Making In Online Games – A Case Study Of Game Mods


Traditional maker culture includes engineering-oriented pursuits such as electronics, robotics, 3-D printing, and the use of computer numeric control tools, as well as more traditional activities such as metalworking, woodworking, and, mainly, its predecessor, traditional arts and crafts ( “Maker Culture”, 2019 ).  Through listening to our podcast about Maker Culture, you can have a better understanding of what is maker culture.

With the development of technologies, especially the Internet, virtual maker spaces like Hackspaces are becoming more common in a digital environment. Moreover, since maker culture integrates more with digital and virtual creations, many of the creations reveal a modern design style and are not restricted to their functionality anymore (Walter-Herrmann & Büching, 2014, p.141), but expressing themselves by creating things. In this case study, game mods are interesting examples of how some young people are able to express their creativity in a form of making and creating.

In the game industry, online games quickly adapt to this shifting and form a fresh business model by allowing gamers to create their own work based on the original games. By studying game mods, we can see that 1) how game mods reflect the democratic spirit in maker culture, and 2) the limitations and benefits of cheat mods for the game communities and game industry.

What Are Game Mods?

A mod, or modification, allows users and outside developers to customize video games. Mods may include new items, characters, stories, levels, art, music and game modes. Extensive mods may invent new elements of gameplay or change the behaviour of game engines. In some cases, mods also fix bugs(Spacey, 2016). In many sandbox games, which are often associated with an open world concept that gives the player freedom of movement and progression in the game’s world (“Sandbox game”, 2021), gamers like to create and develop their own characters and narratives in the game.

From The Beard 777, uploaded on August 17, 2020

Since Mods can significantly cultivate the game culture and extend the value for replaying a game, making mods is encouraged by many game developers, especially sandbox games or architecture games developers, such as Don’t starve series and Minecraft. Popular games can have tens of thousands of mods created by gamers. For instance, the building game City: Skylines has over 45,000 mods contributed by players in just one platform. And the contributors of mods come from all over the world regardless of regions and ages.

Encouraging mods (though often with strict rules) is relatively common since many companies now releasing source code, software development kits, APIs, or other tools as a matter of course (Hong and Chen, 2014) to helo players develop their own creative mods. Popular websites dedicated to modding include Nexus ModsMod DB, and Steam Workshop. The mods uploaded on these communities can be downloaded freely by users, and once these mods are downloaded and installed correctly, they are free to play based on the original game, gamers can enjoy the game in a freer manner.

What makes gamers addicted to mods is that, through making mods, makers can enjoy the game with more freedom and create new game strategies, new gaming models, or even a whole brand new game.

Blizzard Entertainment, an American video game developer and publisher, is famous for publishing one of the most successful online games globally, World of Warcraft. It is also renowned for laying the foundation for the famous multiplayer online battle arena title Defense of the Ancients (DotA2), which began as a mod from Warcraft III’s world editor. Blizzard allowed the mod and even reached a trademark agreement in 2012 (Reilly, 2012). As a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) video game, a community-created mod for Warcraft III, Dota 2 has a large esports scene, with teams from around the world playing in various professional leagues and tournaments (“Dota2”, 2020). 

Furthermore, gamers in China have developed and created another game model based on Dota2 called Auto Chess. With over eight million players by May 2019, the popularity of the mod led to the creation of the auto battler genre that had several other games being released (“Dota Auto Chess”, 2021). 

From Good Game, uploaded on June 27, 2019

This superimposed innovation is a form of digitalized invention and creation, which combines personal interest and original production based on the use of digital tools is very close to the spirit of maker culture mentioned above.

Creating Democracy

As we can tell, with all the additional functions and innovations, mods have played a vital role in the development of online gaming communities. First of all, Modding can be seen as self-expression that lets modders tell new stories (Nardi and Kallinikos, 2007). Secondly, players are encouraged to make their own mods, and they are immersed in games via doing so, eventually contributing to the game culture with their own work. For modders, they have gained a sense of belonging and attachment to the games. Moreover, on a higher level, allowing everyone to have access to publication and can bypass traditional media industries or gatekeepers (Benkler, 2007).

For game developers and companies who are encouraging mods production, they are inspired by players’ work and, in the meantime, they have gained more understanding about players’ pursuit. In return, they can produce better work for players. This kind of virtuous circle has stimulated the creativity of the game community, the belonging of the game culture for gamers, and also promoted the economic development for the entire game industry.  Through hacking and making, knowledge can be generated by practices of creation and transformation (Hunsinger & Schrock, 2016, p.535). In such a multimodality culture environment, not only we can understand mods from an economic perspective, but we can also learn about the democratic value in mods, which is that in convergence culture, users are seizing the products of capitalist-produced mass culture and talking back (Consalvo, 2003).

