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Giving Away the Keys

XCOM 2 lead programmer Ryan Fell on working with day one mods

We all know that, in today's industry, release day is far from the end of development. Patches, fixes and DLC aside, modding support is increasingly a major factor in the success of big releases, particularly on PC, but with consoles watching carefully from close nearby.

It's a difficult decision. Do you throw the doors wide open, welcoming one and all to tinker with all of your fine tuning? Mods can clearly offer a massive lifecycle extension to the right titles, bringing players and contributors to an entirely new level of engagement, but allowing players to fiddle around under the hood can also cause no end of problems, support-based and otherwise.

One thing does seem to be apparent: commit to your decision. If you're going to allow mods, don't just allow them, encourage them. Give access to the suite of creation tools used internally, without limiting modding to what you think is possible. Given free reign, players can work wonders.

Firaxis seems to have a handle on it. Civilization has a long and healthy history of mods, for example, giving rise to ways of playing which have almost been entirely new games in their own right. XCOM Enemy Unknown was also modded extensively, but by Firaxis' own admission, they didn't go out of their way to make it easy. All that changed with the sequel. Xcom 2 featured not only day one modding tools, but also official day one mods created by the team behind The Long War, one of the biggest and best player-made additions to the first game.

Xcom 2 Lead Programmer Ryan Fell explains the process.

Can you give us some background on how the teams started talking to each other? Were there discussions during/after the original mod was being developer/was launched?

"Early on in the XCOM 2 development process we knew we wanted to work with an external team on XCOM 2's mod tools. Both to get feedback from a mod team using our tools and pipeline and produce some great content that players would get with the game when it launched. So, it was a natural fit to get the team that built one of EU/EW's most popular mods to work with us on XCOM 2 and help make sure we put our best foot forward with mod support."

It's great news for fans of both teams - what lead to the change of mind about working on the project?

"We always wanted XCOM to have mod support. We couldn't provide that in Enemy Unknown, but with the PC focus on XCOM 2 we made it a priority. With Long War Studios making mods that launched the same day as the game, they got to put their mark on XCOM 2 from the start and demonstrate what was possible with our tools."

What's the business angle? Are you going to be taking a revenue split, or will you be monetising the mods directly? Will any be packaged with the retail SKUs of the game? Do you think that Steam's direct monetisation of mods will ever make a comeback? Is it viable?

"We have no plans to monetize mods or package the LWS mods with the game itself. Supporting mods adds value to our game in and of itself through the amazing content and systems that our fans dream up. We spend a lot of time making the gameplay as great as it can be, but mods like Long War show that there's always places the game could be taken to make it even more interesting. From mods that make changes to make an already challenging game even more challenging, to weapons shaped like Corgis, letting our fans shape the game gives XCOM 2 a huge replayability above and beyond what we could do with smart gameplay systems and post release content alone.

"mods like Long War show that there's always places the game could be taken to make it even more interesting"

"As far as monetization of mods goes, it is an interesting concept in that it could create a new way to make a living doing something you enjoy, similar to what you see with streamers dedicated to gaming. I think it will take the right game and the right circumstances for it to be viable."

Microsoft has made plenty of noise about modding on Xbox One - is that going to be something you'll take advantage of? 

"Even though we don't have plans for a console port, I have personal interest in seeing mods come to consoles. Unreal Tournament 3 supported mods on the PS3, so it has certainly been done before. Security of the console is a primary concern for the console manufacturers, which can be at odds with the freedom to manipulate content and script code for mods."

Why did you make the decision to make the content a mod, rather than a part of the full game?

"We wanted the LWS mods to fulfill a couple roles. First and foremost, the mods needed to be fun mods that fans can download the day the game launches. Secondly, we wanted their mods to show off the types of mods you can make with our tools. We wanted XCOM 2 to stand on its own as a Firaxis product and we want the LWS mods to stand on their own as high-quality content from John and his team."

Was the content produced using tools which will be available to all buyers of the game? Could it technically be equalled by other modders?

"Our tools make a lot of things possible, it's up to the skill level of the modder"

"The LWS content was made using the tools provided to anyone who buys the game. Any modder is fully capable of making a mod that equals both the LWS mods and XCOM 2 as a game itself. Our tools make a lot of things possible, it's up to the skill level of the modder."

Will this be the only Xcom 2 content from the team, or will there be 'unofficial' extras as well?

I hope we see more from LWS. We love working with them and they have a talented group behind them.