Skip to story Modders were a little upset at Valve and Bethesda's decision to introduce a payment system for Skyrim mods. Some responded with satirical mods of their own. Nexus Mods
Last week, Valve announced that creators of game mods would be able to sell their creations on its Steam service. It didn’t expect the huge backlash, from players and modders alike. On Monday, it pulled down the feature entirely.
“The Steam Workshop has always been a great place for sharing mods, maps, and all kinds of items that you’ve created,” the original announcement read. “Now it’s also a great place for selling those creations.”
Fast forward to this week: “We understand our own game’s communities pretty well, but stepping into an established, years old modding community in Skyrim was probably not the right place to start iterating,” Valve wrote. “We think this made us miss the mark pretty badly, even though we believe there’s a useful feature somewhere here.”
“Even though we had the best intentions, the feedback has been clear—this is not a feature you want,” wrote Bethesda on its blog.
The Price of Change
Since its 2011 release, Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has developed an incredibly robust moddding community. User-generated modifications have taken Bethesda’s original design all kinds of different, unexpected places, from overhauling its graphical capabilities to rebuilding the entire worlds of the previous Elder Scrolls games within the Skyrim engine.
User-created mods can be more painstakingly elaborate, and more worthwhile, than even the downloadable content that publishers like Bethesda create to modify their own games. If those modders could sell their work, Bethesda says it believes it would spur them to create more and better mods, which would result in a win for the publisher, Valve, the modder and the players.
But what happened instead was that threads on Reddit, NeoGAF, and the Steam Workshop forums filled up instantly with angry users, calling the move “anti-consumerist” and “unbelievably sad.”
A petition calling for Valve to remove the pay-for-mods system quickly garnered more than 130,000 signatures. Valve boss Gabe Newell even took to Reddit to address the controversy directly and “to make sure that if people are pissed off, they are at least pissed off for the right reasons.”
Those reasons are manifold. Many think that the profit-sharing model is unfair to modders. In the case of Skyrim, 75 percent of the profit from a mod’s sale was split between Valve and Bethesda, with only 25 percent making its way to the mod creator’s pocket.
Some contrasted this unfavorably to Apple’s App Store, in which content creators receive a 70 percent share. But Valve’s cut, just like on iOS, was indeed only 30 percent. The game’s publisher determines how much it wants to skim off the top. In this case, Bethesda’s 45 percent seemed excessive to players and modders.
But for some purists, the issue wasn’t about percentages—it was about money entering the equation at all.
“This is ridiculous. They expect me to shell out money for mods that were previously free, for a 4 year old game? Fuck that,” said one commenter.
“My hobby is being ruined right before my eyes. So many wasted years,” said another. Modding is traditionally a community-driven hobby in which passionate gamers to build additional content as a labor of love, some argue, and locking mods behind a paywall goes against that spirit.The Skyrim mod “Give Me Money For No Reason” adds a “well-dressed” beggar outside your city. Nexus Mods
It didn’t take long for modders to start putting their complaints into—you guessed it—mods. One Skyrim mod uploaded over the weekend adds “Gaben Trolls” with the visage of Newell into the game, with dollar signs over his eyeballs.
Another more subtle satire is “Beth the Beggar,” a character that will sit around your game and ask for money “for no reason.”
“She actually seems to be pretty well-off already, based on her expensive clothes and jewelry,” reads the mod’s description, “but rain or shine you can find her out there begging for more money with a smile on her face.”
The Power of Mods
Mods can do things that traditional developers often are not able to. Mods aren’t subject to quality assurance standards from publishers or console makers. QA isn’t a bad thing, but it can hamstring the development of fixes if said fixes only work for most users, not all. This is how some gifted modders can push out bug fixes for games like Deadly Premonition in less than 24 hours after the game is released.
On the other hand, traditionally, paid downloadable content from a publisher has traditionally meant a higher standard of quality. One of the caveats of playing with mods is you know that you might break your game by doing so. When it’s free (and unauthorized), who cares? But when money enters in to the equation, players have higher standards.
When the first paid mod popped up on Steam last year, a $7 Portal 2 mod called Aperture Tag, it was flooded with negative reviews. Many objected to the fundamental idea of paying for a mod, but the biggest complaint was that it was not worth the money. People said they would have been perfectly happy had the mod been free, but that it wasn’t worth shelling out cash for.
In the mod community, many mods use and rely on the framework, scripts, and assets of other mods. SkyUI, for example, overhauls the clunky standard Skyrim user interface, but it also provides a framework that many other mods are built upon. Under the new system, SkyUI became a paid mod, which means future free mods that would normally rely on its framework would have required you to pay for SkyUI before you could use them.
In response to these possible implications, some modders formed a “Forever Free” movement, “a 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.”
On Monday, Bethesda posted a passionate defense of the program on its blog.
“We believe most mods should be free,” the Skyrim maker wrote. “But we also believe our community wants to reward the very best creators, and that they deserve to be rewarded. We believe the best should be paid for their work and treated like the game developers they are.”
Bethesda noted that only eight percent of Skyrim players have ever used a mod, and it wants that percentage to increase. “[Valve] presented data showing the effect paid user content has had on their games, their players, and their modders. All of it hugely positive. They showed, quite clearly, that allowing content creators to make money increased the quality and choice that players had.”
Even amidst all of the backlash, some modders did out in favor of—or at least not completely damning the idea of—paid mods.
“I’m all for it,” wrote Garry Newman, creator of the popular physics sandbox Garry’s Mod, which originated as a mod. In a blog post, he wrote, “I sold a mod once and everyone was angry that it was happening, until it happened and they got a much better product than they’d have gotten when it was released for free, then they seemed to calm down a bit.”