Skyrim Modder Considers Quitting After Steam Controversy

Skyrim Modder Considers Quitting After Steam Controversy

Skyrim modder Chesko didn't have express permission to use an animation system from another modder in his paid Steam Workshop mod, but he did it anyway. Then he removed it because the other modder got upset. End of story? Hardly. That was just the beginning.

Chesko took to Reddit to explain everything that's happened to him in the wake of the controversy surrounding the paid-for Art of the Catch mod, which included an animation system created by another modder called Fore. Despite how black-and-white things might have seemed at the outset, this tale is actually a sludgy slurry of grey.

First Chesko explained why he decided to chain one of his mods to a paywall despite some misgivings with Valve and Bethesda's plan. He wrote:

Things internally stayed rather positive and exciting until some of us discovered that "25% Revenue Share" meant 25% to the modder, not to Valve / Bethesda. This sparked a long internal discussion. My key argument to Bethesda (putting my own head on the chopping block at the time) was that this model incentivizes small, cheap to produce items (time-wise) than it does the large, full-scale mods that this system has the opportunity of championing. It does not reward the best and the biggest.

But at the heart of it, the argument came down to this: How much would you pay for front-page Steam coverage? How much would you pay to use someone else's successful IP (with nearly no restrictions) for a commercial purpose? I know indie developers that would sell their houses for such an opportunity. And 25%, when someone else is doing the marketing, PR, brand building, sales, and so on, and all I have to do is "make stuff", is actually pretty attractive. Is it fair? No. But it was an experiment I was willing to at least try.

And then he got to the heart of matters. Why did he attempt to sell something that wasn't his? Or at least include said mod as part of his for-sale package? Well, he made the call in part because Valve allegedly said it should be fine. His final decision was not what you might call a good one, but he explained his rationale:

Of course, the modding community is a complex, tangled web of interdependencies and contributions. There were a lot of questions surrounding the use of tools and contributed assets, like FNIS, SKSE, SkyUI, and so on. The answer we were given is:

[Valve] Officer Mar 25 @ 4:47pm

Usual caveat: I am not a lawyer, so this does not constitute legal advice. If you are unsure, you should contact a lawyer. That said, I spoke with our lawyer and having mod A depend on mod B is fine -- it doesn't matter if mod A is for sale and mod B is free, or if mod A is free or mod B is for sale.

Art of the Catch required the download of a separate animation package, which was available for free, and contained an FNIS behaviour file. Art of the Catch will function without this download, but any layman can of course see that a major component of it's enjoyment required FNIS.

After a discussion with Fore, I made the decision to pull Art of the Catch down myself. (It was not removed by a staff member) Fore and I have talked since and we are OK.

On top of that, Chesko has decided to remove all of his mods from Steam's curated Workshop. He cited the lack of control Valve offers over their pages (no real moderation to speak of, etc) as a big reason he's pulling out. There's just one problem: Chesko says Valve won't let him. He can have mods marked as "unpurchasable," but Valve won't remove their pages from Steam.

Chesko claimed he then heard from a Valve lawyer who had some not super great things to say:

I was just contacted by Valve's lawyer. He stated that they will not remove the content unless "legally compelled to do so", and that they will make the file visible only to currently paid users. I am beside myself with anger right now as they try to tell me what I can do with my own content. The copyright situation with Art of the Catch is shades of grey, but in [separate mod] Arissa 2.0's case, it's black and white; that's 100% mine and Griefmyst's work, and I should be able to dictate its distribution if I so choose. Unbelievable.

So yeah, if true, that's a seriously harsh policy on Valve's part. I did some digging through Steam's subscriber agreement, and it does seem to give Valve the right to pull something like this, albeit through some tricky language. Here's the most pertinent section:

"You may, in your sole discretion, choose to remove a Workshop Contribution from the applicable Workshop pages. If you do so, Valve will no longer have the right to use, distribute, transmit, communicate, publicly display or publicly perform the Workshop Contribution, except that (a) Valve may continue to exercise these rights for any Workshop Contribution that is accepted for distribution in-game or distributed in a manner that allows it to be used in-game, and (b) your removal will not affect the rights of any Subscriber who has already obtained access to a copy of the Workshop Contribution."

If I'm reading that right, it's a pretty fucking big "except." I could see those exceptions working against modders who choose to sell their mods for cash (or even those who don't), given that both A and B could technically apply to any situation in which someone puts a mod up for distribution on Steam at all.

Further, the section on revenue sharing seems to suggest that publishers -- not modders -- have ultimate say in terms of mod pricing. So that is probably something else to at least be aware of, though it did not specifically come into play here.

