A beginner's guide to mods

Beginner's guide to mods — in Skyrim, a Dragonborn sits atop a very large, very modded chicken mount.

Our love for PC games is matched only by our love of changing PC games. And modders have been changing PC games almost since the first moment they arrived, then uploading their modifications so others can enjoy them.

Mods can do something small: fix a bug, correct a typo in on-screen text, add a new item of clothing for your character, adjust how a weapon works, and a million other little tweaks and changes. Mods can also be massive projects, completely transforming how a game looks or functions, and can provide all new quests, adventures, and in-game systems. Mods, be they big or small, add to our the enjoyment of PC games, provide completely new ways to play them, and influence the entire landscape of the games industry.

With thousands of mods for hundreds of games, it can be hard to know where to begin. If you're new to finding, installing, and using mods for PC games, we're here to help. Here's how to start, beginning with the biggest destinations for finding your newest—or first—mods.

The biggest mod distributor sites

Steam Workshop

If you've never used mods before, a great place to start is the Steam Workshop. There you'll find hundreds of Steam games that support mods, and thousands (and sometimes hundreds of thousands) of mods for games like CS:GO, No Man's Sky, Cities: Skylines, Portal 2, Prison Architect, Civ 5, Stellaris, and lots more.

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Typically the mods in the Workshop are categorized by type, and you can use keyword searches to look for something specific. Mods are also voted on by users so you can see what's most popular and what's been downloaded the most by other players.

The best part is that installing mods in the Workshop is almost always a one-click process. Just click the subscribe button on any mod you'd like to install, and they'll be added to your game the next time you launch it. To remove a mod, you just need to click unsubscribe. Some games, such as recent Civilizations, have in-game menus where you can activate and deactivate mods you subscribe to. It's an easy way to add and remove mods from your games, and there are new mods added all the time.

Nexus Mods

The simplicity of the Steam Workshop is great, but when mods are bigger and more complex they may need more than a single click installation. The Nexus Mods site hosts both simple and complex mods for over 600 games, probably most notably for Bethesda RPGs Skyrim, Oblivion, and the Fallout series. You'll also find lots of mods for series like The Witcher, Mount & Blade, Mass Effect, XCOM, and many others.

You need to create a free account to download mods, but if you're into modding it's absolutely worth it. Nexus Mods has its own mod manager called Vortex, which helps you manage the mods you download, makes installation much easier, and lets you know when there are new versions available for updating. Once installed, it'll even detect which games you own that it supports, making it easy to get started with modding them. Nexus Mods has a massive and highly enthusiastic community—there are over 15 million members who have collectively downloaded nearly 3 billion files. The site also publishes mod spotlight features created by the staff, and even has a rewards system for modders that can earn them a bit of money for their hard work (paid by the site, not by the users). If you want to really get into modding your games, get familiar with Nexus Mods. It's an outstanding and reliable resource of the best mods ever made. 

Mod DB

Mod DB is a long-running modding community website, first established in 2002. Since then it's amassed thousands of mods and over a million downloads. There you'll find mods for games like the STALKER series, the original Doom, Half-Life, Total War, Command and Conquer, and lots more. It's an excellent resource to hunt for mods for older games that might not turn up at the Steam Workshop or Nexus Mods.

Mod DB provides a voice for modders, and there are many who post developer blogs and news about mods in progress. It's also the site of the Mod of the Year Awards, a contest that's been running for the past 17 years, where users can vote on their favorite mods.

Other mod sites

The three sites listed above should provide you with mods for just about every game you're looking for, but there are still other places to look for mods for specific games. CurseForge hosts mods and addons for MMOs like World of Warcraft. Minecraftforum.net is a great place to find Minecraft mods you might not see elsewhere. For Grand Theft Auto 5, you should look at GTA5mods.com, and GTAxScripting, and keep in mind there's quite a lot involved in getting GTA mods to work since the game doesn't technically support them.

Our favorite mods

If you're looking for a place to jump in, we cover mod news regularly here on PC Gamer, and we've got lots of articles to point you at our favorite mods for great games:

Modding tips

Modding tips

While we wish modding were always a simple affair, it can often be complicated and require a bit of work on your end. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

Back up your saved games
Using mods can have an effect on your saved games, and you may run into problems further down the line. Sometimes when a game is patched, the mod will also need a patch to be compatible with the new version of the game, and that might not happen immediately (or, in some cases, ever). That means you may start playing your game and find your modded save isn't working. Always be prepared for the fact that a modded game may stop functioning, you may lose your progress, or your save may no longer be compatible. Make a clean save of your game before you mod it, and keep it somewhere so you can restore it if you need to.

Be very careful modding online games
Modding a singleplayer game is a lot different than modding an online game. There are a lot of multiplayer games that support mods, like Team Fortress 2, Ark, Rust, and many others. Not all do, however. It's hard to predict how developers and publishers will react to mods for online games, so you are taking a risk of being banned for using mods in a multiplayer atmosphere. Be extremely careful the mod you're using isn't regarded as a cheat.

Notepad++ is useful for editing ini files
Sometimes you're required to do a little modding yourself to get a mod to work. This may require you to edit an ini or text file. Notepad++ is great for this, much better than the Notepad software in Windows.

Always read everything on the mod page
Before you download any mod, fully read what the mod author has written. Installation may require more than simply extracting a file and putting it in the right folder. Sometimes mods can conflict with one another, or need to be ordered a certain way for them to work, and these details are usually noted by the author. If there is user feedback or reviews, make sure to read them too: if you're having trouble getting the mod running, someone else may have provided a solution.

There's not a one-size-fits-all way to install and run different mods for different games. Carefully following a mod author's instructions and seeing what the community is saying about the mod is the best way to insure you'll be able to get it up and running.

Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.