10 Video Game Mods That Became FULL Games

VOICE OVER: Johnny Reynolds WRITTEN BY: Johnny Reynolds
Some truly incredible mods have grown to become successful games in their own right. For this list, we'll be looking at mods of popular games that gained enough recognition to become full games. Our list includes “The Forgotten City” (2021), “The Stanley Parable” (2013), “Counter-Strike” (2000), “DayZ” (2018), and more!
Script written by Johnny Reynolds

Some truly incredible mods have grown to become successful games in their own right. For this list, we'll be looking at mods of popular games that gained enough recognition to become full games. Our list includes “The Forgotten City” (2021), “The Stanley Parable” (2013), “Counter-Strike” (2000), “DayZ” (2018), and more! Did you play any of these mods before they became full games? Which was your favorite? Reminisce with us in the comments below.

“Counter-Strike” (2000)

By far, one of the most famous and successful video game mods is “Counter-Strike.” The original FPS has received a number of sequels and it became an esport pioneer almost immediately after release. But it has humble beginnings. It was designed as a mod for the original “Half-life” by Minh “Gooseman” Le and Jess Cliffe in 1999. The pair went through 5 Betas before gaining enough popularity to catch the attention of Valve. Valve was so impressed that it offered to buy the IP and hire them to continue working on it, which they accepted. Now, it’s one of Valve’s most well-known franchises and an online shooter juggernaut.

“Team Fortress Classic” (1999)

“Counter-Strike” is far from the only successful Valve game based on a mod. The original version of “Team Fortress” was released as a mod of 1996’s arena shooter “Quake.” Valve caught wind of it and liked what it saw, hiring designers John Cook and Robin Walker. The duo then ported the game as a mod for Valve’s own “Half-life,” calling it “Team Fortress Classic.” It was a pretty unique shooter for the time, coming with 9 character classes, all feeling unique. It went on to receive a sequel that many believe to be one of the best multiplayer FPS titles of all time.

“Garry’s Mod” (2006)

In 2004, programmer Garry Newman began modding Valve’s Source engine, primarily through “Half-life 2,” as a side project. Little did he know this side project would grow to become his most important work. “Garry’s Mod” is a physics-based sandbox game with little to no objectives; just a fun playground for players to experiment in. After a few updated releases through 2005, he was contacted by Valve for a commercial release, which launched in 2006. It became increasingly popular as any player could include their own modes, some of which like ‘Prop Hunt’ have been adapted by other developers. As of writing, Newman is currently developing a sequel that we can’t wait to play around in.

“DayZ” (2018)

There was nothing quite like “DayZ” when it launched in 2012, which says a lot considering it’s an FPS. A mod of “ARMA 2,” it was an open-world, multiplayer survival game that plopped you in the middle of a zombie apocalypse with almost no resources. It gained a million players in its first few months, increasing sales of the original game. This naturally made “ARMA” developer Bohemia Interactive very happy and very curious. The studio hired the man behind it, Dean Hall, with plans to develop a full game. While the alpha version was released on Steam in Early Access in 2013, the full game wouldn’t launch until 2018.

“Chex Quest” (1996)

Now here’s a weird one. In 1996, General Mills sought to reinvigorate Chex Cereal sales by including a PC game in boxes. That game was Digital Cafe’s “Chex Quest,” a total conversion mod of the groundbreaking “DOOM.” id Software agreed to sell a license of the game’s engine relatively inexpensively due to it being outdated. The result is a non-violent, incredibly silly shooter that actually played really well. People liked it so much, in fact, that it got two sequels, a mini-documentary, and an HD remake in 2020. That’s pretty impressive for something that started out as a marketing stunt.

“Killing Floor” (2009)

“Unreal Tournament 2004” is an awesome arena shooter, deservedly winning some multiplayer awards from several outlets on release. So it’s no surprise that someone decided to mod it. First released in 2005, “Killing Floor” was a total conversion mod that put players up against waves of mutated monsters called ZEDs. Tripwire Interactive, then only known for the first “Red Orchestra” game, approached lead developer Alex Quick about porting it to their game. But only when “Killing Floor’s” user base started to shrink did he agree. The full version was released in 2009 on Steam, quickly becoming a top-seller. It received a sequel in 2016, which upped the ante in terms of violence and horrific creature design.

“The Stanley Parable” (2013)

“The Stanley Parable” is one of the most narratively interesting games of the last decade. Its emphasis on the player’s level of interactivity within the story is phenomenal. It actually began life as a mod for “Half-life 2” in 2011. Designer Davey Wreden saw how most AAA narratives simply had the player go through the motions and was inspired to create something different. With no prior experience, he combed forums and wikis on Valve’s Source engine. His work paid off, as the mod became immensely popular within weeks after launching. Afterwards, he and fellow designer William Pugh worked on a revamp for two years, which was released to wide acclaim.

“Dota 2” (2013)

Blizzard’s first “StarCraft” launched with a custom level creation tool, which led to a now iconic level, ‘Aeon of Strife.’ With a similar but improved mode in “Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos,” modder Kyle Sommer created “Defense of the Ancients” in 2003. In it, teams were tasked with destroying structures of their opponents while defending their own with customizable heroes. To say that it became popular is a severe understatement. It spearheaded the creation of the MOBA genre and has been featured in multiple tournaments. Valve purchased the IP in 2009, leading to a successful sequel in 2013 that has far surpassed the original in popularity.

“The Forgotten City” (2021)

“The Forgotten City” is a fantastic game, but one that definitely took a toll on its creator. Nick Pearce began work on the mod almost immediately after the release of its foundation, 2011’s “Skyrim.” The mod, which took Pearce around 1,700 hours to develop, released in 2015 to high praise. The following year, Pearce formed his own studio to turn it into a full game. It took four and a half years, with Pearce working 80-hour weeks to avoid crunching his team. Many elements of the mod were significantly changed, from the setting and plot to the addition of an original score and voice acting. It’s one of the most stunning mod achievements we’ve ever seen.

“PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds” (2017)

It’s strange to think that the Battle Royale boom began with a mod. Brendan “PlayerUnknown” Greene got started by modding another mod “DayZ,” giving it a Battle Royale mode named after a 2000 Japanese film. Greene believed that most shooters became too repetitive with small, easily memorized maps and wanted to create something less predictable. After his “DayZ” mod, he began modding “ARMA 3,” which would eventually turn into “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.” It may not be the most popular Battle Royale around anymore, with multiple studios churning out various versions with and without FPS mechanics. But Greene’s work is still a monumental moment in gaming that kicked off a widespread subgenre.