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Why Xbox 360 needs Skyrim mods... but will never get them

Bethesda's on the case, but don't expect miracles

News flash: you absolutely, flat-out need the capacity to play Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim mods on Xbox 360, need it like you need matching socks, a brace of Make It Better potions and a double-headed axe for close encounters. No really. That disc you'll pop in the tray in November is a husk of a game, woefully incomplete, like a pizza with no toppings.

Proving this point is absurdly easy. It consists of linking PC Gamer's feature on the best Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion mods, indicating an entry at random and airily remarking: "Now wouldn't you like to ride a magic carpet, conjure Balrogs out of the ground and transform your enemies to gold?"

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From mods that swat bugs the developers haven't got round to swatting, to mods that scrap dynamic enemy levelling systems in favour of a location-based challenge factor, the ability to tweak, add to or wholesale replace code using Bethesda's own tools defines the Elder Scrolls experience on PC.

It's the ultimate expression of the "can-do, will-do" attitude that drives the series, the noblest thing you can imagine if your idea of a good time is standing atop every building, sleeping in every bed and picking every goddamn medicinal herb you come across. When Skyrim's game director Todd Howard advises open-world designers to let players "run wild" and "go crazy", this, in the final analysis, is what he's getting at.

"It's a science fact that mod tools make the world a better place," notes the august and exacting Bethblog. "They make modders happy because they can mod, they make developers happy to see modders gaining experience, and they make fans happy to see an endless stream of content they can mess around with."

Convinced? Now for the rather more troublesome second part of this article: why you'll absolutely, flat-out never get your hands on the same.

It's not that Bethesda isn't willing: the publisher knows full well that console gamers now make up the bulk of its audience, and Howard would "love" to make Skyrim mods - and even the mod tools themselves - available to them somehow. "We'd really like to find some way to solve that," he commented in a Gameinformer interview. "Because it's a great part of the game that our audience isn't seeing."

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It's not a question of processing power or memory, either. Modern PCs have a lot more muscle than their ageing living room counterparts, but those mods that don't require CPU-crippling custom assets function perfectly well on less powerful platforms. "If you have a devkit console you can take the PC mod files, put them on your Xbox and they work," Howard recently revealed. "They actually worked in Oblivion, Morrowind and Fallout 3. For all of those games, I can take the PC mods and put them on my Xbox."

The problem, rather, is logistical. Console networks are closed systems, permitting the transfer of user data only in certain, rigidly defined circumstances. "As far as the 360 and PS3, right now there's not an avenue for us to make that available," Howard explained sorrowfully to Edge in April. "But we'd very much like to find a way. We have talked to Microsoft and Sony, and so there's a chance it might happen one day, [but] I don't see it happening for release."

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