Whatever faults EA may have (impossible DRM, treating players like scum, big brotherism, and a bunch of other crap), they did notice one thing. People like to make stuff for games.

It’s like moving into an apartment and repainting the walls to suit you better. Sure, the apartment is fine like it is, but after a while you get bored of the standard walls. By installing mods, players have added furniture, expanded game worlds, made new quests, or just changed the colour of the sky. Whatever it was, they felt that it made the game better for them. And what EA has done, is make modding easy.

Some of the very first games I played were modded. I remember running through completely wacky player-made maps in Doom, while my character screamed “See this? This is my BOOMstick!” every time I used a shotgun on something.

Mods in the past have ranged from the silly and annoying (Beavis and Butthead audiofiles were NOT a good idea for the same Doom game, and were promptly removed) to awe inspiring. If you look at the range of the Fall from Heaven mod for Civilization 4, or the beauty of some of the Lost Spires maps for Oblivion, you can’t help but be baffled.

But until quite recently, they had one thing in common: someone, somewhere, needed programming skills to make them. Packages needed reverse engineering, build engines needed some level of intelligence to operate, and if you really wanted to fiddle, photoshop skills and 3d meshing software had to be learnt. Modders had to know how a computer works and the whole process of researching and gaining new skills was part of the job. What you got in return for hours of frustration and fiddling, was hopefully something that either worked and made the game better or more beautiful. In the worst case it would fail horribly, after which you picked yourself and started all over again. These kinds of modders were usually perfectionists, and batshit insane.

EA (to be honest, Maxis) noticed that modding radically ups the popularity of some of its games (most noticeably the Sims series) and seems to have made it its mission to open up the process to most gamers, not just the weird people that like messing with code, pixels and polygons. It started with Sims 2, in which making and designing houses and people is a major part of the gameplay. For anyone that could open a paint program, it also came with ‘make your own wallpaper and dresses’ software.

In Spore, making creatures, buildings and vehicles seems to take up most of the time I spend on the game. It certainly takes longer to make a proper steampunk airplane than it does to rush through the civilization stage, but maybe that’s just me. MySims goes even further, and bases its entire gameplay on assembling furniture and houses (honestly, does anyone even LIKE those stupid mini-games?).

It’s a form of controlled creativity. Let gamers make the easy content. And if they want the harder to make content ( the furniture, the parts) the game company will sell those to them. Thing is, several modders will never be satisfied with what the game creators provided, no matter how big the choice of in game tools. It’s part of what I’d call the modder’s state of mind. It’s the sense that you’re lacking something. The feeling that the walls of your apartment would be much nicer if they were blue. And alternatives just won’t do.

I’ve been making mods for the same game for three years now, the first kind of mods, the ones that require insanity, polygons and ridiculous amounts of time to create. And if I switch to the next game, I won’t be satisfied with simply changing the colour of someone’s dress, if that’s what the game happens to provide. I’ve already been looking at ways to make new parts for my Spore creatures, I’ve found which shapes I lack to make my perfect boat, I know which patterns I want to import to paint my houses. And while I know that EA will happily sell me these parts for too much money in due time, I’m not just gonna sit back and wait for them to make them for me.

Chances are, they won’t be the right kind of blue anyway.