Modding, the activity of modifying a video game to change the existing game or to create completely new experiences, had been around and actively encouraged by the games industry since at least the release of Doom in 1993 (Slashdot, 1999) and more recently can be seen with Epic Games’ release of UDK, Crytek’s release of CryEngine3, and Valve’s bundling of the Source engine with its products among many others. Mods are a great example of “media meshing”, the ability of media users to enter into “media co-creation” both as described by Deuze (Deuze, 2007) as blurring the line between producer and consumer, and as will be looked at below can result in recognition that can lead to commercial opportunities.
Dear Esther, originally a mod for Half-Life 2, started as an academic experiment into interactive storytelling was written and designed by Dan Pinchbeck at the University of Portsmouth as head of a mod group called thechineseroom. It was released into the wild via ModDB in 2008 (a copy of which can be downloaded here) was described as a “sleeper hit in the modding community” (Cameron, 2009).
The original mod gained the attention of a professional video game environment artist, Robert Briscoe, whose work in collaboration with the existing team to overhaul the environment has further blurred the line between what could be considered an amateur project and a professional development and lead in part to their award of Best World / Story at IndieCade 2009.
The game has recently acquired funding from Indie Fund, a funding source set up by a number of successful indie developers including Jon Blow, creator of the hit indie game Braid, after thechineseroom’s split from the University of Portsmouth. In a press release on their web site Indie Fund recognized the team’s transition from mod team to professional studio; “Dear Esther also stands out in that it is a mod-turned-indie-game” (Indie Fund, 2011). The game has since signed by Valve, Steam’s publishing arm and according to the team’s blog is due at some point before the end of the year.
– Craig Harkness
Cameron, P. (2009, July 1). Interview: Moved By Mod — Dear Esther’s Dan Pinchbeck. Retrieved September 12, 2011, from Gamasutra: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/24217/Interview_Moved_By_Mod__Dear_Esthers_Dan_Pinchbeck.php
Deuze, M. (2007). Media Work. Malden, MA, USA: Polity Press.
Indie Fund. (2011, June 1). Indie Fund backing Dear Esther. Retrieved September 12, 2011, from Indie Fund: http://indie-fund.com/2011/06/indie-fund-backing-dear-esther/
Slashdot. (1999, October 5). John Carmack Answers. Retrieved September 12, 2011, from Slashdot: http://slashdot.org/story/99/10/15/1012230/John-Carmack-Answers
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