Garry’s Mod Dev Shares Secrets to His Success

Garry’s Mod has become a legend in the modding community. Created by Garry Newman in 2004, the sandbox physics game that began life as a Half-Life 2 mod has been available on Steam since 2006 and has since made more than $22 million in sales. Not bad at all for a program used to put silly faces on the G-Man.

But just how did this Cinderella story begin? How can aspiring modders hope to repeat GMod’s success? Two weeks ago, Newman participated in an Ask Me Anything on Reddit and provided insight into these topics and more.

The most pressing issue is the elephant in the room. If there’s one criticism that can be leveled against Garry’s eponymous mod, it may just be the uninspired name. When questioned about this, Newman replied, “I know. [The name] is terrible. It happened by accident, really — because I didn’t expect it to become a big thing.” He added, “I guess it has the advantage of lowering everyone’s expectations.” If Newman could give his mod a different title today, he would likely call it “Sandbox.”

“I am terrible at naming things,” Newman wrote. “I was experimenting with code — so I made a new mod and called it ‘garrysmod.’ When I released it on the Something Awful forums, it was just called garrysmod.zip. There wasn’t any more thought put in to it than that.”

Believe it or not, the first version of the mammoth mod took only one hour to create back in December 2004 Newman. While initially free, Garry’s Mod is now available for purchase on Steam for $10.

Newman said he never expected anyone would be willing to pay for his creation. “I was talking to Valve and they asked me if I wanted to sell it on Steam,” he said. “I laughed and said ‘No, who would buy it!?’ Then, a couple of months later, they said something like, ‘You should really think about selling it.’ So I said f–k it; why not? It was an excuse to re-code it from scratch — that swung it for me.”

But Newman didn’t realize his mod would become so popular, he said. “I was only making it to play around with the engine,” he said. “So it started out just being made for myself. Then a few guys on SA’s forums saw it, so I started tailoring it to them, too. Then it snowballed.”

Beyond that, Newman had no idea his little creation would turn into what it is today. “I didn’t have a direction for it. It was just something I did because I was bored and taking a break from another game I was working on.”

Even the creation of Garry’s Mod was a humble process, rather than a grand idea, Newman said. In messing around with Half-Life 2′s Source engine, he would add elements as he needed them, evolving the mod organically. He’d need something like a tool to make ropes, or a tool to weld objects together, and make them as they came up.

Some $22 million in sales later, the simple beginnings of the mod seem all the more surreal. And of course, the success of Garry’s Mod has been a life-changing experience for Newman.

“It got me out of my mom and dad’s house,” he said. “It bought me a house. It bought me a car. I got listed as ‘famous residents’ on my town’s Wikipedia page. And it gave me a career!”

But being the author of a famous mod isn’t all glory — it comes with a healthy dose of negative feedback.

“It [negative feedback] can be a bit soul-destroying,” Newman wrote. “When you release a patch, you only ever get negative feedback. You can go onto servers and see people happily playing with new things you add — but any emails or tweets you get are negative. But I guess that’s the same with anything. You only ever hear about planes that crash on the news, they don’t tell you that 500,000 planes landed safely at the end of every news bulletin.”

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