All of this, especially the lack of control, has left Chesko tired. I reached out to him in an attempt to clarify recent events, and all he could offer was this terse, tired reply: "Unfortunately I am beyond worn-down. My hobby has suddenly taken over my life and it needs to stop." In the Reddit post he suggested that leaving behind this mad mod world entirely is also an option. " I have other things I could spend my energy on," he wrote. Since then, he has deleted his Reddit account, in addition to multiple social media profiles. He also appears to have deleted the Steam pages for all of his Skyrim mods. Presumably, however, people who purchased or downloaded said mods can still access the pages and their files.

The long and short of it? Valve's opened a veritable Pandora's Box of potential issues with paid-for Steam Workshop mods, and monsters are bound to emerge. There are plenty of possible upsides (more mods, better mods, more focused, professional teams, well-earned money for hardworking people), but there's a lot to be concerned about at this point. Chesko was not entirely blameless in his situation, but he was also, at least in part, a victim of an untested, incomplete system. If a machine designed to benefit modders is capable of chewing them up and spitting them out like this, it might be time to consider a different approach -- or at least offer modders a little more control.

And yet, even as I write this, reports have emerged of more modders stealing content (or at least ideas) from other modders. That can't be allowed to continue. So there are good reasons for Valve to have power, assuming they use it correctly. Right now, however, it sure doesn't seem like they are. That said, nobody's ever done anything like this before, so props to Valve for diving headlong into the fire, even if it means getting burned. There were bound to be issues, mistakes made. And I mean, we're talking about Valve. When Steam first launched, it was steaming garbage. Then it got better. When Steam Greenlight first launched, it fizzled, popped, and short-circuited. And now, well... the less said about Greenlight the better, actually.

But you only get one chance to make a first impression. Valve cannot squander this, cannot take their usual approach of making a tangled mess and then slowly letting it work itself out. Modding's been around for ages, and modders have other options -- albeit less lucrative ones. It's sink or swim for Valve, and right now the paid-for portion of the Steam Workshop is going anything but swimmingly.


    Why didn't they just put the ability to donate to modders. With an agreement from the developers, valve and modders. Basically switching the Buy button to a Donate button. Then maybe switched the takes to 50/50. Wouldn't that work much better than just flat out paying for mods. I do think that modders should be rewarded for there hard work. But at the same time, I just don't like the idea of having to pay for some mods. It's such a EA thing to do. (Milk people of there money for a product that might not even work).

    EDIT: What about for other games if there is an update(or constant updates) and it breaks all the mods and the modder can't be assed to update it. Is that money down the drain then? Then you have some mods which aren't updated. Then some which are updated. What is the user to do then. Half of the payed mods are updated. Then half aren't....

    Last edited 26/04/15 2:33 pm

      Because, I think, it would mean that Valve and co would not be able to take cut, as donations come under different laws.

      I'll just keep my streak of being a Valve shill going: the mods on the workshop have a 24 hour return policy.

      Of course, what happens if an update breaks them is another matter. I don't think Valve thought through the legal ramifications of this one...

        Indeed, would Australian retail law not cover the refund policy? i.e. Through no fault of your own, the item is no longer fit for the purpose it was intended, so you may be entitled to a refund?

          Probably, but what happens if it worked as intended for a particular version (and the mod states that) then an update is released and the mod breaks and isn't updated too?

        There are all sorts of mods that are notorious for breaking down and/or hosing saved games. A fair number of them wouldn't make their issues apparent within 24 hours. You don't even need an issue with updates if a mod is going to break some key plotline quest you encounter a month from now. For that matter, there's plenty of quest mods (which you'd like to think might be big sellers on Workshop) which might just have major issues toward the end of the mod. Probably too late for refund at that point.

      Because their master plan is to create an additional, more serious modding scene that is it's own little pocket industry. Like with the whole Greenlight mess they're trying to give the little guy the tools to turn their hobby into something that actually makes money.
      In theory this is meant to be win-win-win. The modders can make enough money to treat this as a full or part time job if they choose to, Valve make more money and players get more mods with a higher level of support. The problem is that they've put a bunch of direct transactions in which demand everything be taken seriously but they're struggling to find ways to ensure that the content producers actually treat this like a serious endeavour.
      Once again they're giving the little guys a shortcut to the big stage, and as noble as that gesture is they're once again over estimating the little guy's ability to deal with the issues that stem from playing on the big stage. As the article here illustrates a lot of the people jumping on this right now are doing so on the same schoolyard rules they were using with their free distribution models, not understanding even half the obligations that come with paid distribution.

      Last edited 25/04/15 8:33 pm

    The 75% take is disgusting.

