PSA: Looking for SC4 mods and plugins? Why you shouldn’t just download someone else’s plugins folder or unofficial “modpack”.

About 3 weeks ago on /r/simcity4 on Reddit, there were a couple common things I saw in threads: complaints about crashing, and links to someone’s complete plugins folder off of filesharing services (Mega, torrents, etc.), which some have promoted as a “modpack”. As it turns out, the crashing and this so-called “modpack” were directly related.

This aforementioned package happens to contain NAM Version 31, which, as was widely known on the major SC4 forums (Simtropolis, SC4 Devotion, etc.), is known to cause crashes upon saving a city tile on some users’ systems. I’m a long-time NAM developer myself, so I was on the front lines of this. The main cause for this issue, from what we’ve learned since NAM 31, is that the massive increase in size of the NAM Controller file in NAM 31 version, for some reason, caused issues for users whose systems had 4GB or more of RAM, and especially affected people with Intel Core i7 Sandy Bridge CPUs. Within the next month, we finally released an update to address those issues, NAM 31.1, and we’re working on NAM 31.2 right now.

One of the golden rules in the SC4 community–at least the parts of it that inhabit the major forums, and includes all the major content developers–is that content should not be redistributed without permission, unless (in rare instances) the creator has explicitly allowed it up front. This is especially true when the redistributor repackages the content in some way, which, in the case of things like this so-called “modpack” (which, again, is little more than a plugins dump) and all the people who have torrented their personal plugins folders. Often times, discussions about this devolve into a copyright debate, which, to quickly summarize and get out of the way:

  • a) the content developers have copyright on their content
  • b) the game’s EULA, however, forbids selling custom content
  • c) the prohibition on sale makes enforcing this copyright through the legal system extraordinarily difficult, as there’s no way to prove “damages”

This post really isn’t about the copyright angle. It’s about content creators’ rights and responsibilities to maintain and support their content, and the fact that this unauthorized repackaging and redistribution greatly complicates these matters. Most of the established content creators take pride in offering technical support and fixing any issues that may exist with their content, to ensure that the end user has the best experience possible. In order for this to be feasible, the creator needs to have reasonable control over distribution, to ensure that the end users are running the same version, and to be able to propagate any fixes or patches that may be required.

Admittedly, the distribution system that’s been in place for many years on the SC4 exchanges can be a bit daunting to those unfamiliar with it, and even more so if you’re trying to get yourself started with mods and custom content (or re-started, for the returning old veterans of the game). A lot of the repackaging and redistribution into these unauthorized larger packages and plugins dumps are, as far as I can tell, mostly done with good intentions. But good intentions don’t always lead to a good end result. Unless you personally downloaded all those plugins yourself and kept really good track of them (very few do), there’s no way of knowing what’s actually in there, and many of the users who are responsible for creating these unauthorized packages aimed at newbies are not far removed from being newbies themselves. That messed up plugins folder gets transmitted between multiple users, multiplying the number of potential tech support cases with which the creators/developers have to handle, taking up time that they could be spending developing more content. And the ease of simply and indiscriminately dumping a whole giant pack of files into your personal plugins foments a state of perpetual newbiedom, and sustains illiteracy about how to properly install and use mods.

The fact that torrents and the like are the main methods of distributing these unauthorized packages also complicates matters a hundred-fold. Once a file gets seeded, it’s out there in the wild, and good luck stopping it from continuing to be redistributed, buggy or not. The NAM Team actually had a discussion–mostly related to bandwidth concerns stemming from the large file size–about possibly making an “official” torrent for NAM 31, but quickly became disenchanted of the idea, specifically as it robs us of version control. Thanks to whomever created that latest package that’s been making the rounds, and stuck it on a torrent, even now that we’re a couple releases in advance and have fixed the worst of the issues, those gnarly crash-on-save issues and everything else will continue to be spread.  As things like this unauthorized package are being promoted by some here as the first thing newbies looking for mods should get, it creates a really bad first impression on the great experience that is playing SC4 with custom content, canceling out the entire reason for making these packages in the first place.

-Tarkus

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