What "community standards" should modders abide by?


#1

I don’t think that OSE and 505 have reached an official position on modding so far. They may never bother: we may end up in the same bucket of “neither officially condoned nor forbidden” as other fan-works, like fan-art and fan-fiction.

In the meantime, I think it would be useful for us all to come up with a set of self-policing standards that encourage people not to screw OSE and the UA community over.

How’s about the following?

Rules

1) Mods should behave.

Rationale: “no malware” should be obvious and go without saying :D We can all review each other’s code. Malicious code feels like the most serious sin we could do as modders.

2) Modders should behave: don’t make modders or OSE look bad.

Rationale: If we release a mod filled with hate speech, copyright violations, or other immoral/illegal stuff, then OSE will almost certainly feel forced to drop the banhammer on mods, and we’ll kill modding for all players, and for future games.

3) Mods should be free.

Rationale: Modding is a hobby, not a job. To protect their IP, and the game’s various license agreements, OSE and 505 would have to get lawyers involved if money came into the picture.

4) Don’t steal from OSE: no unmodified code or assets.

Rationale: In order to modify something, we often need to copy some of it: to give Aelita a nose-piercing, we’d need to copy her face mesh and add that ring. So her face-mesh would need to be part of the mod. But it should be unnecessary to duplicate code or assets verbatim from the base game and distribute them with our mods.

Obvious corollary: a standalone game using OSE code or assets is not OK.

5) Don’t steal from others: only use free or licensed assets.

Rationale: Don’t steal from anyone, it makes us look bad. In particular, we can’t extract resources from another game for use in our mods. The exception would be where we don’t distribute those mods, but rather distribute the script to let someone with both games see assets from both. So, if we wanted to import UW1 & 2 textures, we wouldn’t distribute those textures in our mod, we’d distribute an extractor instead.

6) No means no.

Rationale: OSE or 505 may eventually get advice from their legal team that I dunno copyright or trademarks or whatever means they have to ask us to stop modding. If so, I’ll accept that and take all my stuff down if they ask, and I recommend everyone else does too. Same if they ask that a specific one of my mods be taken down. This willingness will get us goodwill, which will go a long way towards letting us mod future games. Otherwise, they may feel it worth investing in code-scrambling and other pains which just make our job harder. Play the long game!

Note that, if they say “we’d rather you didn’t do X”, that doesn’t mean “all modding is OK so long as we don’t do X”: just that they’ll probably have to drop the ban-hammer if we continue to do X. So we should probably not do X, even if they never reach an official position beyond that.

Guidelines

G1) Share freely.

Rationale: OSE holds copyright over the code we’re modifying: we cannot lay claim to it. For the parts we add, it’s pointless trying to claim a license, since it’s useless without OSE code. I’ll use the CC0 license, and recommend we all do, so all mods can be reused and reworked, building on each other’s work to make the game better.

This only applies to our own work. If we license a resource for our mod, maybe from the Unity Store, then we obviously can only share it under the license we bought it with.

G2) Give credit.

Rationale: Plagiarism’s a moral, not a legal thing. Credit is not a replacement for having permission to reuse. But even when we have permission to reuse, such as when using public domain resources, credit should be given because it’s the right thing to do. Plus, pointing people to where we got that asset from gives them a pointer on where to get similar stuff!

G2) Avoid critical systems.

Rationale: No matter how careful we are, we can’t guarantee that if we touch a system, we won’t break it. A significant example is savegames. When our mod is removed, the player must still be able to load, without problems, the last savegame where the user had our mod turned on. We hope to make this easier by providing wrappers for safe saving and loading.

Enforcement

As a community, we don’t have any power to enforce, I think. But we can all:

  • encourage people to do the right thing;
  • frown at those who push the boundaries;
  • refuse to help those who exceed the boundaries;
  • withhold code-review acceptance to rule-breaking mods.

Question

Do you agree with these ideas? What changes would you make?

