We talk to the modder about the challenges of earning income from their work.
In a lot of PC gaming history, modders have acted as tools, building together with the foundations for many of its cathedrals, such as Counter-Strike, PUBG, and League of Legends, as well as details, from caps to resolution fixes. Modding is a powerful engine that gives PC games a vivid and dynamic soul.
But something has changed. Modifications are not the only way that hobby game manufacturers can express their ideas anymore. Cheap and free game tools make building games from scratch much simpler, and games like itch.io and Steam give new developers a place to sell them. Moreover, modern big games are increasingly complex and harder to modify than ever before and they are often constantly updated, including new features that were once districts of mods.
And at the same time, today the modder is more supported than ever. The rise of Patreon and official commercial assistance programs provided the opportunity to legally make a living through amendments. But it’s still a precarious business. We talked to four modders who are making money from their craft.
Julio NIB: Making a Living in Grand Theft Auto
If you want to play GTA 5 as the Hulk, hop on a helicopter in flight and smash it to the ground before taking the lamppost to use as a baseball bat, then Julio NIB is your modder. Or maybe you want to play Thanos, throw meteorites, create black holes, and can kill half the local population instantly. Julio NIB, real name Julio Schwab, creates scripts that open up new behaviors and adds new characters to Rockstar’s urban playground, making it a response to fan desires and hot memes.
He added the attacks of Dragon Ball’s Kamehameha and Genki Dama, drones that can be controlled from Tom Cruise’s sci-fi vehicle, Oblivion, the power of the Crysis suit, complete with the same console and Ghost Rider. His mod body is very eclectic and it’s his job. For eight to 10 hours, six or seven days a week, he works on mods from his home in Maringá, southern Brazil, taking 3D models created by other modders such as Quechus13, Rarefacer, MadBreaker and breathing life into them.
And it covers his entire income. Schwab runs his mod through Patreon, where he has 3,079 patrons. $2 buys you the access you need to be able to download his published mods, and $10 will give you access to the growing versions.
He won’t say exactly how much he earns each month, but you can guess low if assuming each patron pays a minimum of $2. It’s a low income, especially for those living in Maringá, which has a two-thirds cheaper cost of living than New York City. “If I earn US$1000 a month, I earn more than the basic Brazilian salary.”
He’s not entirely happy that they’re locked behind Patreon’s VIP system, but without this system, he wouldn’t be able to do business. “Unfortunately, this is how things work,” he said. “Since the mods used to be completely free, I make money primarily with ads on my blog, but a lot of users use AdBlocker and many people re-post my work.”
And the use of Patreon was no longer suitable for all his audience. “Even more after placing VIP content.” But he doesn’t care too much. “I don’t have time to care.” He’s trying to build his outing from one mod per month to two mods to get more patrons and meet their expectations. It is the tempo that puts great pressure on him, but with his earnings, he has the opportunity to invest in better hardware and reasons to find better production methods.
What about Rockstar? And Marvel, and all the other IP holder that Schwab plays with? The VIP system puts him at risk of being accused of selling mods, which will lose any legal protection they may have for legitimate use. But he does not worry, given that his work only encourages sales of GTA 5.
“Some people say they still only play GTA 5 because of my mod, others say they buy the game just to use my mod. Suing me because I’m creating my own script without stealing anything from the game, just bringing more to the game and more interested users, wouldn’t be a smart idea. But if they do, I’ll still mod while I can.”
ARK Star: Legal start in StarCraft 2
In April, Blizzard launched StarCraft 2’s Premium Arcade, a series of custom maps sold through Blizzard’s own store and from within the game. Both of its first games cost $5: Direct Strike, a custom game for established two players and ARK Star, which is quite different from the essentials of StarCraft. This is a full single-player NGO that features turn-by-turn tactical combat. Polished chic and has a full plot, layers to upgrade, and equipment to equip, it’s like a completely separate commercial game.
ARK Star was the culmination of an ambition that led its creator, Daniel ‘Pirate’ Altman, to embark on serious revisions. Back in 2009, he caught a discussion during a seminar at Blizzcon about the idea of a premium mod market, and it was sticking with him. He said: “It came up with the idea of making free money to make small games how exciting it would be.
So when he graduated in forensics, instead of investing in the police force, he went to make amends, worked as a bartender, busy and relentless, to keep himself solvent. He soon made a name for a player’s custom games, first facility 17. “It became one of the first truly popular single-player arcade games, in about a week. All in-game worth hundreds of thousands of hours of play. ”
The first amount he earned through the StarCraft 2 mod was in 2012 when he responded to an ad to create a custom map used as a wedding proposal. “It’s really very cute. The game begins in this patin arena made of SCII props, shows where they have their first date, and then it is attacked by the Zerg, and there are a chase scene and an Ultralisk drops a ring. I remember he was very happy with the final product, but you know, I’m not sure how I’ve ever heard the proposal play out.”
More contracts come from gamers who want their own mode and game studios that want to quickly create prototype ideas, as well as projects for Blizzard. “These types of jobs tend to pay a reasonable salary, but they tend to be few and far between.” Altman’s most recent contract was to work as an Axiom Mod for TotalBiscuit.
In 2015, Altman won blizzard’s Rock the Cabinet mod competition with DWARVEN COMBAT, earning $10,000. Its success made him more interested in creating his own things, adding to Blizzard’s contact to see if he wanted to create one of the first games for Premium Arcade. And so he launched ARK Star, going beyond hiring a composer, 2D artist, and level artist.
