When Bethesda announced paid mods in 2015, the internet exploded in anger. A week later, everything got cancelled. Last weekend, Bethesda revealed the "Creation Club," another stab at the concept of premium mods, and fans are wary that history is going to repeat itself.
Granted, Creation Club is not the same exact idea as the uncurated paid mods scheme that pissed so many people off. As Bethesda describes it, modders who participate in the new program will get official support from the developer, such as "the full internal dev cycle; including localisation, polishing, and testing."
With Bethesda's help, modders who are approved for the program will be able to publish their wares in a storefront, though the studio notes some creations will be made in-house. Bethesda will also pay modders in the Creation Club. All of this, theoretically, will help increase the quality of mods available for Skyrim and Fallout 4, because anything made for the Creation Club must be up-to-snuff and compatible with other offerings.
What sets off people's alarms is something Bethesda quickly mentions during its video pitch for the Creation Club: players will use "credits" to purchase mods:
"Credits are available for purchase on PSN, Xbox Live, and Steam," Bethesda wrote in the Creation Club FAQ. "Your Credits are transferable and can be used in both games on the same platform."
Technically, players won't pay for mods directly, but everything is still worth money. Despite this, Bethesda maintains this is not paid mods, because players will still be able to make mods outside of the program.
"Mods will remain a free and open system where anyone can create and share what they'd like," the FAQ reads. "Also, we won't allow any existing mods to be retrofitted into Creation Club, it must all be original content."
While the new program does have its advantages, many fans are interpreting the announcement as a dressed-up version of paid mods. After all, money is still on the line, isn't it?
The trailer is getting slammed with dislikes:
The comments are largely a negative trash fire:
On Steam, things aren't much better:
On Reddit, threads have titles like "Paid mods are returning :(," or say things like "R.I.P Bethesda's audience LUL," "Did they not learn the first time they tried to fuck with the modding community?" and "After the immense negative reception to them the first time around, they think they can do it again by making mods worth "credits" instead of real money?"
While some of this is undoubtedly knee-jerk, the reaction highlights a core tension between the modding community and Bethesda. If the intention is to work more closely with modders, springing something like this on them doesn't feel like an olive branch, based on reactions I've seen online.
If a modder releases something for free and Bethesda makes another version of it with a pricetag on it, it's a whole can of worms. Who gets to own an idea? If a modder isn't acknowledged in the paid version, will it feel like a snub if they did it first, for free? If the paid version isn't as good as the free version, what is the point?
During the Creation Club trailer, we saw some footage of Chinese Stealth Suit...
...that, as it turns out, is already a free offering. Upon seeing this, one of the co-creators, unoctium, rushed to tell people that the mod in question wasn't theirs.
"Don't know the functionality of this new armour, however I noticed a paid Pip-Boy mod with only five repaints - as opposed to the dozens and dozens of repaints that is available in the free version," unoctium wrote.
The worry over who owns the content can cut both ways. If someone is putting the time and effort into making something for the Creation Club, but a similar free mod is available, will it feel like people are cutting into their profits?
Depending on who you ask, the mere prospect of getting paid for mods is still a tricky proposition, no matter how Bethesda frames it. Some modders believe their work should be free, done out of passion.
"Honestly, I wouldn't want to get paid for what I do," modder KristyBanalia wrote on Reddit. "If I wanted to get paid, I'd be trying to find a job in the industry. Getting paid adds a certain pressure and responsibility that I really don't want to take on, but I'm perfectly happy to pick and choose projects I'm passionate about to contribute my skills and work to."
Others feel differently, of course. Popular modders such as Chesko have set up Patreons for their modding work, where hundreds of dollars are raised monthly, and it's not uncommon for people to get one-time donations as well. The difference is that players can opt in and pay for something only if they want to, a distinction that builds goodwill.
Another concern that players are bringing up is whether or not the Bethesda team is big enough to support the community. Bethesda is a small studio compared to other triple-A developers, after all, and Creation Club requires the studio to put a rubber stamp on everything. Beyond the initial "paid mods" debacle, infamously, Bethesda mods got stolen left and right when they were introduced to consoles. In some ways, the modding world seems too huge for Bethesda to successfully tame.
Perhaps the most extreme worry is that premium mods will detract from future games. "How long before the best items in game are on the store instead of in the game at release," one modder asked on Reddit.
Despite all the online hate, modders themselves don't necessarily dislike the idea of Creation Club. Some folks do want to get paid for their hard work, or they see benefits to what Bethesda promises.
"I think this latest program is the best of all worlds," unoctium told Kotaku, citing appreciation for the idea of Bethesda mentorship. Even so, there's some hesitation based on how official modding efforts have gone in the past.
"While there is definitely a minority that hates the idea of mod authors earning money and feel all their mods should be free -- for the broader majority, it was more being burned badly by the last time this was attempted -- as not only did Bethesda advance their paid mod system without any kind of warning (much like now) but they initially only offered mods that weren't worth the prices they were asking for," unoctium told Kotaku.
In the Creation Club footage, Bethesda showed off stuff like new armour, weapons, and objects, which may look paltry next to the massive fan efforts to build giant Skyrim/Fallout mods for free.
"I have a feeling these two things: shoving a system on the public without warning, and offering frivolous mods at cynical prices are the two things which infuriate the public, and what I'm afraid is history repeating."
Still, there's hope that monetary support will enable modders to make stuff with greater ambition.
"That the prospect of making money will allow mod authors to start creating DLC-sized mods, stories or technical feats they couldn't possibly do when they either had a job, or a lack of motivation that money can bring."
In time, we may look back on this and feel that fans overreacted, because the Creation Club blossomed into a boon for mods. For now, one thing is clear: Bethesda has a lot to prove to their modding community.