If we can reach consensus on what a “good-citizen modder” looks like, how do we encourage that behavior? How can we self-police, so OSE doesn’t have to?


#2

As I was reading your suggestions, I thought of a couple of possible additions. Then you addressed them. :smile:

Not only do I have nothing to add to these suggestions for modding UA, I’d say this is a darned good model code of ethics for fan mods of any game that tolerates modding.

The one thing that occurs to me is more logistical than anything, which is that review of mods will be a lot easier if there’s one most-popular site where UA mods go. A private site might emerge as the go-to hosting location if it proves its value – probably meaning it needs to also offer assistance to potential mod users. If they start going to one UA mod hosting location because it also provides timely, objective reviews of new mods, then modding UA becomes more viable.

Nexus might be another option, even if its mod managers can’t work with UA mods, because it’s so well-known and has some nice organizational features.

The worst-case scenario is if UA mods have no primary home, and modders each host only their own creations. In that event, it may be too hard to find them or too risky to try them.

Thoughts?


#3

I agree about the logistics, and that a scattered nonsense is the worst case in just about every way.

I think Nexus has a few clear advantages:

  • discoverability - if people look for mods, they’ll look there.
  • trust - people know the nexus, so are a little more trusting about downloading mods from there than from independent sites.
  • laziness - it’s way less work for me :stuck_out_tongue:
  • mod manager - I’ve been using the Nexus mod Unity Mod Manager to handle this mod, and I am toying with the idea of porting that to be a Vortex plugin. One way or the other, people will need to go to the Nexus to get a mod manager.

But it has a few downsides, mainly in the area of control.

  • Reviews - Nexus has no capacity for code reviews.
  • Badges - Neither nexus mod manager has the ability to display “reviewed” badges.
  • Removal - if OSE asks us to take the mods down, we’d have no ability to do so other than for our own mods.

I think I can mod the UMM to have badges, and to connect to a third party site to check for reviews, and I could set up the review site.

So I’m still leaning towards Nexus, but I’d be interested in what features people would want on a private site instead.


#4

We originally created the Digital Lycaeum (lycaeum.ultimacodex.com) as a place to host assets, reviews, etc for fan games based on the Ultima series. It’s more customizable than others, and we can easily unpost items if necessary. However, I haven’t been keeping it updated like I should.

If you have suggestions on how I can improve it, let me know. It’s all hosted on the Codex, so nothing else anyone needs to do.


#5

I’d definitely love that over making my own site from scratch. Compared to hosting it on my site or something, it’s a far more appropriate home, and more discoverable and trustworthy, too. Plus, me being both a modder and a site owner would represent risk and conflict of interest if OSE asked for a removal.

I think we definitely need a private home for “reviews” - whether that takes the form of just a single “reviewed mods” json file, or a whole reviewing infrastructure. The Digital Lycaeum sounds the ideal home.

I’m still torn about whether to host the mods themselves privately, or on the Nexus, but I think having an existimg, maintained site that we might be able to take advantage of makes the “private hosting” argument way stronger.


#6

Any other feedback on these community-rule suggestions? Are they too onerous? Too long? Should more of the rules be merely guidelines?

I tend to favor very light rules, but for me, these seem like a minimum. But maybe it’s like all my other writing: in the edit pass, I can’t see what to edit out, because I wrote it.

Like: what about the CC0 guildline? Is it a good idea?

While nobody’s raised any problems with other modders reusing and building upon our work, and it would mean that modders who leave the community could have their work picked up and maintained by others… would everyone be OK with CC0/public-domain meaning that even OSE can reuse our work?

That’s one of the reasons I encourage CC0. I see no downsides to having OSE include our community bugfixes in future updates, especially if that means console gamers get the fixes too!

And I don’t personally mind if they reuse any of my mods in the same way, if they feel they improve the game in a way they want to share: if I implement functionality they just didn’t have time for, for example (VR! Multiplayer!). That’s part of why giving credit is important: if my mod uses an asset from the Unity store, anyone reusing my mod would need to be able to check the usage conditions on that asset to see if they can reuse it, or if they need to pay extra licensing fees, and so on.

