Valve’s For-Pay Mods Will Be Back. Just Look At How Valve Operates

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I don’t think anyone happy or disappointed with Valve’s decision to remove Skyrim’s paid mods should expect them to be gone forever. Discussions and think pieces are already suggesting Valve will try again in some form later on. It’s just a matter of how the company plans to do it. We can probably already make some guesses based on how Valve has introduced Steam features in the past.

Basically, there’s a good chance Valve will try to relaunch paid mods with a new game, either one of its own or one from another developer (maybe even Bethesda based on its own timetable). It’s how Valve pushed most of the major changes to its products and services over the years.

During his AMA with Reddit, Valve boss Gabe Newell reiterated his line that Valve likes to think of itself as a company that provides “tools” to developers and customers. Some may see it as marketing speak but I really do think that’s how Valve looks at things. Newell ran the same line in an interview about why we haven’t seen a new Half-Life yet. If you look back, you’ll find that Valve rarely releases a game simply for the sake of releasing a product to customers. It’s not how most game developers operate. Valve is really more like a standard software developer that operates through entertainment.

Half-Life 2 became the vehicle for Steam, which was originally intended to simply be a tool for automatically patching games. It also introduced the Source engine which lead to a ton of modding. Team Fortress 2 ended up being Valve’s step into free-to-play gaming, a prelude to Steam Workshop, and what eventually became the Mannconomy (a version of paid mods). Portal 2 became one of the earliest Workshop games. Valve positioned DOTA 2 to be the starting point for Early Access, it became another paid mod economy off of which some people earn a living, and has come to host The International. It’s also becoming the vehicle for what Valve is now calling “Source 2.” Right now Valve is playing around with some of these things in Counter-Strike Global Offensive.

Valve probably does this because it’s one of the best ways to sell a new idea to users — get them involved with it through a compelling video game. Nintendo used to understand this with its hardware. Analog sticks became a popular method for controlling 3D games because Nintendo immediately had Mario 64 ready to sell the control method. With the DS it took until Kirby Canvas Curse came out to justify the touch screen. Wii Sports was a vehicle for the Wii Remote but unfortunately the industry didn’t carry it much further. A big problem with the Wii U was Nintendo didn’t have a game immediately ready to sell the idea of the GamePad.

In light of this, it makes sense to assume a new Half-Life hasn’t happened yet because Valve has to have a reason to make it other than “it would be a game that would sell.” For other developers that’s reason enough but not Valve apparently. Everyone making the claim paid mods will come back with a new game is saying, probably correctly, that Valve’s mistake with the first attempt was pushing it into a game with a three-and-a-half-year-old modding community. Starting fresh with a game the player base of which as no preconceived notions will probably work better.

If it is a Valve game, I think that game will be Left 4 Dead 3.

Mods are already a well-established part of Left 4 Dead but the franchise has remained quiet for some time. There has been a lot to imply L4D3 is happening sooner rather than later, definitely before a new Half-Life. We very well could see a new L4D benefit from a big increase in technology and feel like a whole new game, making a clean break from the current Left 4 Dead 2 mod community. I wouldn’t even be surprised if L4D3 was free-to-play with an economy system like TF2 or DOTA 2 that includes larger paid community content like whole maps and campaigns.

Of course DOTA 2 could also be a suitable entry point for larger paid mods. I don’t keep fully abreast of the game, but hasn’t Valve been making some pretty big changes to DOTA 2 community content, or at least implying it will? It’s an established game but people are already used to paying for community-made DOTA 2 content. Introducing a paid workshop would just potentially make some of that content larger.

It could also be some other game that shows up later this year with big mod support such as another Cities: Skylines-like phenomenon. Bethesda will almost certainly make this a day-one thing with Fallout 4 and the next full Elder Scrolls game.

BULLETS:

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