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Thursday, February 24, 2005

Modders are not free labor

I've had a few interesting conversations with people about hiring into the games industry. A couple centered around hiring modders into the industry and how it's become more and more commonplace. It makes perfect sense - modders usually spend hours and hours doing this stuff for free and game studios are looking for people who think of this as more of a passion and less of a job.

And yet - it's sad to think that the modding community is turning into more or less a transitory ground between amatuer and professional. It was bound to happen, of course, and has been happening ever since there was a community about modding. Epic is proud to house many ex-modders, including the pimpdaddy of bot AI Steve Polge, and certainly some mod teams have turned their hobby into an enterprise. It's not sad in the idea that some very talented young people are getting a job doing what they love. That's actually pretty cool. It's just sad that the mods are getting less and less about innovation and expirementation. But hey, I've worked with some extremely proficient young people on mods - and if they can get paid for doing that stuff ... all ahead go.

This trend should in no way suggest that the mod community is some kind of cheap, or free, labor farm. While plenty of modders would like to entertain the notion that their creation will become the next Counter-Strike, nobody starts with that as a pre-requisite. Profit and mods are antithetical in nature. Mods work without a license that allows them to gain profit from the work. When a team of modellers, skinners and coders get together to make a mod - they still retain the rights to their individual work. Nobody can simply reach into a mod, steal assets, and then try to profit from it.

That's why guys like this bug me. Oh, I don't think they are crooks or scam artists. I think they actually just want to make a game. That's all well and good. But don't swoop into a mod community forum, saying how you know the guy who created the XBox and some other guy with swing in Electronic Arts, and you're trying to put together a team for the next great thing. Sorry, there's no money in the kitty right now - but if you work hard and sweat a lot, they'll probably extend a job offer to you once they land a truckload of investment capital ... but you might have to move out to L.A. ... maybe.

Don't fall for this brand of junk. There's a big difference between modding and commercial development. Once profit becomes even a possibility, no matter how slight or small, there's a whole new line of dicussion that has to take place. You can't profit on someone else's work without compensating them for that work, or at least offering to compensate them for that work. Unreal modders who entered the Make Something Unreal contest found this out. When the MSUC was first announced, I was heading up a relatively large team and it turned into a two week discussion. Before the time the project dissolved, it was a open question as to whether it was worth it to enter the contest at all. And that was a group of five or six guys - teams for mods like Chaos UT or Red Orchestra number closer to fifteen or twenty.

So to say that you don't have to worry about paying people simply because you don't have money yet is ludicrous. Asking someone to help build something to make you money without negotiating with them what they'll get out of the deal is fairly rude. Going and doing that to kids and people new to the industry, looking to learn the trade and getting ahead - well, that's just mean.

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