I want more people to be able to use my mods, and removing useless legal barriers feels like the right path for that. But do others agree?


#7

Skimming through what I can find on the creative commons license, it waives ALL rights to the work you do? Are there ways you can add exceptions to this rule?

I think I would want to at least accredit the people who do the mod work, and perhaps the bare minimum is a line somewhere within the mod or program that acknowledges the name or link from where it came from. I’m imagining even if OSE adopted community-driven work, it would be great to at least credit where that came from.

Speaking of which, would, for example, a VR-mod version of UA be hosted separately from the PC version? Or are all of the examples implied to be works that would be directly modded onto the UA-PC version?

Also thinking about how mod work wouldn’t necessarily be able to be advertised unless it was officially adopted by the company, which could be troublesome if we wanted to port something officially. (I’m imagining, for example, a VR mod works and is polished up by a combination of the community and the dev team, and then we are asked to host it on Oculus or something; money would be tough to sort out, even if the mod waived your rights, there’s the moral standpoint of giving justice to those who worked on the mod, right?)


#8

The CC licenses are versatile, and you can pick a license other than CC0 if you want to retain more than zero rights.

So for example, there’s “CC-BY” which makes crediting the author a legal requirement if you wish to reuse any part of their work. After CC0, that’d be my second-favorite license, but I can see some arguments against it.

I’d personally like to keep credit as a moral requirement, separate from legality, if possible. CC0 wouldn’t forbid anyone from crediting: it would just prevent them from getting in legal trouble if they missed someone out because of a copy-paste error.

As well as unnecessary legality, I also worry that otherwise, people might be tempted to only credit those they’re legally required to, and not credit those who release on public domain, on CC0, or whose stuff they feel they only took less than some legal mimimum from.

And I just don’t like putting terms and conditions on my stuff that I don’t have to :D If someone wants to use my code, that makes me happy. I get to see my code-child growing up and going out into the world!

So personally, I’d rather make it a moral constraint that we as a community frown upon plagiarism regardless of legality, and that we smile on credit because it shows respect and shows that you’ve done your research and know where your stuff comes from. Like with science papers, there’s no law saying not to plagiarize, but anyone publishing without appropriate credit is excoriated by the science community.

But I agree I am in the minority. There are many perfectly good motivations to do things, over and above my own (which seem to be “the need to feel useful and helpful”). We’re nixing (as I argue we should) any financial motivation. But we probably want to maximize as many other motivations as we can, to encourage people to do the work. “Recognition” and “acclaim” are valid and worthy motivations, in that light. So maybe we should make crediting a rule rather than a guideline, and maybe we should go for CC-BY rather than CC0?

I’d be basically happy either way, but what does everyone else prefer?

For context, as well as being a hobby, all this stuff (mods for existing software, code review, juggling open source licenses, etc etc) has basically been my day job at Magento (now an Adobe company) for a few years now. My department is responsible for reviewing mods written by third parties for the Magento shopping cart system. The rules I’ve listed above are largely based on the pain points I see in that community, as well as in fan-mod communities for games.

Conflicting licenses are one of the main pain points I see in all these communities. I’d argue it’d definitely benefit the community to settle on a license early on; and that the more open the license is, the less drama and friction there’ll be around reuse. Incompatible licenses would open the whole “code review for plagiarism detection” can of worms that we just don’t want to open if we can avoid it: that was my task for about my first year in Magento.

If it becomes an issue, I might write up an overview of avoiding open source license conflicts, to help people avoid gotchas like, say, using some GPL-licensed code in their mod, causing their whole mod to become GPL-licensed by default, unless they are very careful and jump through the correct hoops.

One thing I should probably do at a minimum, is to make it easy for people to default to crediting well - so, make it hard for them to avoid giving credit in the submission process, as the credits file is part of the default modding template, that kinda thing.

