The Pros And Cons Of Paid Steam Mods

The Pros And Cons Of Paid Steam Mods

That was some week for PC gamers, huh? Last Thursday, Valve announced a new feature that would let Steam users charge for Skyrim mods. By Monday, following severe backlash, it was gone.

It's clear that Valve made some serious mistakes while implementing this system -- maybe they should have tested it out more; maybe they should have curated more; maybe they shouldn't have started with a community as big and passionate as Skyrim's -- but it raises a bigger question: should big game companies support modders who want to sell their work? Or should modding remain one of the last few vestiges of the early Internet, which was a paradise for bootlegs and shareware before things got all... commercialized?

Let's zoom out and try to take a fair look at the pros and cons of Steam supporting paid mods.

The Pros

Modders deserve to be paid for their work.

This one's obvious, don't you think? The people who create mods for games like Skyrim aren't just hacking together Thomas the Tank Engine files and calling it a day; some talented volunteer developers are patching bugs, smoothing out the UI, and adding all sorts of other improvements that can make your game experience way better. For Skyrim alone there are mods that add new weather mechanics, mods that change how the game opens, and even mods that create entire new regions full of quests, items, and stories.

Not all of these mods are good, of course. But it's undeniable that individuals are dedicating thousands of hours to development work -- sometimes work the original developers should have done in the first place! -- and it's perfectly fair to argue that this work should be rewarded. Which also leads to our next pro...

Financial incentives can lead to higher-quality mods.

Again, it's easy to see this point: talented artists and programmers who might otherwise not bother with video game modding might change their minds if there were a financial incentive involved, particularly if those developers just can't afford to do any work for free. If you know you could potentially make a ton of money by creating some awesome expansion pack for Skyrim, wouldn't you put a lot more effort into it than you would if you were just giving it away?

(Garry Newmann, who created one of the most iconic game mods in history, agrees.)

More publishers and developers could start getting into modding.

Some big companies that make PC games -- Rockstar, for example -- don't officially support mods or provide a whole lot of support and tools for people who want to customise their games. But if they started making money off mods for games like Grand Theft Auto V, they'd be a whole lot more likely to join the party.

Nobody has to sell their mods.

Want to make something and give it away? Go ahead! Valve's plan as it stood made mod selling totally optional, as it should be.

The Cons

It can ruin communities.

One of the biggest problems with Valve's initiative, as we found out over the past few days, was that they kicked it off by contacting a handful of modders and telling them about the plan, asking them to sign NDAs in exchange for a place in the marketplace. Immediately, this fractured the Skyrim modding community, facilitating paranoia and leading to all kinds of arguments and drama. Instead of just creating things, modders now had to worry about money driving wedges between those who wanted to sell their mods and those who wanted to give them away. Plus...

The modding scene is a tangled web of rights and requirements.

As we already saw in one high-profile case of mod-selling gone awry, video game modding isn't as simple as "guy makes mod and sells it." Like video game development, modding is usually a collaborative, iterative process where people build off each other's work, integrating various tools and bug fixes so nobody has to write the same code more than once. When you download a mod that, say, adds a new region full of characters and quests, you might also have to download another modder's animation pack, or someone else's interface tweaks, or some other set of tools and assets.

It's a messy world, which is perfectly fine when everyone's just giving everything away. But when some modders want to sell their work and others are strictly against it, things get complicated. Even if everyone agreed that charging for mods was OK, these situations can get a little absurd. What if you want to buy Mod A for $US20 but it won't run without Mod B, which costs another $US10? How do the curators account for situations like that?

Where's the accountability?

Less than a day after the Skyrim program launched, someone was trying to sell an apple for $US30. Someone else promised to make one of the game's bears bigger in exchange for $US100. Although these ridiculous mods would have to go through an approval process to officially hit the marketplace, it's become clear that curation of paid mods on a broader scale will be nothing short of a nightmare -- it will make the Apple Store look like friggin' GOG. And what happens when people start wanting refunds? What if mods are buggy, or don't deliver on their promises? Introducing money and real responsibility into what's traditionally been a free-for-all community seems like a disaster waiting to happen.

Bye-bye, Batman suits

A paid ecosystem would make it way more difficult for modders to play around with copyrighted materials, as if any big corporation got even a whiff of someone potentially selling mods with any of their licenses, shit would hit the fan. If we lose Thomas the Tank Engine in Skyrim, I don't even know what I'll do.

There are other potential cons here, too -- for example, the life or a death of a program like this could depend on how revenue is split. With Valve's plan, modders only took home 25 per cent of profits, which most people saw as way too low. Other potential issues include the continued viability of tutorials and open-source forums; the possibility that some enterprising capitalists might swoop into the mod store and undercut other people's products; and all sorts of other risks that would inevitably emerge.

So, yes. This stuff is complicated. It might be able to work one day, but before that happens, even the smartest curators in the world would need to take the time to talk to modding communities and listen to their concerns. And whoever tries to wade into the world of paid modding next -- whether it's Valve or some other brave group of souls -- will be in for one hell of a challenge.


    its already happening... look at TF2, CS:GO, DOTA2, Planetside 2,
    it will work its way into the microtransaction model, can only be better for a game in the long run, with more additions

    I am going to disagree with you on the 'Financial incentives can lead to higher-quality mods.' bit, especially since Valve where not looking at everything before it was posted. It leads to a lot of CRAP. Both Green light and Early Access games have this problem. There is less good than there is bad, and there for, they are not worth it.

