Paid Mods

Update: Bethesda/Zenimax has cancelled their paid mods with Steam. Refunds for all according to Valve.

Steam has once again made a move toward monetizing all things games and placing themselves smack dab in the middle to take a cut. Now the Steam Workshop is going to support “paid creations” aka paying for mods.

I’m not going to come right out and say that I am in blanket opposition to all paid mods. There are some mods that end up being better than the original game. In fact, some of the best games we’ve ever seen come straight from studios who started out as being mod developers. I support this 100%. Some mods are good enough that I have and would in the future donate to the creator.

Part of what makes mods so incredible is the that they are largely free. The people who make these mods are downright passionate about what they do, and they are doing so fueled entirely by that passion. What we see from them is a result of their own desire to create the mod, make a name for themselves, or do something fun. When you monetize modding, something special there is lost. Motivations change.

Art of the Catch taken down for using someone else's work for profit.
Art of the Catch taken down for using someone else’s work for profit.

Modding in general has often been what feels like an open-source community. People take mods and combine them with other mods to create the perfect modding packages. Sometimes mod devs would tweak someone else’s mod and create something new. Paid mods have only been available for like 24 hours and Steam has already taken down a mod for “using the work of other modders.” This is just the beginning.

Part of what feels so slimy here is Steam. I don’t like Greenlight, I don’t like their early access stuff, and I don’t like the idea of them creating a marketplace for mods. I don’t like the precedent. Personally, I hope it doesn’t take off. I hope most game studios will not allow their games or brands to be monetized in this fashion.

Good mods do not go unrewarded or unnoticed. There are many examples where mod devs actually get recruited to work at the company that made the game they modded. I’m torn between this feeling that mod devs should be compensated for their work, and a desire to never have to pay $5 to download a map mod for Skyrim. I can’t shake my gut feeling that says, “Keen, this doesn’t seem right.”

Update: Steam is also now removing links to off-site donations. You know those “If you like this mod consider donating to the creator” solicitations? Yep, gone. Looks like Steam wants their cut.

  • Steam is providing content hosting, access to customers, payment processing, and a whole lot of other stuff, much like the Apple store or Google play. In exchange for that, they want a cut. I don’t see a problem with this.

    Modders and/or devs that don’t want to pay that cut can roll the entire infrastructure needed on their own and host their stuff somewhere else or figure out some other arrangement. For example, Bryan Shannon is on Patreon gathering funds for his Cities: Skylines mods.

    Same thing with Greenlight or Early Access… Valve has the infrastructure to allow it to happen and the devs behind the Greenlight/Early Access are the ones that want to participate.

  • I only really see one solution to this: I’m going to ignore it.

    Just like I have to with all the Greenlight/Early Access rubbish on Steam these days.

    With the way Steam handles Greenlight/Early Access accountability I’ll steer well clear of Pay2Mod. Next there will be Beta Mods, and then Early Access Mods, and then we can Kickstart some mod IDEAS around too. Yippee.

  • @mmojuggler So, do you feel that taking a 75% cut off the top is justified from Steam for doing all that you listed above, even though they put no effort into this? I personally thing 50% would be more reasonable.

    This is just a slippery slope to go down for Steam. First, do I think people should be able to make money from the mods they make? Yes, I do. I see it just like I do content creation on Youtube.

    However, STEAM is not handling this well at all. They should have a formal submissions process for the mods to be billable. Right now, anyone can put up anything and put a price tag on it. People are copying mods across the board right now to try to make a quick buck, but the original content creator has a hard time discovering these people and submitting a DMCA dispute on them because the store is FLOODED with crap that they have to sift through. And do you think Steam is going through these mods to check for this? Hell no they aren’t.

    Another issue is the patching of a game. So, I buy a mod from Steam, and yes, this is a purchase from Steam. I don’t care who the creator is, this is a Steam purchase. So, if the original game gets patched and now the mod doesn’t work, well you are just out of luck. No refund. You just lose that purchase. If the content creator updates the mod, then great, but he is not required to. So, essentially, Steam sells you a product, and when it stops working, they say “tough shit….your lose” and they wash their hands of the situation. How nice of them.

    This has bad written all over it.

  • I am not a fan of this idea. Steam can’t even keep Early Access under control and this is going to be an even bigger mess. Version control alone is going to be a nightmare.

    I love bidders, don’t get me wrong and many earn something for their efforts but I don’t think going this route is going to do anything of benefit to the consumer.

  • I don’t mind the idea of a mod store. If someone does a lot of work to create a mod and they want to charge for it, I’m glad there is now an avenue for them to do so. I think mods being free is great but I don’t know why anyone would feel entitled to them, someone put a lot of work into something and should have some ownership of it if they wish. I’m sure many mods will continue to be free, too.

    Preemptive strawman defense: I didn’t say the way Steam is handling it so far is perfect.

  • @Michael Whitt: Yeah, those pesky bidders. 😉

    @Jenks: I’m pretty sure everyone is in agreement that modders are entitled to their desire to make money, and most people support the idea that someone should want compensation for creatin something.. Whether they are entitled to actually charge is a legal issue, and that’s why Steam comes into play because Steam makes the relationship with the publishers and the modders are then covered by Steam.

  • I like providing a good safe way to reward modders for their work. Not all modders will end up charging.

    I think modders should get a bigger cut, as in most of it. Only 25% is a terrible cut.

    It’ll be weird for a while, but quality will shine eventually.