Exactly the latter, yes :) A VR mod would be just like a reskin, etc: you’d download a mod that would modify your existing game that you had installed from Steam or whatever, to allow it to work with VR headsets.

The point of modding is that we DON’T need to redistribute the game :D Mods are just… add-ons. Fan-DLCs, in effect.

Which is why I want to be very careful not to tread on OSE’s toes for any DLCs you might be planning.

As an example, I’d like to add pets, but I won’t touch them with a 10ft pole unless I get confirmation that there were no pet-DLC planned by OSE, and even then I’d be careful to make any of my pets “less cool” than the ones the Kickstarter backers got. So I wouldn’t just “enable the kickstarter pets”, they’d have to be different.

I get what you’re saying, but… I disagree. I’m interested in hearing arguments either way from others, but here’s mine.

First, consider three scenarios:

Scenario 1: If I make a standalone program, or an artwork, or a story, not a mod, and I chose to release it for free to the public domain, then I’ve got what I wanted out of it if people download and enjoy it. From the way I released it, I explicitly showed the world I wanted no money from it.

If a random someone takes that program, and in compliance with the CC0 license, reuses it to make money, I have lost nothing, and if they are successful, I have gained something by being part of something bigger.

Scenario 2: If, instead of a standalone program, it was a game mod, the same surely applies, except that I would be worried that, by charging money for their mod, they were detracting from the work of the makers of the original game.

Scenario 3: If, instead of a random someone, it was the person who made the game upon which I built my mod, and without which my mod would have been impossible, and who invested millions of dollars of actual money in making that game, and who I would very much like to see making additional games… and they are opening up those mods to a wider audience on platforms I could not possibly have reached… why should I expect to be rewarded over and above being overjoyed to see that happen, and maybe even getting public acclaim for it?

But I get it. My motivations are not other people’s motivations. There’s a huge movement against artists working “for exposure”, and I can see the clear and obvious parallels between that situation and this one.

I’d argue the difference is that, in doing something for free, for the community, and releasing it to the community… we don’t even expect exposure. We’re just sharing something we made that’s cool, with people who might like it. If you help us share it, even better!

Setting an expectation of reward if OSE reuses the work sets a very dangerous precedent, since it means that any time OSE makes a patch or change that is similar to something a modder ever did, that modder might pipe up and say “Hey! Pay me!”

And it leaves a sour taste in the mouths of anyone whose mod doesn’t get chosen.

And it also opens the whole legal can o’ worms around payment. Because, if you pay, then you have to pay a legally reasonable price. And minimum wage laws and taxes and all kinds of bullshit rear their ugly heads.

If I remember right, I think this was a hard lesson learned by Ultima Online. They had some volunteer helpers. One day, they gave them some money (or something worth money) in thanks. And then there was a court case, demanding that the reward be raised to minimum wage. Which was found in favor of the volunteers: by paying them, they became employees.

So I very strongly indeed argue against ever letting money get involved in the UA modding community.

And further (and this is an opinion I’ve gathered in discussion with Furcadia’s Community Manager): I’d argue that rewarding people for work they gladly did for free is always a bad thing. Say you recognize and celebrate this month’s “best volunteer”, then you make one person happy, but the rest of the community slightly regretful. Say they get motivated, though, by that regret. Say they work as hard as they can in order to have a shot at it next time, but still didn’t get it… where is their motivation now? Rewards are divisive, splitting us into haves and have-nots.

I totally get what you’re saying, though: it’s absolutely against the grain for me not to reward someone for a wonderful job done. But if they didn’t do it for reward, then any reward will only be a punishment: would you pay someone for giving you a birthday present? Of course not! And even if you did… what’s a fair price for that? How can you pay them an amount for that gift that is not either too little, or too much?

Instead, I’d say: if OSE wanted to reuse someone’s work that they’ve released freely for anyone to reuse, then OSE is going above and beyond if they:

  • contact that person and ask if it’s OK;
  • give credit to the person (if the person consents to getting credit, some people are weird about it);
  • thank the person.