In the hacker culture, hacking signals reappropriation of an established framework which is an intentional and decisive creative political act that provides alternative outcomes or scenarios (Zarzycki, 2018, p.74). In a complex digital environment, the public is offered with more accessibility to the online resources and therefore a new way of democratic creation and inventing are formed. Creating mods is one of the democratic mean in such digital environments. These environments are also described as democratic environments, which allow users to customize and make them adaptive to their personal and often esoteric needs, also this environment significantly shifts the role of designers and the types of designs they produce (Zarzycki, 2018, p.77).

Cheat Mods in Online Games – Unfair Competition

Hacker and maker spaces are community workshops that promote notions of open access and equal participation (Hunsinger & Schrock, 2016, p.537). However, while it is open and accessible to all, it does privilege those with particular capabilities and technological mindsets (Zarzycki, 2018, p73).

In video games, hacker users develop mods to gain an advantage over other players, add new assets, or customize the game to meet their individual sensitivities or needs (Zarzycki, 2018, p74). Moreover, many hackers publish their mods through online communities, making more users using their mod to cheat in games, and sometimes they make a profit by selling their cheat mods to other gamers privately.

From TheJizzy uploaded on December 23, 2017

To a certain extent, these mods reduce the profits of the game company from the players. For instance, a common cheat mod that existed in role-playing-game is that gamers can make in-game money without any efforts. This in-game money is designed to be obtained by costing whether time or real money. Another type of cheat mods in the first-person shooting game (“FPS” games) is automatic aiming, which is designed to gain an advantage over other players. This kind of mods usually lead to the worst game experience for regular gamers, and some gamers eventually choose to stop playing the game for this reason. In all, cheating mods benefit neither the game developers nor the gamer at all.

Proposed Changes

Cheating mods have always existed in the game industry and have not been well resolved. An early argument suggests that cheating other players is a moral offence, which should be remedied where necessary (Kimppa & Bissett, 2005, p.32). Preventing cheat mods in online games is of great need for both gamers and game developers, especially in online competitive games. Therefore, game deveoplers should build their own game communities and establish rules regulating these creations and innovations within games.

However, some argue that cheats are an important part of gaming culture, players are offered more control over their actions within games (Kücklich, 2008, p.52). In the gaming community, the demand for modifying offline games has always been huge. For example, the entire play process of an offline narrative game generally takes more than tens of hours, but not everyone has enough time to experience the complete process designed for gamers. Therefore, many people will need some tools, that are “cheat mods”,  to help them quickly experience the story of the game while avoiding too tricky and complicated game challenges. The player’s gaming experience is more important for game manufacturers than “cheat” itself, so such cheating mods are not strictly regulated in many private game communities.

From another perspective, allowing cheat mods in offline games reflects that more power is given to the gamers. By using mods, even with cheat mods, gamers can gain more freedom instead of following the path designed by game developers. In a sense, this freedom is similar to the maker and hacker culture in real life, where maker and hacker culture reformulates traditional inert notions of architecture and design production (Zarzycki, 2018, p.77).


Online making promotes democracy in the role of designers and new economic models in all areas of society. In the game industry, the development of game mods cultivate the game communities and help game developers to interact with the gamers more intensively. However, there are many issues, such as cheat mods that deforest the online game environment. In order to help with the problem of cheat in online games,  game developers should build their own game communities for specific games. On the one hand, gamers can feel more attached to the communities as it is supported by the designers. On the other hand, gamers should create their own mods under regulations without damaging democratic making in games.

This blogpost discusses the potential value and limitations that online making in the game industry has based on the understanding of maker culture. However, maker culture can integrate more with other social aspects, for instance, the education pattern and in business work that this blogpost does not cover. For further information, you can visit the following blogposts.


Benkler Y (2007) The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Consalvo. M(2003) Cyber-slaying media fans: Code, digital poaching, and corporate control of the Internet. Journal of Communication Inquiry 27(1): 67–86.

Dota Auto Chess. (2021).In Wikipedia

Dota2. (2021). In Wikipedia.

Hunsinger, J., & Schrock, A. (2016). The democratization of hacking and making.

Kimppa, K. K., & Bissett, A. K. (2005). The ethical significance of cheating in online computer games. The International Review of Information Ethics4, 31-38.

Kücklich, J. (2008). Forbidden pleasures: Cheating in computer games. The pleasures of computer gaming: Essays on cultural history, theory and aesthetics, 52-71.

Maker Culture.(2021). In Wikipedia.

Nardi, B., & Kallinikos, J. (2007). Opening the black box of digital technologies: Mods in World of Warcraft.

Reilly J (2012) Valve, Blizzard reach DOTA trade agreement. Game Informer. Available at: (accessed 16 March 2021).

Sanbox games.(2021). In Wikipedia.

Spacey, J. (2016, September 28). What are Mods? Simplicable. Avaiable at: (accessed 16 March 2021)

Walter-Herrmann, J., & Büching, C. (Eds.). (2014). FabLab: Of machines, makers and inventors. transcript Verlag.

Zarzycki, A. (2018). Mods, Hacks, Makers: Crowdsourced Culture and Environment. In Computational Studies on Cultural Variation and Heredity (pp. 73-82). Springer, Singapore.

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