon of modding. I can’t think of any other game company today that goes so far in making their games moddable,” Foreverasir says. However, all of the modders I talked to also complained of Bethesda.net’s painful, sometimes hostile, user experience when compared to Nexus.
“They’ve still got a long way to go to compare to the rich feature set of something like Nexus Mods,” Chesko says. Foreverasis echoes this, saying, “As it is now, I can only have one mod file per mod page. It sounds reasonable, but in reality, one mod often come in different shapes. So I would want the users who found the mod page to also find all the versions of that mod gathered on that page.” On Nexus, every version of a mod is accessible on one page. Different versions might be entirely different from each other, allowing users a great deal of freedom in the specifics of their modding experience. Elianora highlights how having multiple versions on the same page also helps the international community. “My mods are in English, but there’s an active community of translators who often provide me with versions of my mods translated to their game language such as Chinese, German or Polish. There are tons of these little files and they’re hard to manage with Bethesda.net. Pretty much impossible really,” she says.
Bethesda.net is also far more particular than Nexus about the content that gets uploaded. “They have very strict restrictions as far as nudity (always something that boggles me: explicit gory violence and language is ok, as long as the dismembered torso has all the naughty bits covered. But that’s not Bethesda’s fault),” Caliente, who is known for their nudity and character model mods, says. “I’m sure the nudity restriction is not Bethesda’s, but rather Microsoft and Sony’s choice anyway,” Elianora says. Some of the most popular mods on Nexus are nudity or sexual mods, most of which are banned on Bethesda.net. “They also don’t want you to upload Intellectual Property that you don’t own either,” Caliente says. The IP restriction is understandable, but unfortunately means console owners won’t get to see a few of the sillier mods, such as Paladin Danse dressing up as Buzz Lightyear.
Nexus is more than a place to just host mods, though. It’s a community with a distinct culture. Several of the modders discuss how Bethesda.net, being so young, doesn’t have the same community as Nexus.
As Foreverasir says:
“Bringing mods to console turned out to be not so smooth a transition as one hoped for. I have heard several modders saying that they got swamped in mod requests. Console users might not have a good sense of what modders can or cannot do, or they have too high expectations as to how much time a modder has to actually work on their mods [...] As it is now, there seems to be a gap between modders and console users, which I think can be explained with mods being a new thing for console users. Console users are going to get a better understanding of what can be expected of mods, and to recognize how much work has been put into making the mods. But unlike new users on Nexus, users on Bethesda.net do not come to a site where they can see and imitate a certain way of conduct that already exists.”
Caliente blames Bethesda for “allowing toxicity to brew among the userbase,” especially when it comes to mod theft. “There has been a rash of theft, where users have taken content from the Nexus, and without permission, uploaded versions to Bethesda,” Caliente says. “The [Bethesda.net] moderators have been slow to respond to reports of this, and have been more concerned with removing content that violates the nudity restriction [...] Theft of digital content is extremely difficult to stop, but the moderation of Bethesda’s site needs to be much more decisive and swift, as well as providing the community easy and effective methods of reporting violating content.”
So far, Bethesda’s stance on mod theft has been to direct victims to file a DCMA takedown request. “Filing a legal DCMA takedown request for each infringing mod is an onerous requirement to place on authors who do this in their free time, and who also don’t have a method to verify most of the content (since you can’t download the Xbox One files for review on PC, for instance). This particular stance is unacceptable,” Caliente says.
Elianora has also had several of her mods stolen and uploaded to Bethesda.net. As a result, she took many of her mods down from Nexus with the statement that they will stay down “until people stop uploading stolen mods to Bethesda.net and users stop endorsing mod theft.” They’re now back on the Nexus, but she also made a unique mod as a statement on the rash of theft. It is a shirt that says “Make Mods Not War.” She’s communicating her message the best way she knows how, through modding.
Chesko brings up a long term concern that doesn’t have an obvious solution. “The system requirements of modded Bethesda games effectively increase as time goes on as people start creating more and more high-quality, detailed models and textures. Historically, console hardware is set in stone until the next generation, so they might not be able to take full advantage of some of the mods that are released 2 or 3 years from now,” he says. With Project Scorpio, Microsoft’s recently announced more powerful Xbox One model, this problem might be mitigated, but that is a huge investment on the player’s part. Modding isn’t a short term prospect for many people. There are still new mods being released for 2011’s Skyrim on a regular basis
The future of modding on consoles is unclear, and has gotten off to a rough start. When asked if they were planning on bringing their mods to consoles, the different modders have quite different responses. “Until [theft] policy changes and more author-friendly tools are in place to protect content and manage toxic members of the community, I will be avoiding Bethesda’s service,” Caliente says. On the other end, Chesko says “When console support was turned on, I essentially just clicked a button and away it went.” For a few modders, it is that easy. When asked if she would be bringing her mods to consoles, albeit before the theft crisis reached a fever pitch, Elianora says “Absolutely! I absolutely think console users deserve mods and I want to provide them. I want to polish my existing mods to make them the best they can be for consoles, and I just need [Bethesda.net] to be a bit more refined before I jump into it [...] Some of my best friends are console users and they’ve been drooling over my mods for years. Now I can finally share my work with them. It makes me happy and excited.”
It’s clear Bethesda has a lot of work ahead of them to make their modding service more user friendly. Forcing victims of theft to file a DMCA seems like an onerous, bureaucratic mess. Bethesda just added a new requirement to mitigate theft: modders must link their Steam account and own a copy of Fallout 4 with that account. This is presumably to stop console owners from stealing mods, but doesn’t stop PC players from uploading stolen mods. Some fixes could be simple, such as allowing multiple mod versions on the same page. Others, such as the issues of the culture on Bethesda.net, may simply take time to get better. The biggest issue right now is theft, and Bethesda needs to act quickly and decisively to stop this rampant abuse. And yet, despite their many concerns, members of the community are hopeful things will improve and mods can flourish on consoles as they have on PC.
“It’s a whole new world and I can’t wait to share my work and interact with new gamers,” Elianora says.
Elianora, Caliente, Foreverasir, and Chesko are all talented modders. Check out the links to their profiles on Nexus Mods by clicking on their names.
Kyle McKenney writes for Swarthmore College’s student newspaper the Daily Gazette and is an intern at Paste. You can follow him on Twitter @TotallyKyle95.