That’s three steps more than the person will get from almost any other user or reuser of their work.


#9

Wonderful follow up discussions, thank you Dewi.

Good points about paying volunteers and how that would complicate things; I suppose based on this information, the safest thing for both parties is to pursue the CC0 with a moral promise between the company and the modding community to try to credit each other as consistently as possible for any work done.


#10

Just super-quick, CC0 feels right to me as well.

Disallowing charging for mods (a position I agree with) already makes developing them a labor of love, rather than an economic activity, so I see little reason to enforce other restrictions on use by others. And infecting mods with the GNU Public Virus seems excessive.

I also agree with giving development credit as a moral good, rather than a legal requirement. That leaves some room for abuse… but I imagine a UA community being tight enough (especially if hosting/review is centralized) to know who’s giving proper credit and who’s not.


#11

I think CC0 works too. I wouldn’t support anyone charging for mods. It also isn’t something the Digital Lycaeum is set up to support.

We can host assets, code, and packaged mods. We can also do reviews of each, and post updates when they get new features and such.

I agree with your overall post, Dewi. That spells out the type of modding community that we want to be.


#12

It’s heartening that we all seem entirely on the same page. We want modding to be a positive thing for the game, its players, modders and community, and for OSE’s devs and management. And we’re optimistic that it can be :D

Though I worry how long this consensus will last after we get it all open to the public, and out of just our little gang of friendly insiders.

I’m optimistic that once we have a few mods out, it’ll be accepted as standard behavior without much argument.

I imagine that, like every community, people will push the envelope of acceptability, so we’ll have to gradually accrete a protective nacre of additional rules to patch each weakness they expose. So long as we can keep them commonsense and reasonable, I think we should be good :)


#13

I’d expect the modding community for this game to be rather small and tightknit. After all, we are a fairly small group of players.

If modding makes the game explode in popularity… Well, I would be happy to live with those consequences. lol


#14

I agree :) Dealing with plenty of modders would be a lovely problem to have, and I’m really just hoping it’s not just me!

@jtr7 raised a good point over in the “what mods do you want” thread - savegames.
Technically it’s covered under “Mods should behave.” I guess, but I think it’s worth adding in as a guideline, so I’ve thrown that in as G3 - let me know how you think that should be changed!

I’ve also rephrased the language to use less “you” and more “we” throughout. Makes it sound less draconian, at the cost of sounding a little “modder manifesto”-ish :D

I also removed the paragraph about “commissions might be OK” - while it’s probably true, just like fan-art, I felt it kinda muddies the water around the whole “no payment, seriously!” issue.


#15

As has been said, “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” (Hey, if Raph Koster can call players the enemy, as in, “The client is in the hands of the enemy – never forget this,” why can’t I? :smile: )

If, once the ideas being bashed out here are organized, you want to subject them to some contumely before jumping into fullbore implementation, there’s always the OtherSide Discord channel. Even the “lol ur obviously wrong about X” crowd occasionally have useful criticisms that more cooperative folks wouldn’t come up with.


#16

Good point. Though, since this doesn’t (yet?) seem as contentious as I’d feared, I’m moving it to the general UA forum, to open up wider discussion.

Even if it comes to be that we’re not allowed to mod UA, it feels worthwhile discussing how we’d like the Ultima community to handle modding other projects in the future - though this may well be a discussion that’s already been done to death in the 38 years the Ultimas have been around.


What fan-mods would you like to see?
#17

Ongoing curation is a must, and heroes need to be available to take over if the primary individual(s) have to step away for whatever reason, especially indefinitely. That specialized corner of the community should have a network established for getting word out, so there are less headless chickens (do Headless raise chickens?). If the mods make enough people happy, then there will be volunteers, so quality and intent matter outside the game.