      Valve allows the publisher to decide how to allocate the money (or at least arranges it with them, the wording's a little vague) and Bethesda decided the split.

      And Bethesda DID make the game and they haven't (AFAIK) interfered with the free modding scene. The only problem is (like Chesko said), this isn't fair compensation for the big mods. It's still early days, so maybe they can improve the system

      Valve is becoming a shit company. But "Lord Gaben", "PC Master Race" , "Steam Sales" watever watever

        Valve didn't set the percentages, Bethesda did (as is their right). Valve takes a 15% cut, the same way market sales work.

          Its not just this. Its also the 50% they take for workshop items

            Lombardi is quoted as saying they take "the same share of sales as we do with any other microtransaction sale", which is 15%. Workshop items have never had a cost before now, I don't know where you're getting the 50% figure from.

          I keep hearing 30% for Valve. Tbh I don't have an ironclad source for this though.

            30% is the cut they take from game sales. They said recently the mod cut is the same as microtransactions, which is 15%. You can test the microtransaction fee yourself, just grab any item in your inventory, set the 'you get' price to $10 and the 'they pay' price will be automatically set to $11.50.

      I don't think it is. You're profiting from their work, in their original creation of the IP, the software, and in doing all of the marketing. It's incredibly risky for them to allow other people to play in their sandbox.

      If you want to earn more than 25%, don't build on top of other people's work. Strike out on your own. Hell, use one of the many incredibly high quality and free game development platforms out there.

        While I think they should be free to set their own terms here I don't think 25% is a particularly fair or even smart deal. Sure the mods are useless without the core game, but 100% of the work being sold here is being done by the modders. Supporting mods from square one of development isn't cheap, but they've always believed it was worth it in the long run. The game itself is paid for at this stage, there's no reason to squeeze extra money out of the modders. All it does is make life harder for the modders. They have to either work for less, put less work in or charge more. If you're going to put them through that there's no way this system will flourish enough to make Valve, Bethesda, the modders or the players happy. It makes the whole exercise sort of pointless.
        Personally I would consider 15% to Valve, 40% to Bethesda and 45% to the modder to be a much fairer deal, although even then I would question how smart they were being.

          To solve all issues, 34% to Bethesda, 33% to Valve and 33% to the dev maybe? Breaking it into thirds and let Bethesda feel a little more 'powerful' in the situation by getting the bulk of it ;)

        In an industry that's becoming increasingly plagued by the micro transaction cancer, this looks like indirect micro transactions in disguise.

      a movie theater owner said he only takes about 20% of ticket takings and the film distributor takes the rest (basically just a commission). He makes more money out of selling snacks.

      25% of something is infinitely more that 100% of nothing

    Here is an important question...
    Who maintains the "ownership" rights of the mods contributed?

    Modder "X" distributes a mod, via Nexus for example, then decides to put said mod up for sale on the workshop

    Modder "X" then reconsiders this choice and decides to no longer charge

    Can modder "X" then return to distributing via Nexus or does Valve/Bethesda now "own" that mod?

      For what I can understand, the modder can do whatever they like with the mod, they just can't remove it from the Steam service for people who have already paid for it.

      I have absolutely zero problem with this, and I genuinely can't understand why this article or the mod creator are making a fuss about it. You charged people for access to a product on a particular service. There's no way you should be allowed to take it back off them.

    and valve expects users to police it ...

    [T]hey will make the file visible only to currently paid users. I am beside myself with anger right now as they try to tell me what I can do with my own content.

    It seems that he's upset that, having "sold" his mod (i.e. been paid for licensing it to a paying customer) he's upset that Valve reserves the right to distribute it to the people who have already paid for it.

    I agree it's a pretty large exception, but I also think it's a very reasonable exception. If I had paid for the mod and it was then completely pulled from Steam, so as not to be downloadable, I for one would go completely ballistic.

    There have been games pulled from Steam before which are no longer for sale but which are still available to the original purchasers; I have several such on my Steam account. It's always annoying even when the store page is pulled - if the game were also to be removed from my library, Valve (and the authors) would be unilaterally withdrawing my licence. The word for this isn't piracy, but it's something similar.

    It would be similar to having your washing machine or car repossessed because the manufacturer no longer wanted it to be available. I think this, unlike piracy, may actually comprise theft; since the purchaser is being deprived of something they paid for (the right to use your software).

      This same condition applies to games distributed on Steam. If you buy a game and it ends up being pulled from the store for any reason, Valve retains the right to keep the game in its system to allow you to download and play it. Once a game or mod is in your library it will almost never be removed.

      It's a perfectly fair stipulation and people are getting upset over it more out of ignorance than justified outrage.

