When you watch the developer diary for Skywind, the fan-led effort to mod The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind into the more modern Skyrim Engine, you start to realize something: this is no ordinary mod. It’s built out on a fantastic scale to match Bethesda’s own efforts, complete with full voice acting, entirely new environments, character models, and more. I kept thinking one thing while watching the diary: why can’t I buy this? It looks like it could be a good enough that I’d happily plunk down $30.
With the right resources, and most importantly, the promise of some commercial return, fantastically talented modders like those behind Skywind wouldn’t have to rely on thousands of volunteer hours to realize what is ultimately a labor of love. But this can’t really happen, because modding someone else’s game isn’t really a professional endeavor.
One of the most things about mods is that they take place within an amateur community. It’s a bunch of people having fun, learning about how games work and using their amateur work as calling cards for job seeking. But on the flip side, these people work incredibly hard, and should be allowed to pursue bigger, more expansive mods with the promise of some kind of commercial reward. Skywind is a great example of a project crossing the line between what can really be considered amateur
The Elder Scrolls series as games are already mostly freeform. They’re essentially big boxes filled with all sorts of different experiences — so why not just sell the box to small developers and see what sort of experiences they fill it with? It’d be an entirely different business model, but one that could give an entirely new life to an already vibrant modding community.
It’s not an entirely unprecedented move. In a vague way, Bethesda could look to Epic, which essentially turned the level editor for Unreal Tournament into the professional Unreal Engine, which is now one of the most popular and influential forces in video games today. Skyrim already has a talented enough pool of modders to make some incredible things — professional tools could take it to an entirely different level.