Valve's Steam Workshop is home to thousands of mods for games. Some are cosmetic, while others add entirely new experiences to an already-expansive game. These mods are made by various Steam users, and Valve wanted to give creators an opportunity to get a little more out of their creations by launching a system of paid mods, starting with mods for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
Unfortunately for Valve, the move has been heavily criticized by players. Valve CEO Gabe Newell addressed a few issues via Reddit yesterday, but even he wasn't able to quell the players' dissatisfaction about the new system. There's even a petition with over 131,000 signatures to remove the new system entirely from Steam. The anger towards Valve doesn't show any signs of abating, and people have a few key issues with the new implementation.
The big fear is that Steam Workshop, which is populated with free mods, will turn into a marketplace where even the simplest mods would require payment. However, that fear may be unfounded.
Modders have the option to make their creations paid or free, or they can use a "pay what you want" model. The third option is incredibly popular in the Humble Bundle, where players can set their own price when buying a bundle of games. Some modders want to be compensated for their work, while others believe their creations should be free to players. Either way, Valve isn't forcing modders to sell their creations; it's providing the platform and the option for modders to get paid for what they create.
Where's My Money?
Speaking of getting paid, though, the modders' cut isn't very high. If you are selling your mod and players are buying it, you only get 25 percent of the profit. The remaining 75 percent is split in some way between Valve and the company behind the game (which in the case of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is Bethesda Softworks).
Newell said that the revenue cut is determined by the game's publisher, not Valve. This means that it can change from game to game; some publishers and developers might ask for a lesser take, giving modders – and/or Valve – a bigger payout. In any case, there must be more transparency about the distribution of profit down the road for other games with paid mods.
A Risky Investment
There's also a question of quality. Valve stated that you can get a refund within 24 hours after you purchased the mod if you don't like it or if the mod is broken. But what if it breaks down after 24 hours? Not only are you stuck with a broken mod, but you're also out of a few bucks that you can never get back.
Players look to modders for quality control, and making a monetary investment in a potentially failing product is dangerous, especially if you forked over a lot of money for the mod. There's a certain degree of responsibility on the creators to put out a polished and functional mod, especially when money's involved.
Fame and Fortune
On the other hand, there's also the chance to give well-known modders the opportunity to make a living (or at least some nice spending money) from their creations. Players definitely notice the amount of work someone puts into a great mod, and throwing some money their way is a good way of acknowledging the work.
Modding is seen as more of a side hobby than anything else, and their authors might be sidetracked from creating great content if they're focused on more important things such as, you know, their actual job. With enough attention and funding, perhaps selling mods could provide a sustainable income for some people.
Of course, it's hard to separate good mods from bad ones, but if the community is able to unite against an issue such as paid mods, they can certainly figure out which mods deserve their money and continued support.
Not Valve's First Rodeo
The surprising bit about the entire fiasco is that the idea of paid user-generated content is nothing new for Valve. In January, Valve announced that the payments made to those who make in-game content for Team Fortress 2, Dota 2 and Counter Strike: Global Offensive totaled over $57 million. Clearly the model works, and it makes sense that modders for other games should get a shot at making some money for their efforts. After all, if it works for hats and guns, it should work for mods as well.
Steam is home to one of the largest gaming communities in the world, and not only do players buy games on Steam, they make content to enhance the experience. By providing an opportunity for members to sell their mods, Valve is providing another platform for potential players to make money doing what they love.
The backlash against paid mods is overwhelming at the moment, and the next move is on Valve. With a little PR control and some transparency on how it works, paid mods could coexist alongside the long-standing model of free mods.
We realize what a hot-button issue this is. Sound off in the comments or jump into the ongoing discussion on our forum thread.
UPDATE (4/27/15, 6pm PDT): Valve announced that it will remove the paid mods from The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. It seems that even though the company released the new system with good intentions, it realized that the release of paid mods was premature.
"We've done this because it's clear we didn't understand exactly what we were doing. We've been shipping many features over the years aimed at allowing community creators to receive a share of the rewards, and in the past, they've been received well. It's obvious now that this case is different."
Those who paid for mods will get a full refund. As for the future of paid mods, it's unclear whether Valve will bring it back at some point. Considering the backlash over the last few days, the company will need to create a new strategy if it wants to attract even more customers the second time around.