    Now, if Valve where going to speed the time to asses everything, then it might be ok. But, as Valve want to make STEAM as open as possible to people who want to sell things, its not going to happen.

    On top of that, VALVE do not have a fucking returns policy, when they are LEGALLY required to have one. As seen with the ACCC, EA have had to change the way theirs work here in Australia. The ACCC are also going after Valve, so its only a matter of time before it happens.

      To be fair the line quite clearly states it merely CAN lead to higher quality mods, not that it automatically does. Of course from a pure numbers standpoint you're going to have more crap than quality, but that doesn't automatically make true the idea that none of it will be quality.

      I do however agree with you in regards to Valve not seeming to actually look at the quality of anything and everything they host on Greenlight or such.

      Last edited 29/04/15 11:37 pm

      Agreed. If an amateur modder puts in hundreds of hours into their work, they're doing it out of love of the game. The quality of the mod should reflect that love. But as soon as you put money into the equation you're going to get people trying to make a quick buck.

    Absurdly, I can see this going full-circle as outside of the endorsed modding community there will spring up an 'underground' modding community which tinkers with and 'hacks' the existing files and tools to create unsupported 'modifications' which do things that aren't approved or charged for.

    Eventually this underground scene will grow incredibly popular, and the free and collaborative exchange of creative ideas without having to worry about protecting work or violating trademarks will prove attractive to developers on a personal - not professional - level, with a subtle nod of the head towards these communities by making the altered resources more transparent and accessible, until some of the in-house modification tools are eventually leaked to the community and become a defacto - if unofficial - endorsement.

    Because that's where the creative freedom is, that's where the penniless community enthusiasm is, that's where the collaborative crowdsourcing of feedback is, thanks to anyone being able to provide feedback and contribute without having to invest financially in testing or playing with the mods.
    A game's friendliness to the underground community creating great things will eventually grow to be understood as one of the primary reasons for purchasing the game in the first place...


    I'm going to rewrite this article reeeeeally simple for ya.

    Pros: nothing
    Cons: everything


    I might have paid for a total conversion mod.........maybe. However it would be better if publishers just talked to some modders they liked, help them polish their stuff a little and monetized some sort of mod DLC.......a bit like Counterstrike GO has been doing lately. Its still probably best to leave the modding community to do its thing and just use them as a recruiting pool though.

    Here's some more cons:

    It will reduce the diversity of mods.

    You've dropped five bucks on a mod you like, but someone's come along and done something that's subtly different. You can't tell which one is best because that new one is comparably priced, and why the fuck are you dropping ANOTHER five bucks on something you can only use one of? You'll just badger the modder of the one you bought to steal/incorporate/mimic the features that are different.

    Broad knowledge of mods will decrease.

    If you are familiar with the modding scene you're probably aware that the same one thing can be done a hundred different ways, and maybe you've even INSTALLED those hundred mods to check out their conflicts and differences yourself.

    To do that under a paid scheme would instead rely on you dropping hundreds if not thousands of dollars on testing and experimenting with mods.

    There will be no more, "Oh yeah, I've tried that one have you tried this one instead?," because no you haven't tried it because you've limited yourself to a budget of fifteen bucks a month on mods this year because otherwise you'll be spending ALL YOUR MONEY ON ONE GAME. Skyrim does NOT need to mimic Train Simulator.

    But Transient, these problems you raise assume you HAVE to buy. Some mods will stay free! Nope. No, they won't. Not the ones worth having.

    Oh, there'll be a few staunch loyalists who want to hold to the old ways and continue developing based on what they love. They'll be the Old Guard. But if their mod is actually any good, and gets high download numbers, you can bet your ass someone will clone it or iterate on it for money.

    Have you EVER SEEN the fucking app store for any mobile OS? Flagrant violations of copyright or trademark aside, it is still easily possible to achieve functionally the same results or experience in a different enough way to avoid being a violation. The end result is the same.

    And when the free modders are working hard to bring a high-quality mod which simply ends up cloned or iterated on to make someone else rich? They're going to pack it in. There's only so much people can take. So sure. Maybe the mod with that title will be available for free... for a little while. But it WILL close and grumble about how the paid clone mod kept doing the same things and why should they make someone else rich?

    It will stifle creativity.

    A great deal of the modding scene's success comes from its collaborative effort. It's crowdsourced creativity. Modders create modder resources for other modders to use freely to improve their own works, people draw inspiration and offer a shout-out as thanks, and come up with something better.

    Instead, everyone will be looking over their shoulders, afraid to release too much too soon in case someone iterates the better version first, in case someone steals ideas and builds on them and submits them before they can. Modders will be submitting dodgy builds just to get 'first' rights and squat on that undeveloped intellectual property, suing anyone who dares to climb the walls to do anything similar enough to count as a violation of copyright, effectively locking off the market for that idea.

    Bye-bye, Batman suits
    not such a big issue with Skyrim, but racing games where 90% of mods are rips from other games that this system might struggle even more.

    Also wasn't EA against mods because they thought it was violating their end user license or something?

    Is it true that fans create and sell hats in TF2? Can someone outline specifically how this selling mods situation is different plz?

    I think the problem with this article is that it's trying to show a balance between pros and cons. Unfortunately most of these pros are "maybes" and most of the "cons" are definitelys. It's a bit like microtransactions or mobile games; they both have the potential to be a positive force, but they are inevitably awful.

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