Purple dildos were just the beginning: how the death of THQ unleashed Saints Row’s modding community
The mandate from THQ was to essentially ignore the Saints Row modding community. That might seem strange considering the wonderful things that modders have done for games like Just Cause 2 and Half-Life 2, but that was the order from Saints Row developer Volition's parent company and so they obeyed. They were to be hands off when it came to modding: THQ wouldn't hinder efforts, but they weren't interested in supporting them in any capacity.
“We never received a single response or answer for two years, which was pretty disheartening,” said Mike 'IdolNinja' Watson, developer of the Gentlemen of the Row and Gentlemen of Steelport mods in Saints Row 2 & 3. “There was really not much we could do other than keep on struggling to discover everything we could about the internal workings of the Saints Row 2 engine. Believe me, it was certainly a struggle.”
Without assistance from Volition the mod scene was largely stifled. Watson said that their efforts had been hamstrung for years because of the lack of any sort of 3D modeling or advanced development tools, and of course, the fact that they've had to discover every secret and quirk of the game's engine on their own. Up until now, most of their work has been relatively simple and gone toward improving the base game and removing customization restrictions.
But one day, the company that was holding them back died.
“I am floored. I am excited. I am ecstatic,” wrote Watson in a blog post dated June 10, 2013. “I have had to pinch myself repeatedly and reread emails to prove they were actually real and not some kind of crazy fever dream. I even danced. I have desperately been trying to somehow contain my unbridled joy that this is actually happening, and am finally able to share it with you all today.”
For Watson and the modders of the Saints Row community everything changed. Despite the years of non-communication during the THQ regime, Watson and his cohorts never gave up asking for support. And when Koch Media/Deep Silver bought Volition during the THQ bankruptcy, Watson decided his time had come.
He pounced on the opportunity, and laid out a simple proposal to a couple of Volition developers at a preview event for Saints Row 4. According to him, all he asked for was an email address where he could ask questions about things like file formats, but Volition ran with the idea and gave him far more than he ever asked for.
It turns out, people on the inside of Volition have been wanting to work with the modding community just as badly as the modding community wants to work with Volition. And now their parent company was onboard.
It now looks like modders will be getting their very own proper software development kit created by Volition, along with direct support from 15 employees within the company who are dedicating their own time to helping out.
“We are just at the beginning of things, and this is a grassroots effort within Volition,” said Jeff Thompson, Studio Director of Programmers at Volition. “By that I mean, right now, it's entirely fueled by people within Volition who want to do this. These are people like Mike Wilson and Mike Flavin who are working full-time helping finish the PC version of SR4 and working on our next gen tech. Even with that load they and others are on IM talking with IdolNinja (Watson) and Minimaul, getting tools modified to work for modders, developing an early modding [software development kit] for release, and answering questions on the saintsrowmods.com forum.”
Thompson isn't ready to blame THQ for the previous troubles, but the timing of all of this is impossible to ignore. Watson/IdolNinja definitely gives the impression that THQ was a stifling influence, but considering that THQ was a badly wounded company it's hard to blame them for being short-sighted when they needed all of their employees working on revenue-generating projects. Community support is a long-term strategy for continued health, not a short-term strategy for survival.
“While one could list the good and the bad during our time with THQ, the truth is that we have had many really good years with THQ,” said Volition's Thompson. “However, THQ was a public company with the pressures and short-term focus that creates. With Deep Silver and Koch, we are now part of a company that is both profit-focused and thinks both strategically and in the long-term.
“This is a company that has done a lot of its business with PC gamers,” he continued. “It's also a company that trusts us and supports us to do things that are longer-term investments like building up stronger relationships with the community.”
Game developers, not modders
The end result of Volition's new support means a great deal to the community, but it might mean even more to the players who will finally get to enjoy the fruits of a flourishing mod scene. We've already seen some of the wonderful things that happen when modders are free to create in Grand Theft Auto 4 or Skyrim, and it's going to be fascinating to see what happens when the community behind a series as bizarre as Saints Row gets its creative juices flowing.
“The members of the modding community are game developers, and if we can empower them then I know the value of our games will go up for all of our players,” said Thompson.
Watson described the situation as an all around “win.” Not only do the fans get great new mods, but Deep Silver also gets a more devoted fan base, and Volition gets to support their fans the way they've always wanted to. And modders like Watson get the opportunity to pour themselves into what they love.
“They are offering advice on how to achieve things that we never thought possible with our limited tools and knowledge,” said Watson/IdolNinja. “They are giving us documentation and ideas on how we can best utilize resources. I have never seen such an incredible show of support and passion in my entire life. It's obvious that everyone at Volition is just as excited about this whole thing as we are.”
“It's really such an amazing feeling to be a part of this,” he said. With a dedicated crew of modders, combined with a tolerant publisher and enthusiastic and helpful developers, the world of Saints Row 4 is about to get much more crazy.