Developing successful mods
Ideas and Drafting
If you're planning to make a mod, then don't dive straight for your modding tool; especially if you're planning a mod of a larger scale. Get some thoughts and ideas down, and plan your mod! Write down things like names, places, quests, and sketches of maps or new model content. If you don't plan your mod, then things can lead astray and end up being of a poor quality.
One of the most important things you should ask yourself before you even consider starting to make a mod, is "How will my mod benefit the game?", but more importantly "Why should someone play my mod?". If you can't answer that truthfully, then people generally won't be interested in your mod, and you'll waste a lot of your time. Good mods usually include different content to what has been produced before it; but think why. If there's a niche that hasn't yet been filled, be suspicious of the reasons why someone wouldn't make a mod that you're planning on making, and would you play it yourself? Make sure that you're confident in this, or your new idea will most likely not be well received.
Sometimes different isn't always better, all it takes is a mod that beats all other mods, or that changes the way you see a particular style of mod. If you're aiming your mod at a certain group of people, such as a "Gothic clothing" mod, then make sure that it fits the style. Look at other mods that are similar, and take careful note to the download ratings. If you see something that is popular, or a specific theme, then try to enhance it in your mod. Be original, and remember that you're aiming to raise the standard!
Make sure you put detail in everything you plan, or it could end up looking ugly. You should want your mod to be aesthetic and practical in one bundle, but focus more on the latter: People won't play a mod if it's detailed, but has no content, but some people will play a highly undetailed mod with barrels of practical content. If you're making a mesh, or texturing landscape; be aware of colours that would suit the need by implementing a colour scheme (Wikipedia: Colour Scheme, Wikipedia: Colour Theory, or Valve: Colour Theory), and try to match the colours with the mood of the piece. Such detail can make a mod look visually stunning, and enhance a mod endlessly.
Now you have most of your ideas briefly finalized, it's time to implement them! It's important that you don't lose faith in your mod now; you've got an idea that should shake up the way people see and play the game, and you can't let it go (Read more in 4: Motivation). At this point, it's important to stick religiously to your plan, and it'll soon be time to draft additional bonus content, and to spice up weaker areas of your plan.
Don't compromise any aspect of your mod and tell yourself that you'll overcome that hurdle later; or you'll have so many problems to finish towards the end of your mod, which is the point at which most people seem to send their mod to an early grave. Overcome problems as you face them! You should be able to overcome any problem if you set your mind to it.
Here's a short list of utilities you might want to learn to use, even to a basic level. You'll find tutorials on how to use these tools both here on the wiki and on YouTube.
Modding program - It is very important that you familiarize yourself with the tool you're using. Whether it be the Creation Kit, G.E.C.K, Construction Set, or any other modding tool, you'll have a much easier time making your mod if you know the ins and outs of the tool. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the tool will help you understand what you can and can not do with your mod.
3D program - These are one of the basic things you should learn to use, even if just to a premature standard. Using them you can create your own models to import into the game, which for many modders proves their mods to be above the usual standard of mods around. You can use basically any 3D modeling program for this; Blender, 3DS Max, Maya, etc. First time users should probably try Blender first, as it is completely free. Which one to use comes down to preference.
2D program - You'll probably want to learn how to make your own textures to suit your own models at some point, and these programs will let you! Adobe Photoshop, GIMP, and Paint.Net are the most popular, with the two latter being free. Learning to use these won't just benefit you in modding, but probably for more daily tasks as well.
NifSkope - Modding a Bethesda game? Then you'll need to learn NifSkope. NifSkope acts as the conduit to allow new material into the modding tool, from lighting to particle effects. It can seem pretty complex to use at first, but learning can be fun - especially with particle effects. Certainly a tool you'll want to learn to use fairly well.
Unpacker programs - Software that can unpack whatever archive format the game uses, like Bethesda's BSA and BA2 formats. BSAUnpacker and Archive2 are useful tools for opening and extracting files from these archives. For any other format, a simple google search should help you find the tool you need.
