The Ninjabot

Uproar Over Skyrim Mods Sold On Steam: The Sky Is Not Falling

Posted on April 24, 2015 at 12:36 am by Victor Chaves

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Recently Valve announced to allow the monetization of game mods on Steam, starting with Skyrim. What this basically means is that if you made a mod for Skyrim where all the humans walked on their hands and fought with their feet, you’d be able to sell that modification on Steam. Although this is good news for the people who put hard work into these modifications, the ones who download the mods are in an uproar.

Steam users are arguing that game mods are supposed to be free, and that “modding is a hobby, not a career” (comment from Change.org). Furthermore, users are calling out Valve accusing them of being greedy, breaking the spirit of the community, not having the foresight to see scammers copy mods, and more. It’s gotten to the point where the Steam discussion boards only contain these previous complaints, ASCII art of the middle finger, and a reposted link to a change.org petition asking to “Remove the paid content of the Steam Workshop” that is at 15,000 supporters as of this writing.

Why 15,000 People are Wrong

What is the positive side to this? Simply put, modders can now get paid for their hard work. Yes, I understand it is a meager percentage of only 25% of the price, but Steam users need to understand that commodity is an ever-changing concept that morphs with the times. Think about how many Youtubers made no money making videos about their hobbies, and when Youtube started to provide revenue for those creators; those hobbyists suddenly found a means to make a living. What was once free is definitely capable of monetization if there is enough perceived value in it. What this means is that Valve has found a way to make money for themselves, the people that provide the content, and the publishers of the original game.

Furthermore, consider the fact that Valve has already been monetizing user-created content in Team Fortress 2 since 2010. That’s FIVE YEARS ago. What is the difference between a hat in Team Fortress 2 made by a community member, and a flaming sword in Skyrim also made by a community member? At this point, nothing. Even the money from any community item in Team Fortress 2 is divided 75% to Valve and 25% to the creator, which is the exact same as the sellable Skyrim mods. In fact, I will argue that those people making content for Team Fortress 2, DOTA 2, and Counter-Strike: GO (from now on called the Valve 3) are given less freedom than the ones modding Skyrim.

The bombshell here is that the fan creators for the Valve 3 do not have the freedom of price or distribution. The Skyrim creators are able to set their price and even set their work as “pay what you want” and let you decide how much money should be charged; this is different from the Valve 3 fan content creators, as their prices are fixed by Valve without the original creator’s input. Distribution is a different creature too, as the Valve 3 creators do not have a choice on how their products are disseminated, which are often through the randomization of crates (cases in CS:GO) or purchased in game (a la DOTA 2). On the other hand, the modders for Skyrim as well as future titles can be sold on the game’s Workshop page or be free anywhere else on the web!

There is also the interesting fact that the Valve 3 creations can also be sold through the Community Market on Steam (where the sellers are imposed with a 10% fee that goes entirely to the creator of the sold content). If there is any advantage that the Valve 3 can claim is that their works can be sold in the community unlike (admittedly I just haven’t seen any) the Skyrim modifications. This could be due to how the Valve 3 are minimally moddable to allow the movement of inventory while the Skyrim modders are less constricted and thereby unable to be sold on the market. After all, you can’t expect all games to be as modular as the Valve 3.

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The question of curation regarding mods that are inappropriate, incompatible with the final product, or copies someone else’s work is dependent on the publisher or developer of the product. Naturally Valve has a strong track record regarding this subject as each item is curated by a full-time employee at Valve, but other companies will have other methods. Companies do currently keep an eye on their workshop pages for inappropriate content, but they will be that much more invested to do so when money is involved. I am not saying that everyone will be perfect in the future, but I am saying to pay attention to whom you are paying for the fan-made content. Bethesda naturally has a strong interest in the fan community, which leads me to having high-confidence that the fan-made product will function as advertised. EA on the other hand, well, I wouldn’t trust them with a nickel.

The concern that this will become the new “Steam Greenlight” where near-clones and perpetually incomplete games thrive is preposterous, as that is not actually curated by Valve. All Valve asks in order for a game to get on Steam Greenlight is $100, and any broken title can be posted with minimal approval. Items made by the community to be sellable are going to be looked at and tested by the Publisher or Developer, and if it is not up to a standard then Bethesda will send it right back with notes on how to make it work, or outright deny them.

To expand on the question of standards, there are users expressing concern that the mods purchased on Steam will cause problems with each other. Bethesda thought of this, and decided to force all modifications to adhere to the Creation Kit they developed. Basically any mod you create will be tested with the kit for the standard Bethesda has, verifying that all mods will be compatible with each other. Bethesda got this idea from Valve, where all community-made items for Team Fortress 2 would be tested with their Itemtest program. What this means is that Bethesda is intent on having a stable experience for the buyer of fan-made content.

DLC is a constant refrain heard in this discussion, and most people are particularly negative about DLC in general saying it’s a cash grab for sub-standard content and an excuse to cut out parts of the full game. As true as that is in most cases (Capcom being the most egregious with characters already developed and on the disk for Marvel vs. Capcom 3), the sins of DLC from the publisher and developer cannot be replicated in this situation. Modders are not developers of the game, and therefore you know that this is content by a fan and not a publisher trying to suck money from you (like EA in Dead Space 3). This is all content created after the game has already come out, and is in no way a canonized aspect of the base game. It’s all made by fans, for the fans. Isn’t that what modding is about?

Finally, what about the jerks that will steal fan-made work? Steam has a DMCA application that you can fill out towards any jerk you see handling your work. Naturally since you made it, if you posted your work on another site, then you can reference that site and your username in order to prove your ownership. In fact if you own it, then you will have developer-only evidence that is not given out to consumers like raw files and data that are not included in the final compiled modification. Unless you provide those raw files to the public, it will be incredibly easy to prove ownership of a product.

Empty Platitudes

So what are we left with here? Thousands of users complaining that mods should be free in order to keep the “spirit” of the community. To those users I ask, have you ever created a modification to a game that wasn’t simply asset swapping? Have you tried to model, rig, animate, script, or program before? Those who have would know how much work is required to make a modification, and how awesome it would be to get paid for the months of work you put in when coming home after your dead-end job. If you haven’t made a modification, then how would you know the “spirit” of modifying? Show me someone who can eat the word “spirit”, and I’ll show you a Lost Boy from the movie Hook.

Follow Victor on Twitter @fake_brasilian and let him know you mean business.

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