Thursday, 30 April 2015

Swing and a Miss: Valve and Bethesda's Paid Mods.

Modding is a cornerstone of PC gaming. Some of the most popular games in the world right now started as mods for other games: League of Legends, DotA 2 and Counter Strike to name a few. For some people, modding is one of the main reasons that they play games on a PC. So when Valve and Bethesda announced they would be trying out a system of paid mods for The Elder Scrolls Skyrim it was bound to ruffle some feathers.

For those of you who don't know, modding refers to modifications to an existing game. They can range from a simple tweak that changes small parts of the game, to a completely different game mode, like those mentioned at the start. The mods available for Skyrim range from unofficial patches that fix bugs, and SkyUi that fixes the issues with the default ui on PC, to visual upgrades, and complete companions with unique quest lines. They fix issues, add content, and are generally considered to increase the life span that a game has.

Valve's announcement was simply not taken well. At best there was unrest in the community, and as usual, the very worst of the community started with the death threats and general vitriol that we've all come to expect. Some modders were even against the idea of paid mods, and made their thoughts known in the Steam community forums. The final result? Well after four days of complaints from the community, Valve announced they were shelving the paid mods idea for Skryim, while still leaving the option wide open for them to try again with future games.

So why did the community react the way they did?

Of course, there is the obvious fact that people don't want to pay for something that was previously free. While some mods definitely are worthy of payment, most of them are tiny little things that people made for fun and decided to upload. There is also the report of a mod being pulled from Steam because it contained someone else's work without permission, adding to the idea that paid mods were just going to hurt the community.

The main justification for paid mods came down to supporting the mod authors, which in my opinion is completely fair. They did all the hard work, and by all accounts in situations where donation buttons were setup, they were rarely touched by those who used their mods. However as more information came to light about the exact model that Valve and Bethesda were using in the Workshop, that argument started to lose some weight. Bethesda disclosed that exact split of money from the sale of a mod was 30% to Valve, the standard cut Valve takes from all sales, and 45% to Bethesda, leaving only 25% to go to the mod creator. To many gamers, myself included, this seemed like Bethesda trying to profit from something they didn't work on.

There is another argument too. Skyrim without mods on PC has one of the worst UIs I have ever used, more bugs than you can shake a stick at, and the depth of a plate. Don't get me wrong, I love Skyrim. But I don't play it without the unofficial Skyrim patches, SkyUi and Live Another Life. I just can't. The thought of Bethesda profiting from those mods, mods that fix problems they still haven't fixed, feels wrong to me. It rewards Bethesda for releasing a buggy game, and encourages them to do it again.

Fortunately, mod authors seem to have rallied against Skyrim's paid mods. If that is because they don't want to face a backlash from the rest of the community, or because they truly feel that way remains to be seen. Valve will definitely be trying the paid mods route again in the future, so this is only the beginning. And if I'm honest with myself, I'm 100% against it. I don't mind paying full price for a game. I dislike DLC, but understand why it exists. But being forced to pay for a community made mod, especially when the vast majority of money goes to a developer who put nothing into that mod is not something I ever want to see. For me, donation buttons where the mod creator gets the lions share of the money would be ideal.

As always,


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