Audio editing program - With these you can make your own music, edit and alter other sounds to fit your purpose, and basically play with all the audio that comes with the base game. Even though they're not so great for making your own music, it's fine for altering existing ones. There's some really neat universal functions, so they can be fun to tinker in! The most popular and highly recommended software to use for this purpose is Audacity.
If you're planning a large mod, it's generally not a good idea to try to involve a team from the start. You'll find yourself spending more time managing your team than planning your mod. Once you're ready to assemble a team, make sure you publish who's areas are who's, what each member of the team should be working on, and to keep track of progress. The last thing you want is for work to slow down because one member isn't devoted; try to ensure all goals are met. Make sure they're aware of the time that the mod will take, and the complexity of it before inviting them.
The biggest thing to remember for team projects is to stay in contact. Keep in contact all the time; use messaging services like Slack or Discord to maintain this contact. This will help the team stay motivated and coherent.
Try not to get a huge number of people involved. You see an endless list of people on games such as Super Mario Galaxy, Half Life, and Skyrim, but don't forget that they had to make the engines, all existing content and large scale plans, and most importantly; they were paid. Don't give in to the temptation of inviting as many as possible to make things to quicker. Smaller groups tend to deliver higher quality.
Don't lose sight! Your mod can, and hopefully will, make the game better. Stay organized, keep an eye on the result and take regular breaks; or you'll feel that you've been working so hard on the mod, and spending so much of your time on it, that it won't ever get finished. When you're done planning, try to maintain a thread on the forums for feedback and criticism. The feedback from these forums can boost your morale, and also raise attention for your mod.
Try to join a group to talk with about modding to keep your eyes on your goals.This not only makes modding easier, but a lot more casual and fun.
Get excited about your mod! It is going to be a success, and you are going to complete it!
Now you should be drawing a close to your mod. Try not to carry on adding more content, or it'll never get released! Try to get the perfectly functioning and detailed core version of your mod out. Anything else you wish to add can come in an update or expansion. Things should be drawing a close, and playtests should be becoming a lot more frequent. Iron out any bugs you find, replace anything of inferior quality and generally polish your mod. You want it to be perfect for the big day! Any beta tests should now be closed, but feedback should still be taken into account. Beta tests are an amazing way to gain feedback from the people you should be releasing it to, whilst raising the public awareness of your mod.
Aim to secure a team of play testers, as play testing your own mod can be boring, as you know what will happen and when. make sure they explore every nook and cranny that seams reasonable, and just hope they find any major (and plenty of minor) bugs in the mod. You cannot ignore playtesting, even if you are to be the one doing it, or you can release a mod that will damage the game, thus giving your mod a bad image.
Try not to add any new content if available. The closer you draw to the release date, the more of the mod you should essentially "lock" from any changes. Changes can bring bugs, or bring out non-existent errors from scripts and other new content.
Now you will want to clean the mod. This is mostly for Bethesda games, but could be viable for others as well. For Bethesda games, you can easily clean your mod using xEdit (TES4Edit, TES5Edit, FO3Edit, FO4Edit, etc.). Tutorials on how to clean your mod can be found in the description/readme of xEdit, on this wiki, and on YouTube. This will increase compatibility with others mods and reduce that chances of your mod causing issues for players.
So now it's ready: Kudos to you! You've taken on a big mod and won; something even the best of modders can falter against. Upload your mod, and create a nice looking description for it, along with good screenshots that clearly shows your mod in action.
Now to get people to download your mod. Aside from having a quality mod with a good name and description, the best way to gain publicity is to get YouTubes to play through your mod. This will garner a lot of attention for your mod.
Release a calender of events including the release date, beta tests, and later down the line, updates. Make sure you update this calender regularly.
Answer feedback and questions directly, and open an FAQ. Giving response to such questions shows your mod is still alive and being produced; and thus keeps the interest of the eager viewer. Just be polite and hospitable.
Now the mod is out, and the bulk of the job is done. Now it's time to take in the response from your users and take note of feedback and criticism. Using this, you can now start working on updates for your mod. Whether it be simple bug fixes or larger content updates, you will always gain more users from keeping your mod updated.
Well done on the release, and good luck on the upcoming projects!