#18

User Markie on Discord (possibly @The_Markie here?) made some cogent arguments against the whole “community standards” thing. To keep this short, I’ve removed my own words, and apologize if that removes context: I think what he had to say is the important but :slight_smile:

@Dewi Morgan modding is modding my man, have you ever been to a modding community before? it’s anything goes and that’s kinda as it should be, not like you can ever control or govern a modding community anyway

i mean i would pay to see you try to gatekeep or sustain any order, standard or etiquette in a modding community
but personally i would pay to see you try to build one first with what you believe in
as we’re speaking

i mean i would pay to see you try to gatekeep or sustain any order, standard or etiquette in a modding community
but personally i would pay to see you try to build one first with what you believe in
as we’re speaking

we don’t have one
the consensus wishes of the rest of the community
we’re lucky to have a community
let the people do whatever they want my man
you just sit back and contribute

I said: Yes - please do chip in on that forum post, so that your voice is heard :)

meh
my voice is heard when i make a mod, if i never make one, i’m happy with being mute

i don’t know, i think it’s arrogant to declare that there should be “community standards” for a community that doesn’t even exist yet
i mean i can get that you’re enthusiastic, about nothing, but you know
come on

i disagree with the concept of modding community standards

and absolutely disagree with trying to declaring standards before it even exists

i mean in a situation where they’re applied, which is ridiculous, i would easily try my best to violate every single one of them out of principle

it doesn’t matter whether i agree with them or not

i’ve never been approached by any modder, or anybody from any modding community that says i’ve violated either a standard, an unspoken rule or morality
so you can say that
by evidence, i agree with them all

we should try having a community first, that you should quote

[Markie please do post, or let me know somehow, if I’ve misrepresented you here, or if I do so later in this discussion. It’s really hard not to accidentally strawman people, so please do keep me honest!]


#19

The most central line, if I understand his arguments correctly (please correct me if I’m wrong!) was in the line “it’s arrogant to declare that there should be “community standards” for a community that doesn’t even exist yet”. When I asked if I could quote him, he replied “we should try having a community first, that you should quote”.

So I think this is the central point.

And I kinda agree with that.

Arrogant I think might be overstating it: I don’t think seeking consensus before we start work is arrogant, if anything it’s just a sign of decades of experience.

But is it hubris? That’s a sin I’m often guilty of, I admit.

My rationale for making this list (and my to-do list elsewhere) was:

  1. To let OSE know what they’re in for.
  2. To let newbie modders know what they’re in for.
  3. Make sure I’m going in a direction everyone’s OK with.

Markie’s dissent is the first sign I’ve seen against that direction, so I want to take it seriously.

It’s easy to say “well, I’m literally wearing the UDIC 25th anniversary T-shirt right now. And there’s the SotA group, and the Wiki group, etc etc. So the community already exists, is large and mature…” But while I argued that at the time, I’m not sure it’s a sound argument. At least as OSE-modders, we’re just starting out, at the very beginning.


#20

Not to throw cold water buy I’d be careful that not everything turns into a meta-argument, about-the-about etc

There’s nothing really wrong with detailed cogent guidelines, but I think it’s generally more useful to wait until you get a critical mass - until there’s a there, there - and then start moulding things as needed. Of course, you can’t leave this too late, or you’re playing whack-a-mole with too much material.

In other words, worry about stuff a bit more when there’s more to worry about :slight_smile:

Of course, that’s different from actual game design first time round, where you want as much clarity as possible early on.

Regarding Sam’s and Flatfinger’s respective points about moral promises, and charging/free models…these should not written in stone at the outset because they may well need to change depending on the nature of the end result. This may put some off, who want things bolted down from the beginning, but that’s the nature of development, even on a small scale. Of course, it’s not a chance to change things willy-nilly.

Another point. It’s human nature to start out sometimes with the idea of ‘free’. Then, perhaps you get drawn-in, it takes over, and you think ‘hold on…’. I’ve see this happen, especially when a receptive community likes what you do, but has been conditioned form the outset to expect incremental improvements for free…