Gaming PC

The Pros and Cons of Steam Workshop, Nexus Mods, ModDB

Nexus Mods, ModDB, and Steam Workshop are three of the most popular platforms for PC game modifications, or mods for short. They often spawn debates about which is the best, so we thought we’d chime in and list some of the pros and cons of each, since the differences between these platforms are very significant.

Download Speeds

Steam Workshop download speeds are uncapped, so it will download at whatever your internet speed is capable of downloading. However, Steam Workshop might have a file size limit; it varies per game.

Nexus Mods only has uncapped downloads for those with a paid premium subscription, and who wants that? Free Nexus is limited to merely 2 MB/s download speed. These days almost everyone is capable of downloading at speeds significantly faster than this. ModDB’s download servers have some sort of cap that is not explicitly told to the user, but for me it maxes out at 30-35 MB/s, which is about 10 MB below what my actual download speed is.

But believe it or not, this is not the single deciding factor to which platform is best.

Winner: Steam Workshop

Loser: Nexus Mods (without paid subscription)

Automation

 

Steam Workshop is all very automated. Select subscribe and the mod automatically installs. Select unsubscribe and it automatically uninstalls. Workshop mods are updated automatically on their own through Steam.

Automation is a bit more limited with Nexus Mods, but still present. Another tool is needed to automatically install and remove mods; there are several options out there, but Mod Organizer 2 is generally agreed upon as being the best. The tool needs to support the game in question, and for supported games you can have the tool install/uninstall mods for you, and update mods as well. It also does not need to be used with Nexus Mods, but doing so is convenient since there’s an integration for it. Mod Organizer 2 also automatically detects conflicting files while Steam Workshop and ModDB don’t do this, but more on this later.

ModDB on the other hand is a completely manual process, which some people will actually prefer especially for any game where you want a version freeze on some mods (although Nexus is good for this too).

Winner: Steam Workshop

Loser: ModDB

Platform Exclusivity

Here we have one of the most obvious differences: Steam Workshop only works for Steam games, since it is a built in Steam feature while Nexus Mods and ModDB are just websites. You cannot download a mod from Steam Workshop without owning the Steam version of the game that the mod is for. This significantly reduces the platform’s usefulness, especially when there are so many reasons to prefer other platforms like GOG or itch.io.

Winner: Nexus Mods and ModDB

Loser: Steam Workshop

Transparency

Since Nexus Mods and ModDB are both just websites, it’s very easy to see what exact files are being downloaded. You have no such transparency with Steam Workshop. You cannot know what exact game files are being downloaded and not every game stores Steam Workshop mods the same way. This is particularly inconvenient for anyone who wants to alter mods they download, or anyone who wants to know about specific compatibility issues by knowing what exact files are changed.

Winner: Nexus Mods and ModDB

Loser: Steam Workshop

Organization and Search Function

You would think a search function is an easy thing to get right in 2021, but there are considerable qualitative differences between the search function and how results are displayed between these three platforms. Steam Workshop generally requires more tinkering with the filters to find what you’re looking for, even with more popular mods. ModDB is the least organized with regard to mod categories however, so if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for when browsing ModDB, expect to spend more time searching and browsing. It also isn’t very effective at partial matches.

Nexus Mods is very organized with its robust use of categories not unlike Steam Workshop, but the search function seems more accurate.

Winner: Nexus Mods

Loser: ModDB

Version Tracking

Here we have a clear victory for Nexus Mods. The ability to categorize files as being main, old, optional, and dedicated fields for versioning leads to superior version tracking and management. For Steam Workshop and ModDB, this is entirely up to the mod creators/publishers.

A Steam Workshop page can only have a single file due to its subscribe/unsubscribe functionality, so its simplicity limits its functionality here. ModDB lets you list multiple files and addons for a single mod, but doesn’t have nearly as much dedicated versioning as Nexus.

Winner: Nexus Mods

Loser: Steam Workshop

Conflict Detection and Resolution

ModDB is just a website, so it has no way to automatically detect and resolve conflicts. But since ModDB is entirely manual, you can at least attempt to resolve such issues on your own.

Steam Workshop, despite its automation, also has no such mechanisms. This combined with the lack of transparency which disallows you from seeing what exact files are being downloaded makes conflict resolution even more inconvenient. But you can at least easily unsubscribe from a mod to try and narrow down the compatibility issue (most games also let you enable/disable Workshop subscribed mods which is even easier). But if you want specifics on conflicting files, you are pretty much helpless due to Workshop’s lack of transparency.

Nexus Mods combined with a tool designed around its use, such as the aforementioned Mod Organizer 2, is useful for resolving mod/file conflicts and guiding you through the process while being very verbose. Mod Organizer 2 detects conflicts right away. So if you’re using many mods for a game that may conflict, Nexus Mods and Mod Organizer 2 would be most helpful as long as the game is supported.

Winner: Nexus Mods + Mod Organizer 2

Loser: Steam Workshop

Keeping the Original Game Intact

Due to the simplicity of Steam Workshop’s automation, it functions well in this category. If a mod breaks a game, you can just unsubscribe from that mod and your game will be just fine again.

Nexus Mods + Mod Organizer 2 is excellent in this category too. Mod Organizer 2 installs mods in a completely separate directory, so you can run the unmodded game alongside modded game profiles (you cannot do this with Workshop), and you can’t technically break your game with mods when using Mod Organizer 2 because of this.

ModDB is just a website, so it cannot do any of this on its own.

Winner: Nexus Mods + Mod Organizer 2

Loser: ModDB

Malware Protection

While ModDB does support file integrity, it either doesn’t scan files for malware or doesn’t do a good job because malware on ModDB is not unheard of, and malware can remain on ModDB for a long time even with users reporting it. Nexus Mods and Steam Workshop both scan uploads for malware, so the chances of coming across malware on both of these platforms are very low, much lower than with ModDB.

Winner: Nexus Mods and Steam Workshop

Loser: ModDB

Verdict

As you can see, there is no clear winner. As usual, the herd of mindless drones imploring that all games should only use Steam and Steam Workshop are wrong. Never sell your soul to a corporation, it does no good for you. Steam Workshop only works for Steam games, and is a good choice if you don’t use many mods for a game and don’t plan to ever tinker with mods as its lack of transparency makes this unfeasible.

The Nexus Mods + Mod Organizer 2 combination is generally my favorite, but it is hampered by the slowest download speeds for free users and I refuse to pay. The features of Mod Organizer 2 like conflict detection and resolution, keeping the game completely intact, automatic or guided installs/uninstalls, load order management, portable installs, and the fact that it’s open source, all of this strongly benefits the end user. For mod uploaders, the very detailed mod pages of Nexus Mods and its top notch version management are most appealing, as is the fact that you’re not limiting users to a single platform. So this is the most versatile and detailed solution for both players and mod uploaders.

You have to be more careful with ModDB due to a lack of (or inadequate) malware scanning of files, but for many games/mods it is the only choice. It being a simple, manual website gives it more flexibility than Steam Workshop at the cost of automation. It is also the least organized mod hosting platform of the three.

Of course, these aren’t the only mod platforms out there, but they are the biggest. A more recent one is mod.io, which is useful for hosting server side mods for a multiplayer game since you can point a server to a mod’s UUID resulting in that mod automatically being downloaded by the server and downloaded for any player joining the server. Far more convenient than server side modding in the past. Not many games use mod.io at the moment however, and those that do tend to use it exclusively.


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