Steam and the future of priced mods.

Posted by: Jason Silverain / Category: , ,

Just a heads up folks this is going to be a long post.

In the last week it has almost been impossible to avoid the debate around Valve and Bethesda's experimental attempt to create a paid module community in Skyrim though the progression of events surrounding this have come so fast that many would not expect it to have ended so soon.

For those of you who have been out of the loop on the 23rd of this month steam announced that starting with Skyrim they were intending to allow modders to list and sell their creations:

I personally had concerns from the get go as I've often relied on mods to fix issues in games the developers have ignored or to extend game play in areas it is lacking however I did see the benefit it could bring by rewarding modders for their hard work and perhaps bring life back to other modding communities in the future.

Though it seemed my concerns were warrant as very quickly the Skyrim community turned in on itself with several mod developers announcing they were transferring to paid mods no longer updating their free version with the biggest two been Wet And Cold famous in the community for its amazing weather effects and SkyUI which overhauls the Skyrim interface and a lot of modules use this as a base thus forcing users to pay for it even if they want to use free modules.

As you can imagine this went down badly with many of the community but one of the most well worded replies was posted by a user called zeralesaar

Being a part of the Workshop monetization effort makes you directly complicit in decaying the paradigm of mods that are shared freely by the community to enhance the game experience. By putting your mod behind a pricetag, you affirm the idea that individuals demanding money for a medium that has always been free and based on principles of community and free exchange is acceptable. Whatever your views on the subject, I feel that this is a major first step in corroding the quality of the modding community by first segregating it into paying and non-paying users and, second, sending a message to corporate interests that the "micropayments and DLC" model of gaming should stretch as far as things like minor retextures or mesh alterations for which companies themselves may charge, which would essentially put us back in the territory of Oblivion's Horse Armor DLC again, and likely result in the restriction of modding resources in future iterations of titles like those of The Elder Scrolls.

You, as a mod author, have a responsibility to the community to help shape the future of game modding constructively, and this decision to monetize a previously free work does not seem to do so. I hope that you make the right decision and both pull your mod from the Workshop paylist and encourage Bethesda/Valve and any other involved parties to discontinue this system.

This fear of mods becoming just another wave of DLC and reducing the communities willingness to teach and share seemed to be a common factor in a large number of replies:

I completely agree with you. I feel like its already to the point where 1/3rd of a game is withheld at release for DLC. Hell look at battlefield 4, it had a map pack the DAY it was released. for me, mods have always been about stretching a game to its limits and working with people within the community to break those limits and now, no one is going to want to work together or share assets because people will just try to make money off of it.  

While this maybe seen as a knee jerk reaction and indeed there were more than a few abusive community members who were acting like entitled spoilt children over the matter this was seen very definitely as a threat to the modding community as a whole by the mod developers that Valve and Bethesda claimed to be supporting. In response a section of the community formed the Forever Free a group dedicated to maintaining the spirit of collaboration within the community as show by their statement:

There is nothing wrong with an artist choosing to sell their work – only failing to communicate that fact, when the work of other artists relies upon them. This is not about drawing lines in the sand or putting up walls: only leveling the playing field, and keeping things transparent. Modding will always exist, but the modding community is a fragile ecosystem, and it lives or dies by the spirit of positive collaboration and open communication. Forever Free is simply this: a recognition that the decisions of any of us have an effect on all of us.

By certifying content Forever Free, and prominently displaying the FF badge at the top of their mod’s description, an author stakes his name on an indelible public promise that that content is here to stay, and will never disappear behind a paywall. Fellow modders may feel safe in the knowledge that that work is safe to build on, and players have a guarantee that they will never be asked to pay for future expansions, bug-fixes, or premium content.