Through its development, modding has become his life. He quit his bartender job and worked 50-60 hours a week for his final year. “I feel this is a great opportunity to prove myself as a game designer and be able to use the opportunity to start a series of small games or finally infiltrate the gaming industry. If ARK Star is really successful, I want to rent an office in a co-working space and try to maintain a slightly better work-life balance. ”
So far, however, ARK Star hasn’t really succeeded that way and Altman’s contract work is getting better. “It’s not financially feasible for me to mod StarCraft 2 as a source of income,” he says. “My efforts in-game marketing so far have been unsuccessful. While I approach development as creating an insane game, I don’t think the community sees it like this. Lack of visibility plus having to download a 28GB client to play the game, puts ARK Star in a pretty difficult situation”.
Roshpit Champions: Go jungle in Dota 2
One of the biggest and most ambitious custom games for Dota 2 is Roshpit Champions, a player action NGO that has Dota 2 heroes raiding dungeons and demanding hot rewards. It was a big game and was made by someone, a programmer in Toronto named Ryan Racioppo.
It was a project big enough to keep him busy working full-time for two years. Moshpit Champions is part of Dota 2’s Custom Game Pass program, through which players can pay $1 per month to unlock hoarding and save positions as well as increase the chances of dropping items by 50%. But that’s not the bottom line.
Most of the income comes from roshpit.ca, a website with an auction house that allows players to buy and sell virtual Roshpit items and offers the opportunity to purchase Premium Web cards, bring additional features to the site and make in-game icons of glowing members to show they are backing the game. It’s the only connection between roshpit.ca and the game itself. Racioppo said: “Customers are completely happy with it, they appreciate the value it brings and it supports the game.
Everything started well. “The first month, wow, it was crazy. I thought I could do it full time. There was a lot of attention and a lot of players bought passes. Then the second month is fine, and then it falls and it hits the bottom. Then I started ascending it up.”
But when Racioppo started streaming to donate to buy food, that’s when he realized that things were not really going on. He got a job as a programmer at a local eSports company and immediately saw players noticed that content would no longer be added. It’s frustrating to know that he can’t meet the demand for the game he’s created.
So he arranged a part-time contract with his notable boss (who also allowed him to operate on the game’s Discord all day) and since April he has been working Monday to Wednesday at his job, and then the rest of the time on The Champions Roshpit. “I’ve just released a big content patch and revenue increases instantly, so I know how to engage people. It’s just that I’m the only developer. ”
Racioppo first participated in the Warcraft 3 mod as a teenager, but he never considered it a job. Going to the college of accounting, boredom should decide to study programming. And what better way to discover his new skill set than to realize the dream he has of a Diablo-like setting in Dota 2, his favorite game?
But he’s in love with Dota 2’s popularity. While we talked, he checked its number of players, noting that it was down 12% from the same time last year. “If I’m going to rely on this as my only income, then you never know, Valve can close the modification, maybe, if it prevents them from developing stuff or something. I’m totally dependent on their sudden idea. ” When full-time participation in Roshpit Champions, he simply thought that if the match was good, Valve would have no reason to withdraw.
Currently, Roshpit Champions is a complete and large-scale sub-project. “I see more money as a justification. I’d love to do it full-time, but obviously, there’s not enough money in it. But he’s still trying to develop it. ” We’ll see where it is in the next few years.”
Team Radious: Openness in Total War
Team Radious is a community of people who modify for the Total War series, creating translation patches, custom units, editing effects, and complete overhauls for Rome 2, Attila, Thrones of Britannia, and Warhammer games. Like all modding, it began as a hobby 12 years ago for its leader, Jan, who daily works at the Czech Social Security Agency. But as Total War became increasingly complex, so did the work of modifying it.
“Overhauls are major amendments that require hundreds or thousands of hours, and more to update and support after they are released,” he said. That means bringing out the outside expertise, so the whole Radius ‘Team’. “Video producers, image manufacturers, unit tags, user interface modifications, graphics and textures, databases, and scenarios. I can handle a lot but certainly can not handle it all. ”
With the size of his work steadily increasing, in early 2017 he moved to Patreon, where 286 patrons now offer the group $1,470 a month. Unlike most Patreon modders, such as Julio NIB, Team Radius does not restrict mod access to patrons. “Our mods and everything we do is always, are, and will be completely free for everyone,” Jan says. We do not sell anything. Patreon is just a platform where people if they want to be able to support our work”.
Of course, Patreon introduced its own cost. It should be promoted, so Team Radius has opened social media accounts, all of which need to be updated and maintained, along with support levels, from $1 to $70, which opens up details about the group’s roadmap and gives the opportunity to vote for future decisions. Jan estimates he now spends 40% of his time managing community issues, including organizing events and quizzes, game nights and community votes, getting feedback, and giving support. “Of course, all of this takes an extra amount of time that we there’s no need to waste it.”
One of the ways he manages community expectations is transparency and openness. “So people can see how much we get, what our goals are.” And that extends to the group itself, with the amount Patreon – as well as other donations coming through PayPal – divided depending on who did what. “Every member is clearly visible so there is no trouble or anything hidden”
However, despite these pressures, Jan remained involved as always, working to improve the quality of Team Radious’ output higher while avoiding let it affect the rest of his life. “Even after 12 years there are always new things to learn and try,” he said. “The moment I no longer like it, I’ll stop, because, without the passion and love for this job, you can’t create real content or let hundreds or thousands of players play.”