Monday Tip-Off: Credit & The Modding Community

Monday Tip-Off: Credit & The Modding Community

We’re at midcourt, and the ball is about to go up…it’s Monday Tip-Off! Join me as I begin the week here at the NLSC with my opinions and commentary on basketball gaming topics, as well as tales of the fun I’ve been having on the virtual hardwood. This week, I’m tipping things off with some thoughts on how we approach credit in our modding community, as well as the importance of doing right by each other.

When the NLSC was founded in 1996 and our modding community was established, we adopted several rules that are still in place as of today. Two of the most important rules are the prohibition of charging for mods, and the requirement of giving credit whenever you’re using someone else’s work (as well as asking for permission first, whenever possible). Most of the biggest blow-ups in our modding community have come about due to an incident involving one of those rules, in particular the latter. It’s the reason why it’s gone from being an unwritten rule to a clearly specified policy.

To newcomers, the notion of giving credit and asking for permission may seem odd. After all, anything we make and release is for the benefit of our fellow gamers, and we do walk a fine line with what we do when it comes to modding in the first place. It is part of our established culture and etiquette however, and as long as we’re civil with each other and not draconian in enforcing those rules, it does work for us. At the same time, I do wonder if we can be too precious about our work, not to mention take credit when it isn’t due. There’s something to be said for being flexible, and I say that as someone who has been very particular about credit and permission in the past.

On that note, a while ago there was a new roster update for NBA Live 2005 uploaded to our Downloads section. After downloading the roster and inspecting the players.dbf file, I could see that it’s based on one of my old mods for the game. This has not been an uncommon occurrence throughout the years, and it’s something that I’m able to tell very quickly by the order of the players in the database, as well as the fact that my most recent NBA Live 2005 updates were originally converted from NBA Live 08 rosters. I wasn’t asked for permission or given any credit for my original work, and again, that’s something I’ve encountered with my rosters quite often over the years.

NLSC Rosters Have Not Always Been Used With Credit

My initial instinct was to make an issue out of it, and indeed, it may look like that’s what I’m doing here. However, after that initial reaction of grumbling and feeling stung, I decided that it wasn’t worth it. That’s not because I don’t take pride in the mods that I’ve made over the years, nor do I think we shouldn’t have to give credit or ask for permission. Rather, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t much matter. I haven’t worked on that update in years, and I’ve previously indicated that I’d like to take more of an open source approach with updates I’m not doing anything with. NBA Live 2005 is a classic, and it’s nice that someone is taking the time to update it.

Would it be preferable if I were given credit and extended the courtesy of being asked first? Sure, and that’s why it stung in the moment, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt that I’d rather not stand in the way of the community getting a new roster for an old favourite. Refusing anyone else a head start by sitting on a project that I haven’t worked on in almost a decade doesn’t benefit the modding community, or anyone who wants to dust off NBA Live 2005 and play it with updated rosters. Again, it’s not that I don’t care about my old work, but it just didn’t seem worth getting angry about. Better an unauthorised fork of a discontinued project than no update at all.

Of course, those are just my personal feelings about an old update that I haven’t done anything with for going on ten years. If I were still working on that project, or if a newer roster mod was taken and re-released without credit, I’d be more inclined to protest. Furthermore, just because I feel this way, and would encourage everyone to share work and consider an open source approach where possible, I don’t begrudge anyone for not sharing those sentiments. As I said, this has happened to me before, so I can relate to the anger and sense of betrayal that comes with having your work used by someone else in the modding community, with no regard for permission or credit.

Steph Curry vs Gerald Wallace in the 2013 NLSC Roster for NBA Live 06

Giving credit and extending the courtesy of asking for permission is important for all mods, but even more so for large projects such as roster updates and total conversions. There’s just so much work that goes into them, and to use them as a base is to take a massive shortcut. I remember people approaching me about using the NLSC update shortly after releasing a roster for a new season. My inclination was always to decline, as it felt like they were sitting back and waiting for me to finish all the tedious work, and then getting full credit for making their own adjustments. Even if I was credited for the original update, it didn’t feel adequate for the time I’d spent putting it together.

