15 years ago, in 2002, Warcraft 3 was released. Aside from being a great RTS game, it had lived for years past its release mostly due its World Editor - a fully-functional industrial-grade Map Editor that gave players all the tools the devs had during the development process. It has lead to creation of millions of custom maps, cinematics, campaigns, and first MobAs.

Very few companies have released their own Editors with their games since then. Even Blizzard didn't do it again with the new Starcraft release (the version which was eventually released wasn't nearly as powerful as the Warcraft's one). As we see from the history, something as seemingly trivial as this may tremendously prolong the game's lifetime. So why wouldn't developers release World Editors they used alongside with their games?

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    \$\begingroup\$ So they can release new maps as payed DLC? \$\endgroup\$ – vsz Nov 10 '17 at 7:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Think about this - if XYZ Games releases Combat Wombat 3 with a full editing toolset, then they're giving you less motive to buy Combat Wombat 4 in a few years time. \$\endgroup\$ – Maximus Minimus Nov 10 '17 at 9:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ And what money did Blizzard make from prolonging WC3s lifetme? They only had to keep up the original Battle.Net servers longer, but did not generate significant new revenue. \$\endgroup\$ – Polygnome Nov 10 '17 at 11:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ In case you were interested, the first moba was in Starcraft (AoS) not warcraft 3 \$\endgroup\$ – user106170 Nov 10 '17 at 20:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ Sad. Making elaborate maps, and later modding the AI scripts in Duke Nukem 3D (and maps in WarCraft II) was my entire teenagehood. Pretty sure it didn't only drive me into programming. Map editors can be a great introduction to video game development IMO. \$\endgroup\$ – Mathieu Guindon Nov 11 '17 at 0:16

Because it is expensive, and the return on that cost is usually zero.

Building tools to create games is hard and expensive already. It becomes harder and more expensive when those tools need to be brought up to the level of polish required to ship them to (potentially very non-technical) end-users. Once you ship those tools, you also have customer expectations that you will support them: provide documentation, create examples, fix bugs, add new features over time.

In the past, building games was somewhat simpler and building the tools similarly so. Customer expectations about how much support they should get around official mod tools and the like were lower. Games have become more complex, the related toolchains have increased in complexity in lockstep. It's become harder and harder to justify the business expense of what is essentially building and shipping an entire separate product at the same time a game. Especially since almost never bring in revenue on their own (and attempts to monetize them have been met with consumer backlash; recall the Skyrim paid mods fiasco).

Further, in many cases there isn't a single "map editor" but rather a complex pipeline of smaller bespoke tools. Or the "map editor" is an existing, commercial product that cannot be redistributed by the developer anyway.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I recall the developers of the original Grand Theft Auto commented that the fan-made city editor Junction 25 was more full-featured and friendlier to use than the tools they had for actually building the game. :) This matches my experience with in-house dev pipelines too. \$\endgroup\$ – DMGregory Nov 10 '17 at 1:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ to be honest, a modding community can survive just fine even with mediocre tools given, look at skyrim for example, the modding tool crashes every now and then and is one the most unintuitive pieces of software... \$\endgroup\$ – Brian H. Nov 10 '17 at 7:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ Mario Maker is nothing but a glorified map editor, and it was powerful enough to be sold as a stand alone game with very good success. I'm not sure if the argument "Expensive with zero return" is exactly true. \$\endgroup\$ – T. Sar Nov 10 '17 at 10:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ Certainly it makes more sense when a core part of the game itself hinges around user-generated content, as with Mario Maker and similar games, but that's not most games. \$\endgroup\$ – user1430 Nov 10 '17 at 15:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @T.Sar: Mario Maker is also a platform for creators to publish content and to distribute content to consumers. Do you really think it would have enjoyed even a tiny fraction of its success if the only feature it provided was a map editor? \$\endgroup\$ – user64554 Nov 10 '17 at 16:02

There could be a lot of factors but the ones that come to my mind first are ease of use and compatibility.

  1. An AAA office environment would most likely have company-provided computers, meaning there would be very little variety in the OS and hardware that the program would need to support. This would mean fewer bugs, and it would also mean that if released to the public they would need frequent bugfixes and patches to make it available to a large variety of systems.

