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The precarious business of living off modding

August 18, 2018 ・ Blog

A screenshot of Dota 2 mod Roshpit Champions
Roshpit Champions

I talked to four modders who are making money from their work about how they run their practice, and what challenges they face.

“StarCraft 2 modding as a source of income has not been financially viable for me,” Daniel ‘Pirate’ Altman says. “My attempts at marketing the game so far have been pretty unsuccessful. While I approached development like making a standalone indie game, I don’t think the community sees it like this. Lack of visibility is compounded by having to download a 28GB client to play the game, leaving ARK Star in a pretty tough spot.”

But Roshpit Champions maker Ryan Racioppo is at the mercy of Dota 2’s popularity. While we talk, he checks its player count, noting that it’s down 12% since the same time last year. “If I was going to rely on this as my only income, you never know, Valve could just shut down modding, maybe, if it’s stopping them developing the engine or something. I’m completely dependent on their whims.”

A screenshot of the Incredible Hulk assaulting a flying helicopter
JulioNIB’s Hulk mod

I was struck by how precarious their lives are, and also by the dedication they put in. When you start making money from your work, it doesn’t just become about what you make but also managing the community that springs up around it.

“Some people say they’re only still playing GTA 5 because of my mods, others say they bought the game just to use my mods,” [says GTA modder Julio Schwab]. “Suing me because I’m creating my own scripts without stealing anything from the game, only bringing more into the game and more interest from users, wouldn’t be an intelligent idea. But if they do, I will still mod while I can.”