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For computer game developers, encouraging users to modify copyrighted material is good for business. By permitting players to modify copyright-protected contents of a game, developers are garnering loyalty from their consumers-and ultimately profits. When fans get "under the hood," they become vested as co-creators and help to extend the products' shelf life. That's because the US $10 billion game industry, much like the film industry, is built on franchises, or brands. The more heavily gainers are committed to the brand, the more likely they will be to buy the sequels, add-on packs, and other merchandise that the game developer produces. One company at least, Valve realized this potential when it saw that a mod called TeamFortress was downloaded from the Web over 3000000 times. Now Valve, after striking a deal with the college students who created the mod, is breaking new ground by releasing a retail spin-off that is likely to sell for the standard $50 computer game price tag. Valve also offers a way for mod makers to cash in on their creations. Its broadband distribution program called Steam gives mod authors a direct, low-cost channel to sell and market to their customers. This should have a big impact on the community's ability to generate revenue from their product development.
Date of Publication: Feb. 2003