This community is not just a collection of people with the same hobby: it’s a brotherhood united by a shared passion and a legacy of achievement. Instead of burning bridges, let’s start building new ones.
Now this was just the effect on the Skyrim and Nexus modding community and you may of noticed I haven't even gotten into the details of the Steam workshop or even the general massive backlash by the online pc gaming community but one of the major sticking points was the revenue produced by these paid mods to Steam and Bethesda.  
 Now when a mod creator placed a paid mod onto the Steam workshop they could set the price or choose to have a pay what you want system similar to humble bundle (this option was actually rather supported by the community even in the backlash as a method of donation to deserving modders.)
Regardless of the price set, the size of the mod and if it will remain supported the mod creator would only receive 25% with the remain 75% to be split between Valve and whichever publisher the original intellectual property belong to (in this case Bethesda taking a 45% cut), Valve also only pays out once you've earn £100 so you would have to make £400 in sales before your first pay check and very much weakened Valve and Bethesda's claims of implementing this to support modders.
While supporters claim that 25% is an industry standard many cannot help but feel that this model would be toxic to the community as it supports the method of flooding the market place with quick to make, low quality mods and re-textures in order to make money and seems like an unfair and unjust amount and a 40/60 split would seem fairer and more accepted by the community.

It is incredibly buyer unfriendly in addition as you have only 24 hours from purchase to request a refund, so what happens if the publisher updates his game and the mod breaks?
Well according to Steam Support they request you post a polite message on the workshop page and contact the author so your pretty much out of luck if they've decided they don't want to bother trying to fix it or the game has change so radically that its unfixable.

Even on the first day problems set in with several mods been stolen and put up as paid mods and Chesko’s Fishing mod for Skyrim which was used by Valve as the poster boy for the project was removed on the first day by Chesko.
This came about after Fore who's idle animation was used in Chesko mod stated that he had not given permission and that he didn't want it used for paid content:

Chesko who reply revealed he had been under a non-disclosure agreement during his mods development and given bad legal advice by Valve on the issue:

Chesko in an upstanding show of integrity issued full refunds and removed the mod from the store however this didn't stop some in the gaming community and several gaming blogs from pretty much harassing and accusing him of theft.
Chesko as a last shoutout to the community posted a full account of everything on reddit giving a insight into the whole process and his announcement that he will be leaving the modding community for a time to focus upon it as a hobby. While it is sad to see a talented modder leave the community due to the actions of Valve and juvenile idiots who spammed his contact details with death threats thankfully some of the negativity that had been aimed towards him due to participating was alleviated and was turned back towards Valve and Bethesda.  

Chesko, you've handled things pretty calmly and actually have been really open with that. If anything, I respect you a lot more than any of the other modders who participated for that. If you want to open up your own site, I would be glad to support you there. 
I'm really annoyed with Valve, both for doing what they just did to you and for being so greedy as to take a 30% cut and leaving you with 25%. They basically threw the modders at the incoming fire and said "You deal with it". F**k Valve. I hope this makes everyone realise they are not the great company everyone pretends they are.

The message is: "We noticed great talent but we can't be arsed to offer them a job. We still want to profit off of their work, though. Let's pretend we're doing them a favor." 

Honestly, while the modders may be defendable, there is no way you can even try and defend any companies involved.

Yep. If this works out for Valve and Bethesda, modding will get you noticed but NOT hired. They will profit off of you in a way where you get all the responsibility, catch all the flack, do all the work, but have no contract and make a few pennies and no more. And you lose control over your work and how it's represented. Wanted a nice portfolio? Well if 'EA SlaveMarketPlace' decided to get a shitty format and difficult to browse website, AND keeps you from offering your downloads elsewhere... guess what shows up in Google first, over your personal website with images of your creations.
All across the gaming industry. Why offer people jobs if they do excellent work for free without you even offering them a penny? This could set a really shitty precedent, and being a game dev at some companies you're already expendable and exploitable enough as it is. This shows companies have zero problem making this even worse. 
They knew what they were doing and they didn't care what it would cause. It's simply pure greed. Less work, more money. Less work, more money. Less work, more money. Time and time again.

With a EA level PR disaster on its hands and a petition to remove the paid workshop working its way into the thousands Valve activated damage limitation and has pulled the paid workshop from steam though from their official announcement it sounds like they may try to bring this back again in the future for newer titles rather than existing ones. 
 Likewise Bethesda has tried to reduce ill will and have released their own statement and are actually replying to a number of well written replies.

 Even though Steam has pulled the paid workshop at this time its still very much in the public eye and can be kept track of here.

Also if your curious about a slightly more in-depth view into the problems and how they could be possibly fixed in the future over at Forbes has a pair of good articles on the matter:
Valve's Paid 'Skyrim' Mods Are A Legal, Ethical And Creative Disaster
Is There A Way To Make Valve's Paid 'Skyrim' Mod Store Work For Everyone?


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