Despite heavy rumors of its inclusion ahead of E3 this year, Bethesda’s reveal of Fallout 4 at its inaugural press conference still set the proverbial gaming world on fire. Tucked away neatly towards the end of Todd Howard’s more rushed presentation at Microsoft’s conference, was the mostly overlooked announcement that Fallout 4 would support free mods like its PC counterpart—at least on Xbox One. The inclusion of modding on consoles comes with a unique question born of uncertainty: Will the community rooted in the PC space even bother to support a new and significantly different platform?
With the need for fan involvement, providing mods for the console version of Fallout 4 isn’t something Bethesda can guarantee. Regardless of the monolithic publisher’s efforts, the success of the feature rests squarely on the shoulders of a community that has little investment in the platform supporting it. While the concept of modding is inexorably linked to the PC, the good news is most modders are open to supporting consoles.
“I can’t think of a reason to not support consoles, unless it adds a lot of time to the dev cycle,” says the creator of Skyrim’s Immersive Armors add-on, who goes by the name of hothtrooper44 (Hoth) on the popular modding site Nexus Mods. “Then I would need to weigh out the added time it takes. People will support it because modding is about bringing happiness to people who play games, and venting your creative ideas[sic].”
Agreement about what support will look like, and the effect it will have on the community, unfortunately ends with mods making it to the consoles. Modder NMC, who created some of the most popular texture mods for recent Bethesda games, says he’s excited about Bethesda’s continued innovation in modding. While NMC’s most popular creations might not be as spectacular when scaled down to a form that doesn’t over-exert consoles already being pushed to their limits, he and others believe many popular mod types should be unaffected.
The biggest hurdle for the console space is script extenders, a type of modification that allows modders to insert new code into games. Though not necessary for all mods, script extenders for Bethesda’s more recent games have played a vital role in some of the series’ biggest mods. Right now, the inclusion of a script extender in the console version of Fallout 4 appears unlikely.
“[Fallout 4 Script Extender] for consoles is almost certainly out of the question,” says Stephen Abel, a member of the team behind script extenders for the last three major Bethesda RPGs. “Due to the more restrictive nature of the console environment, both in terms of code and the platform owners, I don’t see any possibility of modifications that introduce new code onto the consoles.”
If the tightly closed nature of modern consoles wasn’t already enough of a problem, past experiences with outside interference means console manufacturers are already skittish about the concept. Sony struggled with exploits on both the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3, eventually removing Linux “OtherOS” support from the latter due to security concerns. Microsoft’s constant battle with Xbox 360s that used the JTAG exploit, to insert code allowing everything from hacking Call of Duty lobbies to playing pirated games, began in the console’s infancy and continued for years. Bethesda could potentially work with modders to support more ambitious mods, but they’ll likely have their hands full fixing bugs and working on the game’s official modding tools instead.
Lack of script extending mods, or alternative support from Bethesda, means some mods might not make their way to console. What mods will be supported in lieu of that feature depends first on how Bethesda structures distribution through their Bethesda.net service. If Bethesda limits Fallout 4’s console mods to just the primary installation files, it could “make certain types of mods like overhauls or massive texture replacers… difficult or impossible to deploy,” according to Abel.
If mods on console skew more towards their PC brethren, however, the pastures look fairly green. Though NMC says he’s worried about consoles overheating under extra pressure, and admits high-end graphics mods are unlikely to be viable, he also says mods like his texture packs appearing in console friendly formats isn’t out of the question.
Hoth, who also created a follower for Skyrim in addition to Immersive Armors, points out that most followers don’t need a script extender to function. Meanwhile David Brodsky, who goes by the name MGE, echoed the sentiment in regard to his Warzones mods for Fallout: New Vegas and Skyrim, saying he doesn’t necessarily need the mods’ UI integration to make them work properly.
The largest point of contention among modders is not whether their side of the fence will support consoles, but rather a combination of how it will affect the broader community and Bethesda’s overall intentions regarding the introduction of the feature. While some modders, like NMC, feel the expansion of mods in both breadth and visibility is a good thing, others are not quite as convinced.
Snakester, a modder who helped create a pair of massive overhaul mods for the previous two Fallout entries and has created content for games since Duke Nukem 3D, believes the growth of the space and its recent spread to Steam was mostly detrimental—and doesn’t see that effect changing as it expands again.
“The number of created mods is going to grow, but not as significantly as the number of downloads,” says Snakester. “Interestingly, the Oblivion or Fallout New Vegas modding communities seemed healthier to me than the one for Skyrim. Other authors I’ve talked to confirm this as well; it has become increasingly difficult to find people to help out. Personally, I had to pick up roles that were filled by several persons in the past. If this trend continues, I think we are going to see less and less of those big, ambitious projects.
“We get an even larger audience, but what’s the point? More work, higher expectations, less fun. Making mods for a couple of thousand people in Morrowind was more rewarding than for millions in Skyrim.”
Despite Bethesda’s insistence that console mods will be free, some modders also still believe the feature’s end goal is paid mods and support Snakester’s claim based on how the user community responded to Bethesda’s attempt to monetize through Steam. “[Expansion] could hurt the modding community, but that will be up to the modding community,” says Hoth. “I believe they are a rabid mob after the reactions I saw with the Steam mods for cash thing. Not civil at all. I was threatened multiple times and I didn’t even try to sell a mod.”
Worry over Bethesda’s intentions isn’t entirely unfounded either, as the publisher attributed the rapid failure of its paid mod program on Steam to trying to insert that functionality into an established community. Moving into a new space, with no meaningful history of modding and a wider audience, might be exactly the opening Bethesda has been looking for.
When not digging into RPG lore or mods, Jon Gregory can be found writing about games and losing more time to Twitter than any rational person should.