The Rise and Fall of Paid For Mods

Apr 30, 2015

A number of communities on the internet seemed to explode with anger and rage over the weekend as Bethesda and Valve rolled out their previously unannounced paid for workshop mod system - a system that would allow modders to upload their content to be monetized.

The cuts, to a vocal few outside the industry seemed unfair, with 25% of the money made from content going to the modders and the rest split between Bethesda and Valve though this is apparently a industry standard amount to receive in this sort of deal.

Within the first day, problems that had been quite vocally screeched about in many corners of the internet came to fruition with popular modder Chesko having his mod removed from the store after using content created by another modder without permission in his monetized mod.

Part of Chesko’s exit from the modding scene revealed some key details about the lead up to the system with Chesko discussing the the deal, giving select modders a month and a half to prepare content for launch. If you’re interested in learning more about that internal discussion I really recommend you read his full post here.

Chesko’s actions also revealed the authoritarian side of using Valve’s system by that fact that the modder was contacted by one of Valve’s lawyers who stated that they will not remove the content unless “legally compelled to do so,” and that they would make the file visible only to currently paid users.

With one major modder already exiting from the system, the criticism of Valve, Bethesda and modders seemed to only get more vitriol and heated with Gabe Newell himself posting an AMA on Reddit to open a dialogue between one of the communities and Valve with some comments defending the new system.

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He wanted people to know that Valve isn’t creating this system to make a quick buck:

“Let’s assume for a second that we are stupidly greedy,” he wrote. “So far, the paid mods have generated $10,000 total. That’s like 1 percent of the cost of the incremental email the program has generated for Valve employees. Yes, I mean pissing off the Internet costs you a million bucks in just a couple of days. That’s not stupidly greedy. That’s stupidly stupid.”

People may be pleased to hear that this massive volume of email, in addition to the community backlash, has resulted in the option to charge for mods being completely taken away with the long weekend of complaints, modders abandoning the community, and in some cases being sent death threats, attacks and hateful comments.

Somewhat a ruin of its former self, I can’t help but feel a little ashamed of a community that sparked my interest in games development, with modding being my first step into game design using games like The Elder Scrolls Oblivion, Fallout 3 and later Skyrim to produce some of my own personal content.

For those unaware, Valve has already managed to succeed in bringing money to user created content, with games like Dota 2 and Counter Strike: Global Offensive having well established cosmetic markets that are curated by the community through a market voting system and the option of also purchasing a pass for unlimited access to some of the best community maps. This content has been successful in raising an incredible prize pool at last years Dota 2 Championship, but for a lot of people, including myself, there is a difference between establishing a game at the beginning with these revenue streams and brute forcing your way into a games community.

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I think if anything comes out of this, it’s hopefully an understanding that content creators - including modders - do deserve to be paid, but that maybe choosing an older title with a very established community around sharing your work and contributing for the love of a game is not the best choice to jump in.

Modding Bethesda’s games is a major draw to the titles on PC, and the communities around the creation of this content have created expansion sized mods such as Moon Path to Elsweyr that put the ‘AAA’ content in the base game to shame. There is an argument to be made that without the freedom to share tools, techniques, and in some cases assets, are what allow the modding community to produce these solid gems.

Would paid modding put this sort of sharing to shame? Considering the lack of oversight in the first attempt I have to say I am skeptical that people will be able to prevent others from stealing their work, and that creates an issue of keeping things close to the chest and stifling creativity. You can see where this sort of issue can be created in un-curated markets such as the Android App Store.

What do you think of paid for modding? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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