    This is probably why plans to implement monetised mods systems like Blizz announced years ago with SC2 never actually do get implemented. Sounds great in theory supporting modders and all and fostering an even better scene, but a shit storm in practise.

    Valve is becoming more unresponsive and downright shit to its customers and users. If EA pulled this it'd consume every gaming site. But because it's valve it'll have this article and never be spoke of again.

    I think that was the main goal of steam workshop to begin with. Just like people create content for dota and if it goes to the store, the maker will get paid a % of the sale.

    I am pretty sure they have been in discussion with modders and the Bethesda for this and they all agreed but chesko is being a little bit sour because people are unhappy he is profiting from using fore's animation making him the bad guy. To be honest I feel modders should not give in and continue providing free mod in nexus instead. Sure if they will miss revenue but it is not like they are living from pay checks coming from mod sales. People make mod for fun and not to profit.

      If you spent tens of hours, possibly hundreds(though unlikely in this mods case)working on adding your own piece to a game, wouldn't you take up the offer of receiving compensation for your work? These small mods may give you a small amount of extra money that can make a big difference- I know if I spent weeks worth of spare time after work to made a mod my wife would be telling me to get compensated for it since it would look like a second job to her

        But mod is something you do on your own free will. You are not endorsed by valve or Bethesda or anyone to create that content. Even if you spent years making a mod, it is still a mod.

        I have seen big mod projects like Project Mesa and Skywind. Certainly the work they have done deserve something but you must also remember, they are only modding and and reusing existing game engine which they do not own.

        Look at Dayz, as a mod it was free but when it went standalone it is fine for them to sell. Same goes for Killing Floor. When you are using some other company's IP to do modding, the company owe you nothing.

          It's the mods like you mention that I believe deserve a little money. I repair and upgrade computers for a career. Your argument could easily be twisted that because the motherboard isn't being changed, all I am essentially doing is fixing what's broken or modifying something that was already built by someone else, therefore I don't deserve the money I'm paid because I haven't actually made the computer or the OS

            Now tell me if you mod your own pc, does your computer parts manufacturer pay you for that? Unfortunately not. Repairing and modding is completely different. One is a job and one is self interest. You could repair computers as a self interest then you do not ask for payment unless the person decide to do so, hence the donation to modding projects.

            Last edited 27/04/15 9:26 am

              In a way he does. But I get your point. Modern paid for the game source code- and at the expense of their tools and time. Me is the cost of the parts and labour

    I am 44, I'm not a kid and not really prone to the hype machine of big companies - not too often anyhow - and I really am not a fanboy of anything.

    In stating that, I have to say Gabe has turned Valve into another EA. We have seen it for a while, we all already know it deep down. Back when Early Access came on the scene and the whole front page was COVERED (and sometimes still is) in Early Access crap we knew it. Then it was greenlight, which was another way for people to lob crap onto steam and then not even complete it.

    This is just another chapter in the story of how valve had a de-facto monopoly and still manages to fuck it all up.

    I gotta agree with Chesko 100% on all his points including the 25% issue.

    I'm still willing to see where all of this goes in the future - as people KNOWING they need to make mods on their own or face serious issues with the copyrights, however I only see those self imposed limitations as an impediment to modding as we know it.

    I'm just scared for the day when (not if) we see the first premium mod made by the developer that adds something. DLC 2.0. Heck Skyrim already has an official HD texture pack, I doubt that would have been free if released under this new system (or similar).

    Well this is turning out to be quite the logistical nightmare isn't it. Messing with Skyrim, installing mods and making the game look how I want it to has become one of my favourite hobbies. I think a lot of people rely on the workshop because it is really easy to just subscribe with 1 click and say in the case of Garry's Mod it just installs it straight away ready for use. I started out like that too. What I have learnt from modding Skyrim is that mods ported to the workshop (sometimes from Nexus) come with their own separate issues. Some nexus-versions of workshop mods actually do not make you lose any fps or do not give you any glitches. When I decided to delete all my workshop mods and replace them with their Nexus versions, my game ran smoother, I had room for more mods, and I felt like I was more in control in terms of what I could and couldn't do to push Skyrim to it's limits. Thanks to the excellent work of people who made it possible in their free time with all their hard work.

    I am just afraid that a lot of good modders out there will stop doing what they love because of either greed, or like with this case, just stop modding all together. This will be the first of many cases. Fore is pretty well known on Nexus for his excellent mods.
    He won't be the only one to quit I fear.
    I'm just waiting for Skywind to come out, and what will become of it on Steam.
    I really hope they will also sell it on their own sites so money goes directly to them.

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