  2. Second, (the most probable reason) is ease of use. The small team of people making the mapping engine aren't going to waste time making it look fancy. It takes time and money to do so. They know that the people using the software are "experts" and thus they will give them the minimum graphical interface needed to make the program work. However, if it was released to the public many people with no skill in mapping would want to pick it up, and a minimal or ugly interface is daunting to newbs and generally looked down upon compared to simple, easy to use map editors like Portal 2's test chamber builder.


What money can you make from such a map editor?

Prolonging the lifetime of a game is great for the customer, but for the studio? Blizzard had to keep the original Battle.Net servers online much longer, and with much greater capacity. That costs money. at the same time, sales of new copies of the game are almost non-existent.

Users expect patches for new OS versions, compatibility with new hardware etc. The more lifetime your game has and the more users, the higher the demand will be and the higher the backlash for not doing so.

So, you drastically increase maintenance costs without getting much in return.

Moreover, microtransactions and DLC are becoming increasingly popular. A map editor eats away at that lucrative market.

Finally, making a releasable map editor is a tremendous amount of work. Having a buggy, hard-to-use map editor for in-house production is something you might be able to live with. But releasing it to non-technical customers? That's a recipe for disaster. When making such an editor, you have the initial cost of polishing it enough to actually release it, and then have to maintain and support it. You are basically building two products at the same time.

You have to undertake quite some financial efforts to make that possible, for a questionable gain. It's a simple business decision, does having an editor and custom maps drives sales of your game really enough to justify the costs of providing the editor? In the modern gaming industry, the question is increasingly "no".

Furthermore, companies are reluctant to play the long game. take AoE 2 for example, as said in a comment by inappropriateCode:

Consider Age of Empires 2. The scenario editor created a community of mappers and modders, and part of them went on to create the unofficial expansion: The Forgotten Empires. That was successful, and the product owners decided given AoE2's lingering popularity, there was money in reviving it with Age of Empires 2 HD, and subsequent expansions. It's the most popular paid RTS on Steam by a mile, with over 4 million owners last I checked. Sure the developers at the time didn't benefit from that, but the product owner certainly did later. Producers/developers?

While this is true, its a risk. At release time, you cannot foresee the future. You can either have lower costs and thus more profits now, or gamble on some sales 10 years in the future that may or may not happen at all. Its a huge risk, and AoE2 is one of the extremely few examples where this did work out that way. Since companies are usually risk-averse, this is not a strategy that would deliberately be chosen.

While WC3 and AoE are good examples for games where it worked, Settlers V, which included a very powerful map editor with its own scripting language, receved very mixed critics and is generally considered a failure, despite being part of a very popular and strong series of games (granted, they probably peaked at Settlers II/III and then went downhill) and having such an editor.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Settlers V was a major disappointment, and it had a very powerful map Editor (including quite powerful scripting tools), and is part of a very strong series of games. The game received very mixed critics. \$\endgroup\$ – Polygnome Nov 13 '17 at 12:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ And that's a very good point! I'll concede. I was probably biased towards adding game editing tools into the final package 'cause they're something I personally love, but you make some valid points now that I can see without the rosy-tinted glasses. I threw in an upvote and removed my complaints! \$\endgroup\$ – T. Sar Nov 13 '17 at 12:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @T.Sar I love good map editor/content creation tools, too, and I think most (if not all) games actually do benefit from them. But sadly, thats not always the best economic choice :/ \$\endgroup\$ – Polygnome Nov 13 '17 at 16:57

To complement the already existing answers I want to add two points:

  1. Often newer games have more complex geometry, effects or design (I'm not speaking of level layout here, only the complexity of the objects/buildings placed in one level). In old games you could just create a new map my placing different already existing terrain or structures in a new way, in newer games you often need new assets to create new levels.

