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Friday, April 24, 2015

What bad implementation looks like

If Valve has done one thing very well with it's Steam platform games, it was finding ways to bring players into the creative process and ride the coat-tails of their ingenuity into wealth. For a few years now Team Fortress 2 and DotA 2 players have been able to create items for those games, submit them to the workshop, and potentially get approval from Valve. If they got approval they could even get money every time another player purchased that item. For a game company it's basically printing money; you earn goodwill with your fans by letting them contribute and giving them a cut, and you get art assets for your game without having to hire as many artists. Plus the community will tell you which ones they want.

So Valve apparently has decided that it's time to extend this line of thinking into other games by introducing the ability for workshop creators to charge for their mods in Skyrim. On its face the idea of letting modders charge for what they've made seems reasonable, but in this particular implementation it's causing problems.

New Ways to give Valve money!
First, Skyrim has been around for a LONG time now. Many of its mods are must-haves for players and allowing people to suddenly stick them behind a paywall might make players feel like their toys are being taken away. Note: As of this writing it does appear that only NEW mods can be charged; but unscrupulous players are re-uploading copies of older and popular mods as paid in an attempt to make some cash off of them.

Second, even with the DMCA-esque report system there will likely be plenty of instances of thieves stealing other player's mods and presenting them as their own. This makes it the creator's job to actively police the workshop to protect their IP, and then go through the process of getting the offending mod taken down. Plus there is the risk of malicious use of the tool to take down legitimate but competing mods.

Third, there is no guarantee that a purchased mod will be supported going forward. Plus, with many mods relying on interconnectedness with other mods there is a high chance that one could be broken by the patch of another. Nothing ensures that a broken mode will be fixed.

Fourth, many mods build or rely upon others; does the mod yours is borrowing assets from get a cut for every sale you make? As it stands, it doesn't appear likely which means the common body/hair mods might need to add a cost just to ensure they get a pair piece.

The idea of letting modders charge is certainly a valid one; these creators need some support too. It's just that this particular implementation so late into a game's life when it already has a thriving community seems tone deaf on Valve's part. Offering a more direct way to support mod creators, rather than a direct purchase wherein Valve & Bethesda take home 75%* of the cut might have been more in-line with the community as it is. That's not to say that going forward they couldn't try this approach with other games, just preferably not ones that have such a history.

* Yes it is Valve's platform and Bethesda's IP; creators are technically creating unlicensed derivative works by modding Skyrim. Doesn't mean they have to be as mercenary, bear in mind much larger subsections of the industry exist because of copyright STREAMING.


  1. I love the idea of paying for mods because I think it can and will lead to higher quality mods and more appreciated modders. I agree with you though that Valve's implementation has thus far been reckless, to say the least.

    I would prefer a way to donate directly to the mod's author. You could even make it "guilty" downloaders a bit by forcing them to adjust a slider before they can get the mod for free. I would even be okay if they could only donate Steam credit.

    I want modders to be rewarded for their work. Just because someone operates something as a hobby, that doesn't mean they should receive SOME compensation for their efforts, especially significant ones like modding. However, charge specific amounts seems like a recipe for fraud and other bad behavior. Valve will really have to step up to police this better if they want to see something similar for other Steam games.

    1. I like the idea of a donation function; though I think part of the reason Bethesda et al went for this was because they get a cut for their IP. The creators definitely deserve some kind of compensation if they want it.