Valve Needs Modders
November 9, 2023
Valve, one of the most successful game companies of all time, owes a lot of its success to modding. Two of their largest titles began as mods: Dota as a mod for Warcraft III, and Counter-Strike as a mod of Half-Life. Both of which have grown to become major cash cows and helped turn Valve into the megacorporation it is today.
It’s clear the amount of attention Valve places on their community content. Within every install of their Source-engine-based games, Valve includes the “Valve Hammer Editor”, a map-making tool that players can use to customize the game to their liking. Custom maps can then be hosted on the in-game server explorer. For players just looking to play community content, games like Team Fortress 2 will automatically install any custom maps and additional assets when necessary, removing the need to go to a third-party website before joining a new community server. These features make it easy for players to create and interact with community content.
Despite not being directly related to Valve, community servers still operate at a high level of professionalism (some even becoming microcosms of larger game companies). Of my 400+ hours playing Team Fortress 2, most of them were spent playing on “jailbreak” and “trading” servers. Trading servers originated as a response to the budding item economy Team Fortress 2 created through the Mann Co. supply creates. They alowed players to quickly seek out offers for their items - sometimes utilizing 3rd party websites such as Backpack.tf and the now defunct TF2 Outpost. Meanwhile, servers like Jailbreak utilized custom roles and privileges, bought outside of the Team Fortress 2 client, to fund the creation of more maps.
These emergent forms of play within Valve games are exciting - but, it’s difficult to overlook the obvious benefit that community servers provide to Valve. Through its support of user-generated content, Valve effectively offloads their work onto player. This reduces the need for Valve to create new content and serves as a testing ground for interesting ideas. Instead of focusing on coming up with the next popular title, Valve can carefully monitor the community servers looking for game modes that are particularly compelling to players. If anything catches their eyes, like in the case of Counter-Strike, Valve can turn the mod into a self-standing title.
Valve relies on these community servers to help their games remain relevant, and to cheaply scout out new game ideas.