  2. This is a bit sad but I think developers don't gain much from having a long lasting community for one game if it is part of an annually releasing series like Call of Duty or Assassins Creed. Improving the long term playability of those games by giving the community the ability to create new content could reduce the sales of the newer releases. But keep in mind that this is only a thought of mine, I can't back this up with evidence or facts.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure point #2 is true. Consider Age of Empires 2. The scenario editor created a community of mappers and modders, and part of them went on to create the unofficial expansion: The Forgotten Empires. That was successful, and the product owners decided given AoE2's lingering popularity, there was money in reviving it with Age of Empires 2 HD, and subsequent expansions. It's the most popular paid RTS on Steam by a mile, with over 4 million owners last I checked. Sure the developers at the time didn't benefit from that, but the product owner certainly did later. Producers/developers? \$\endgroup\$ – inappropriateCode Nov 10 '17 at 11:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ok I think you are right with Age of Empires. Also I dont have any facts to back this up, this is only a feeling I have. I will edit my answer slightly. \$\endgroup\$ – Vincent Nov 10 '17 at 11:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ Consider Neverwinter. It's a full fledged, modern MMO with a built-in content editor for users to create their own quests and campaings and then share them online. It's one of the major appeals of the game. You can build quests, locations, add events, battles, etc. \$\endgroup\$ – T. Sar Nov 10 '17 at 16:32

Dota2 introduced modding tools and it's not doing so well. I have a top game in the dota 2 mod community so I'm well aware of the current situation. Truthfully it seems the cost of developing the modding API vs the reward is simply not there.

The tools not only have to be polished enough to get people to use them, but they have to be kept up to date with the constantly evolving base game. The games created by modders generally aren't entertaining enough to attract or keep players' attention. Games that have 12-24 months of dev time die in just under a month.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Dota2 is a competitive MOBA, however. Its genre is more focused on perfect plays and repetitions, which are things that don't match well with modding, multiple maps, etc. MOBAs are notoriously finicky and hard to balance already in the main mode. \$\endgroup\$ – T. Sar Nov 14 '17 at 9:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ otoh, the portal 2 level creator was very popular and drove more interest in the game... \$\endgroup\$ – Baldrickk Nov 14 '17 at 13:53

Starcraft 2 (which i assume you mean by "new" Starcraft as the original was well prior to warcraft 3) has had the Galaxy editor available since the early beta as of April 2010 even well before the full release in July. It is far more powerful including its own scripting language on top of the warcraft similar style GUI; granted a little too powerful to the extent it wasn't as accessible to newer mapmakers.

MOBA games like Dota 2 have the hammer level editor. Starwars Empire at war rts also has an editor although produced by a different company. Roller Coaster Typhoon is essential an editor as a game similar to Mario maker. You could even call a 'sandbox' game like Minecraft to be an in-game editor. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_level_editors is a list of over 250+ games and their matching editor's, many of which are build it.

Perhaps its as simple as people these days rarely have an interest to dive further into the programs directory past the initial 'launch game' app; and with that current trend why go further to release something that is less and less likely to be used by the public.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This does not answer the question \$\endgroup\$ – Stevoisiak Nov 10 '17 at 16:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ How its it not a possible answer? I'm simply offering another option that it may be the case of companies actually are including them but people aren't finding them. \$\endgroup\$ – Cynr_G Nov 10 '17 at 17:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Cynr_G the question is "why wouldn't games be published with map editors included?" your 'answer' is a correction to parts of the question, and examples of games that have editors.. There are specific guidelines laid out in the help page if you want to understand better. The only part that comes close to answering the actual question is the last sentence, but that is a suggested possibility, not a definitive answer. As such it belongs in the comment section. Expand on why a company would decide NOT to include an editor, and you'll have made an actual answer. \$\endgroup\$ – user106170 Nov 10 '17 at 20:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Perhaps [it's] as simple as people these days rarely look past the foreground files as they used to to find whats available." This looks like an answer to me, though to make this answer higher-quality it would be valuable to edit it and provide more support for this claim. \$\endgroup\$ – DMGregory Nov 11 '17 at 13:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DMGregory yeah, that's the only answer i saw too. But the wording is so confusing that i have no idea what it means. Is it saying that people don't look through the data of games to find editors, so gamemakers just stopped adding them. I highly doubt that's the reason, but maybe... \$\endgroup\$ – user106170 Nov 11 '17 at 18:23

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