Although the reasons that people make mods are many and varied they can be distilled down into a very few all encompassing groups discussed below.
What this page will hopefully do is allow you to take a step back and consider the following.
- Why you want to get where you want to get?
- How you are going to get where you want?
- Are you willing to get to where you want?
The last may seem counterintuitive but you have to ask it of yourself each day. Lots of modders do and find that they don't in fact want what they thought they did, thus we see the high "failure" rates. Lots of modders don't even ask these questions and lose their way. If you can face yourself and the answers to each and every one of these important questions, the odds are you will succeed.
(See also Mychaeel/Mod Startups for a similar rant.)
There will always be a few people in the world that write mods simply because they can. These people will generally work alone and churn out small mutators and game mods by the bucket load. Their motivation is purely at a technical "how does this work", "Can I do this" level.
Quite often people like this will have many unfinished projects littered over their hard disk. The interesting stuff has been done but it's never been packaged up because something more interesting came along to look at. For these people, the doing is more important than finishing or releasing.
Most (hopefully) people want to write a mod becasue the idea itself seems like fun, and they know that they will play it. This is the best reason to write a mod in fact. If the mod is fun, and stays that way through the development process then your chances of success are good.
Some of these mods are small, some (like Chaos UT) are reasonably large and complex. The actual mod size is not important. It's the fun factor that counts. Mods written for "fun" mods only fail for two reasons. The first is that the mod wasn't fun when implemented. The second is that the team collapsed (normalling an indication of the first but not always)
Some people write mods because they see it as a way of learning to program. As such a mod can be a fun way to "dip the toe" into the world of programming to see if you like it. The benefit of this is that writing a small weapons mutator is way more interesting than some dull file processing program.
One thing that this type of person needs to realise is that although most of the concepts available within Unreal Script are directly transferrable to other programming languages - the other languages and environments still need to be learned.
If you start learning to program with UnrealScript remember that it's only a start. There will be whole areas of programming discipline that you will miss out on. It's also well worth getting someone else to review the code you've used for your mod. This will help you not only clean up your programming style but also teach you new (and hopefully more efficient) ways of approaching a given problem.
And finally, if you do fall into this category the Recommended Reading section of the Making Mods page really is just that. Recommended.
This is one of the most problematic reasons to be building a mod. If you fall into this category your best bet is to walk away now. Read on and despair.
Statistically speaking, the ratio of working, widely accepted total conversions for FPS games (HL, UT in particular) to the number of ideas out there is very low. There are maybe 10 HL "large mods" (e.g. DoD, CS, etc.) which have been widely popular, and even less UT mods (I can think of only 1 off the top of my head, which is TacOps).
We all know everyone and their brother has a great mod idea which will definitely get them a job in the industry. However, mathematically, few mods have made it that far. If you are working on a mod so you can put "You know that awesome mod you love so much? well, I made it" on your job resumé, good luck. But don't be surprised if your "awesome mod" doesn't pan out.
That is not to say mod work won't help you get a job; the best way to get a job is to be good at the things the job requires, and working on a mod, even if it ends up being unsuccessful, will help you learn how games work. Don't think your mod will turn enough heads to get you a job either. You will need a few successful ones to do that. Remeber, potential hirers will be looking for consistently excellent results not a single one off wonder-mod that takes the world by storm.
So if you are working on a mod to get a job be aware that it's not likely. By all means hold to that goal - put enough work in and you will most likely succeed eventually. However it's better that you work on a mod because you enjoy it.
Nuleo: Oh come on now. We all know you just want to eliminate the competition for the Make Something Unreal Contest ;D I mean half of the people who worked on UT were once modders themselves. Ok, so if you are just making a minor modification like a mutator something than you won't be the star of the next Gaming Conference but what better way to demonstrate to game companies that you are capable of producing high quality content than by making a mod (preferrably a Total Conversion). And anyway, what else are you going to do short of be related to the CEO, show them you're degree? LOL.
RegularX: It's the last sentence that's most pertinent. There are lots of talented people in the mod community - but there are only so many jobs out there. When mod teams go into a project thinking "we're going to make a bushel of money" (and slowly, they are actually starting to think just that) they generally end up a) worrying about a lot of things completely unrelated to modding (ie lawyers), b) worrying about making a mod that they think will be popular/marketable - not necessarily new and fun or innovative, and most of all c) fail.
Bottom line - I've worked with some people who were completely professional/perfectionists/etc - and they undoubtably have some good stuff in their portfolio by the end of the day. But that's not why they were making stuff...
Nuleo: Well everyone does things because they enjoy it, and if not than thats unfortunate. And if you can make money doing what you enjoy than thats even better. I suppose its a matter of opinion and up to each individual "Why I am making a mod" and we just have different opinions. If you are just making a mod for yourself, some friends, and maybe a few other people to play than yeah, don't expect publicity or money. But if you think you have the skills and the talent (and the people) to make a truly compelling experience than you should go for broke (again, I am refering to total conversions not small modifications). From my personal experience, mods don't "fail" because people expect too much but because they expect too little of themselves; They don't take the mod seriously or they make the excuses such as "I don't have enough time" or they can't handle focusing and working hard for the long haul and I guess for some its the get rich quick thing but I think you have to be pretty out of it to believe you are going to make any huge amount of money from a mod in and of itself. My advice to modders - Keep your feet on the ground but Aim High
Wormbo: "And if you can make money doing what you enjoy than thats even better." <- But not with UT2003. (Words like "EULA" come to mind...) You can have a lot of publicity without even expecting it, btw.
Foxpaw: That is true, but a mod can also go commercial if it's popular enough - like counterstrike, tactical ops, or team fortress 2. (I've actually never seen that one in stores, so maybe it got cancelled.) Also there's money to be made in the MSU contest plus if you take the top prize you can make a commercial version of your mod. So I wouldn't say that it's not possible to make money using UT2003.
RegularX: TF2 was never a mod - but a commercial sequel, the TF team was swallowed up with Half-Life. But you could count Team Fortress, Counter-Strike, Day of Defeat, Gunman Chronicles, and Tac Ops. Rumors are floating that Natural Selection will go pro as well. So that's six mods out of literally hundreds of projects, and most of them due to Valve's desire to keep the Half-Life engine selling past it's expiration date. Then you could factor in all the individuals who have gotten jobs (ie Epic).
Sure it's certainly beneficial to getting into the industry - but that's not the point. It's the wrong end to be starting from. Talented people with a passion for these things are most likely to get a job, whether they join a mod team or not. People who are scrambling to put code and maps together because they think that they will have the next Counter-Strike and see their game in stores, are (imho) doing the wrong thing for the wrong reasons and as Wormbo pointed out - with the wrong license.
I think the MSUC is walking a fine line between trying to reward mod projects for doing really creative work and trying to get modsters to think about being marketable. I think it's a great thing, and I love seeing more people get involved in the process - but my guess is that come March 15th, you'll suddenly see a bunch of people magically lose interest in building mod content when they don't have a license to win for anymore. And that's what I mean by the wrong reasons.
Foxpaw: I realize that TF2 was never a mod, but what I meant was, making the free mod generated the community that TF2 was going to be marketed to - so that's the commercial connection. I agree that the majority of mod projects won't ever end up making any money. Heck, most mod projects don't even make it to beta stage. I just think that it's inaccurate to say that you can't make money at all doing it.