For-Pay Mods: The Good And Bad

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Valve and Bethesda’s announcement that they’re letting people charge for mods on Steam has certainly gotten strong reactions. I think a lot of those reactions however miss some of the details of both this change and the environment that already exists on Steam. There’s definitely a lot of potential good and bad that could come from this.

First, a lot of people seem to be outraged that “Valve is now charging for mods,” or something like that. That kind of reaction probably comes from people being so angered by the very concept that they started typing before they even fully read the main details. Valve and Bethesda are simply giving modders the choice to charge for their work within Steam. Some will charge, many will probably continue to offer mods for free.

The most controversial part is probably the revenue split: 25% for the modders, 50% to the game publisher (Bethesda right now), and 25% to Valve. The thing is, that’s exactly how for-pay mod content has worked on Steam for years. Yes, existing for-pay mods.

I’m talking about the community-made microtransactions that basically keep Team Fortress 2 and DOTA 2 running. I think Valve is basically taking the same concept and finally letting third party publishers in on it. For years Gabe Newell has championed how much the community has stepped up to generate content for those games, making a lot of money for themselves and Valve. Valve really believes in that economy and wants to expand it. Skyrim is probably the perfect non-Valve game to start with based on how much the mod community has expanded it. I will say though that the revenue split is worth discussing.

TF2 and DOTA 2 are free-to-play games though, so microtransactions are expected, even fan-made ones. It’s been established that people hate full-priced games that also have microtransactions, but that’s also not what all mods are from a content standpoint.

What is easy to justify charging for are the massive expansions and total conversions that fans sometimes make. Many of these contain at least the same amount of original content as DLC or expansion packs, if not full games. They’re basically community-made DLC, and  beefy DLC at that. Furthermore, sometimes these things take years to make because the people making them have essentially no budget. With some money involved perhaps “Black Mesa” — a complete Source engine remake of the first Half-Life, wouldn’t have taken forever to come out. Right now someone is working on a Fallout New Vegas mod expansion that is essentially the same size as Fallout 3, but it’s apparently in limbo. If it meant the creators had more money to work on it full time to get it out sooner and make it better, I’d pay for it. I also know of at least one impressive total conversion currently in the making for Skyrim. People have recently released entire fan campaigns for games like the original Deus Ex and System Shock 2. Then of course you have entire games that started out as mods… like Counter-Strike, DOTA, and Red Orchestra. Aren’t some source mods already for-pay like Day of Defeat and Garry’s Mod? If I had to, I certainly would have paid $10 for NeoTokyo.

One option would definitely be some function in Steam for donation pages, perhaps donations that split up between Bethesda, Valve, and the modders. That’s also a discussion worth having, but somehow I feel a lot of the modders have so far only just been able to get by on donations.

Another big point of controversy is how this could effect places like Nexus — a favorite alternative to Steam Workshop, or Moddb. Honestly, I don’t know how this part is all gonna shake out. It’s too soon to call. Some are worried that this move could pull even more of PC gaming under Steam’s umbrella, possibly diminishing those mod communities the way Steam was designed to diminish Fileshack and Raptr. On second thought I’m starting to think maybe Valve shouldn’t have started this initiative with a mod community as mature as Skyrim’s.

Some controversy has already arising from one for-pay mod that was removed due to a dispute on how it included content from another mod. I’m pretty sure Valve’s FAQ says Steam includes a system whereby modders can split revenue between people who contributed to a mod. If this actually works, I imagine the guys who’ll make the most money will be those who built the underlying script mods a lot of other mods are built on.

All I’m saying is, people don’t need to be so quick to assume Valve is killing everything Steam stood for. I do believe some of these modders deserve to be paid for their work. A lot of it is truly impressive and requires real talent to make. Valve has also already been running a for-pay mod ecosystem for years. It just needs to tread lightly as it moves that ecosystem, and possibly all of PC gaming, into new territory.

But man am I afraid of ArmA 3 being next.

BULLETS:

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