If we’re being completely fair though, it goes the other way as well. It’s very easy for the person in charge of a roster project to receive undue credit when they’re making use of other people’s work, such as faces, jerseys, courts, and so on. Roster projects have come a long way thanks to collaborative efforts in our modding community, and they wouldn’t be nearly as good as they are – or indeed, at all possible – without a willingness to share work. Even if we have permission to use each other’s work, it’s not right to take credit for things we didn’t make. If we receive compliments for those parts, it’s only fair to publicly pass that credit along to the person actually responsible.

There’s also the issue of Patreon, and to a lesser extent, ad links and tip jars. We’ve come to allow them in a way that isn’t directly profiting off of modding, since the work is ultimately still freely available (within a maximum of a week in regards to early access Patreon releases). However, it can also be a point of contention when a project has several contributors, and only the person putting it all together is reaping the benefits of those revenue streams. Some modders may not mind, knowing that the money goes towards hosting costs for big projects, but others won’t want their work included in mods that have anything to do with Patreon, tip jars, or ad links.

Michael Jordan vs Magic Johnson in NBA Live 08

Obviously this is where things can get messy, and where someone who’s newer to our modding community might suggest that we’re being too precious or egotistical about these matters. There is some merit in that, in that it’s important we keep the hobby in perspective, and focus on making cool things that we can all enjoy. It’s worth taking a step back, remembering how we all benefit from cooperating with each other, and not turning misunderstandings into big feuds. Simultaneously, it’s only fair that we give appropriate credit, acknowledge the time and effort that we all put into projects, and respect an individual modder’s wishes regarding how their work is used by others.

That’s why when it comes to the issue of open source, sharing work, and using work as a base for another update, it’s something we leave up to everyone to decide. We’ll encourage cooperation, but if you don’t want your work to be reused, then we ask the modding community to respect your wishes accordingly. I wouldn’t ask anyone to adopt the same attitude that I’ve taken with that aforementioned NBA Live 2005 roster, as under different circumstances, that wouldn’t be (and hasn’t been) how I’d feel about it. I mention it as something to consider under the right circumstances, not the way that the modding community must always feel and handle these situations.

After all, it is important to give credit when you’re benefitting from someone else’s work, be it a single face or a major roster update. Beyond asking for permission and giving credit, this also means not accepting compliments for something that you didn’t make, and instead acknowledging the person who did create it. I’d also suggest that when it comes to roster projects, we keep in mind how everyone’s contributions make them so much better, and how readily they provided their work to make a great update happen. Ideally, sharing of resources and ideas should be a two-way street wherever possible, as it makes for a much friendlier and more productive modding community.

Dennis Rodman in the 1996 Roster for NBA Live 2001

Naturally, there are exceptions and caveats when it comes to permission and credit, particularly as it pertains to older works from people who have since left the modding community, or when the creator of a mod is unknown. While reaching out to ask if mods can be repurposed for a new project is certainly courteous, it’s not always going to be practical when years (and indeed, decades) have gone by. The general approach in such situations is to include credit whenever possible, and be willing to remove any work if a modder returns and requests that you do so. There’s a difference between reusing old assets and giving credit, and stealing work to pass it off as your own.

Keeping a spirit of cooperation and respect alive in the modding community should be driving our decisions on these matters. Asking for permission is courteous when possible, and giving credit is a must. Deciding you don’t care about that and making your work open source, or letting things slide, can be a noble gesture. It doesn’t mean that others have to feel the same way, of course. Personally, I’m at a point where it doesn’t feel like it’s something worth getting worked up about, especially over an old release. Of course, we’ll see how I feel should I produce a big new project. One feels far more attached and protective when all those hours of work are fresher in mind!

Although I’m not actively involved with any other modding communities, from what I’ve seen, they all have their own rules, standards, and sense of etiquette when it comes to asking for permission and giving credit. The approach that we’ve had since the early days of the NLSC is hardly unique, but I can appreciate how it may be a shock if someone is unfamiliar with modding, or comes from a community that was much more lenient about these matters. Our rules have served us well, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, there’s always a need to re-evaluate and adapt as necessary. Whatever approach we take though, respect and goodwill are paramount.

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March 13, 2023 3:02 pm

I think mod work that is pay only is awful. I don’t care how hard you worked.
I think stolen mod work is even worse, I never would have downloaded that 2005 mod if I knew it was based off work that didn’t have explicit permission given.
And I’m glad you took down that guy who was trying to charge for the 2K11 mod.