Why Super Metroid’s Hacking Community is Still Going Strong – gamasutra

http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/196769/why_super_metroids_hacking_.php

Unique coverage of an unlikely modding community that is still productive and going strong almost twenty years after the original release of Super Metriod.

‘So the Super Metroid hacking community is active, self-starting, and unique among Metroid games. The question is, then, how exactly does it sustain itself? How does it attract new members and daily activity?’

At the start of the article it is posited that there are many ways to cultivate a dedicated fan community and in Super Metriod’s case, the motivations behind the modding are not clear. Especially relevant to me in light of Super Smash Bros Melee recently breaking the world record for fighting games (twelve years after its original release) despite Nintendo attempting to shut down the operations (another example of Nintendo masterfully mistreating its fans) of dedicated players, Super Metriod proves to be another intriguing example of Nintendo inspired participatory culture that is still popular.

One of the reasons given for continued participation is the idea of the modder as a form of “cyber-archeologist.” Ties in with the themes Jenkins (2013) recently confronted regarding  nostalgia and how the often Internet fuels new appropiaitons and meanings out of pre-digital texts.

Another useful extract regarding the ecosystem of a forum is:

‘The reason a hack like Project Base works, and the final piece of the puzzle for the Super Metroid hacking community’s success, is the collaborative culture of the community. Hacks aren’t created in a void and released when complete. Instead, the forum is abuzz with hackers old and new posting works in progress for testing and feedback.

In these threads, the creator discusses bugs, potential improvements, and ideas with other forum members. This contributes to the friendly culture, but more importantly, it means new members can become a meaningful part of the community before completing their first hack, and old members have a reason to keep coming back between projects. Forum members credited this with the rise in standards for new hacks — frequent feedback helps keep hackers motivated to earn the respect of their peers, and that leads to better hacks, which in turn leads to more exposure, which finally leads to more members.’

Describing the ecosystem of a modding forum in very similar terms to my own work on DotA modders upon ‘playdota’, it is easy to read Earl’s small analysis of the forum here in terms of cultural capital and how that circulation of capital becomes very productive.

The section entitled ‘Repeating Super Metroid’s Success’ is also interesting as it talks about some ways that the productivity of forums could be specifically utilised by developers. One of the key ideas posited here is that official developments from producers can alienate or make meaningless the productive work of fans. Thinking about the way the age of empires modding was made unuseable with the onset of the HD release this statement assertion makes a lot of sense.

 

The article finishes with five steps for encouraging modding activity:

  1. ‘Ensure your game invites long hours of play without relying solely on novel content. If there are no fans of your game, there will be no one who wants to make content for it.
  2. Encourage fans to explore your game in-depth — add Easter eggs, give players an opportunity to learn about the game’s inner workings, and avoid putting roadblocks on exploratory behavior.
  3. Create and release tools that allow players to easily modify or create content. Custom levels, mods, and even player-made in-game items give fans an outlet for their creativity and allow them to put their own spin on your game.
  4. Avoid undermining or splintering your game’s community with iterative sequels or excessive content updates. Give content-producing players a niche to fill.
  5. Finally, allow the community to promote and discover new player-made content using, at minimum, a rating system. Open discussion channels will allow for even more feedback, making the community more collaborative overall.’

These steps are means as a way of ‘making players into fans, fans into fan creators, and fan creators into community leaders’. In Earl’s reading of modding culture, the fandom is integral and that is always tied to the original game that acts as a hook towards further more productive participation (although a game such as Crusader Kings 2 and it’s hugely popular Game of Thrones mod could be an example that goes against this assertion).

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