The L4D2 Workshop was lifted out of its beta on the 17th January, with the myriad of mods previously available through L4DMaps.com now being made widely available over the Steam service so if you were ever hankering to try some fresh new campaign content or see how well the Ghostbusters crew can deal with the onslaught of L4D’s motley menagerie of Infected then now you can, and all with just a simple click.
As far as user-friendliness goes, Steam’s workshops are most definitely a pretty easy ride as far as mod installation goes. If you try to mod another game, say Morrowind or Minecraft, then you’re looking at altering executables, patching files, and generally making your game a lot less stable and more difficult to revert back to its ‘vanilla’ state; and anyone who’s had a crack at modding the old FF7 for the PC probably doesn’t have enough fingers to count out how many hours they spent getting it up and running. And to stay running.
Not so for Steam’s Workshops; you simply browse through the listings of mods, most of which will be accompanied by a description and some screenshots, before hitting the big-ass green ‘Subscribe’ button and…that’s it. When you next jump into the game, your shiny new content will be waiting for you to take on a smashing test drive, with warnings about any clashing or conflicting mods. It’s fast, it’s easy, and it’s absolutely free. It’s DLC without the price-tag but as with anything, sometimes you really do end up getting what you pay for. And then some.
There’s been rumblings about the issue of quality control on Steam’s Workshops. Community accessible means exactly that; anyone can upload anything, so long as the content fits into the game in some way. For every good and creative mod that’s uploaded you can be guaranteed of there being at least five more which are either broken, a ‘practice’, uncreative, or outright offensive. And given how accessible the system is, and therefore how time-consuming it must become to test absolutely everything only for the removed content to reappear in some other form days later, it can be easy for the good mods to be drowned in the sheer volume of uploads coming in.
Similar criticisms were made of the Greenlight system which pitted everyone, including established modders and programmers, on the same starting block. The result is good projects floating in a sea of bad, and it’s not hard to imagine that some must drown in it all. These things depend upon people finding and then supporting them, so the more content that builds up then the greater the test of each individual community member’s commitment to trawling through it all in order to find the gems. And realistically there’s not enough time to playtest every single game (and mod) that pops up.
But this system of universal access is unavoidable. If only known people are allowed in or are given a boost over everyone else, then new talent is effectively shut out and this can only lead to stagnation when those established modders and community members eventually move on to other things. The solution instead rests with the avid Steam community that, while akin to a herd of cats when it comes to discussions about game balance, are probably at least united in that they want to make those games they’ve invested themselves in ‘better’. The constructive feedback that goes flying back and forth over every beta is definitely proof of that.
So for anyone new to the Workshops or just applying mods in general, I’d say enjoy the great freedom of content that Steam and its community offers but do so responsibly. You wouldn’t eat something out of an unmarked tin without knowing a little more about it first. Well, maybe you would, some people are just too cool to worry about the details. But whatever you do, remember that the Workshops, the games, and the community thrive on feedback. Given the slow pace with which new Valve games are released, it’s likely we’ll be roosted with games like L4D2 and Team Fortress 2 for a good long while to come (although we can always hold out hope for the launch line-up of Valve’s new PC console…) so if you’re on Steam and have a few Workshop-supported games, take a moment to rate up any mods or other user-created content you find that’s in pretty good nick. It helps the game, it helps the community, but most of all, in the long run, it helps you.
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