  • @Werit: Did you see the big ruckus over the modders who wanted to to leave their mods free but get donations? Steam removed their donation links/solicitations. That, imo, is jacked up.

  • That is the most disgusting thing about this whole mess. Though modders can write their own descriptions right? They could just include their own donation link right in the description. It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth that they took away the official links though.

  • @Justin, yes. As for 50% vs 75%, at this point we’re arguing over where in the sand to draw the line.

    Basically, as long a mod author wants to charge for it and wants Steam to help with payment and distribution, then Steam can set whatever rules it wants to. If the mod author doesn’t like it, then distribute the mod the way it was done before Steam existed. I remember hunting down a bunch of random websites to mod Morrowind and Oblivion, and only the official mods were payed for through an official Bethesda store site. Going way back I did an Aliens conversion for Doom… after tracking down the mod and so on.

    I don’t get the sudden concern over this and especially the thought that Steam is liable. The scenario you describe about the mod breaking the game – what would you do if you installed a free unofficial mod? Or one you get from somewhere other than Steam? Your problem lies with a 3rd party so take it up with them.

    As for the mod breaking the game – that’s been always been a risk. I doubt any game company is going to help with that happening due to an unofficial mod. The fix will be: uninstall everything and reinstall the game without the unofficial mod. Don’t like the risk? Don’t install the mod, don’t pay for unofficial mods, tune it to your risk acceptance level, problem solved.

    The ONLY way I see a problem here is if Steam somehow FORCES mod makers to charge money AND ALSO limits them to distributing said mods via Steam.

  • The modding community (for all games as far as I know, so I just call it THE modding community) is made up of amazing individuals that see what a game offers, and how it could be better in some facet from their point of view. Thing is, many many people share the same points of view, so well-done mods are an amazing and beneficial part of gaming. (Looking right at you, Minecraft!)

    Did these modders get paid for all this hard work? No, not usually. They didn’t do it FOR money though, they did it because they enjoy it and it made the game better in their eyes. Did people give them donations occasionally to say thank you? Abso-freaking-lutely.

    Did we need Valve to come in and rape the previous modder/mod user community with their greed? No. No we really didn’t.

    Absolutely nothing good will come of this. Especially with only 25% of proceeds going to the modders themselves. Wow. Way to just stick a huge middle finger right at everyone that actually cared about making games better, Valve.

    And I disagree Werit. About the quality shining through anyway. In my humble experience, shit floats. Everything else sinks down into it. The Steam Greenlight area is a great indicator of this. It started out okay, then everything just ended up drowning in a huge pile of poo.

  • @Gringar: There are screenshots showing that Valve edited the descriptions of people’s mods to remove the donation links. 🙁

  • I gotta agree with mmojuggler here even though it’s likely he’s a shill marketing guy ( which you probably appreciate) for steam.

    If they want to sell their mods, which admittedly I have never played, they can either pay what it costs on steam or go build their own infrastructure. Cough.

    Arguing over 25% or 50% just has me flashing back to how all the McDonald’s sandwhich wrappers feel they deserve $15 per hour.

  • @mmojuggler I’m not talking about if the mod breaks the game. My scenario is:

    1 – I buy a game.
    2 – I buy a mod for the game.
    3 – Original game gets patched, and in doing so, the mod I bought gets broken
    4 – The original maker of the mod abandons his project.
    5 – I know own a mod that I paid for, and I have nothing I can use now since it does not work anymore with the game.

    Yes, the base game works, but the mod that I paid money for it now broken. So, when this happens, does Steam give you a refund? Nope. You are just out of your money with nothing you can do about it.

  • This has the potential of being of big headache on the legal front, so much that I can’t believe no one in Valve office stopped this. Or at least insist on building a more robust system.

    – Content theft : Mod ownership will be messy. Who’s owning what ? What part of my mod is truly mine and now just a ripoff from someone else ? What about taking a mod from another website and putting it in the Steam workshop claiming it’s my own ?

    – Liability : A paid mod could impact severly the gameplay of a person or, worse, of an entire online server. Who’s liable for this ? The mod owner ? Valve for not having proper policies in place ? Looping back to the ownership issue, what if the mod is a collection of mods, do each indivual mod owner is also liable ?

    That’s only two front coming from someone not even working in the legal field. There’s probably other parts of the new system that are unclear. That’s what I’m worried the most about this system. Overall, I’m not against paid mod, it’s one business model and I’m all for letting any company trying any model; no one is forced to buy anything.

  • @keen I get why they can’t leave donation stuff up. I mean this is all hosted by Steam who now provide a different path, right? Sure, the whole money distribution is bad. But I can see why Steam wouldn’t allow people to bypass it. There are other mod sites that do though.

    They really need to give modders and the game developers more.

  • Just for everyone’s enlightenment, the only way modders CAN make money is for the makers of videogames to give them license to the copyright of the game itself. Under U.S. (and international copyright law), you are not allowed to MAKE, DISTRIBUTE, or SELL a derivative work (which mods most certainly are) without a license from the copyright holder. Even donations are out if the copyright holder decides to go after a modder.

  • Part of how the free-to-play cookie crumbles.

    Want your “free to play” title to generate cash for a few years? Slap it on Steam in a moderately stable form and charge cash for early access for years. I wonder how many devs drag their feet finalizing a f2p title because it can make more money by *not* releasing it? Landmark, H1Z1, etc.

    I resented buying an offline game, taking it to an offline country, and discovering I HAD to connect to Steam to play it. How did Steam manage to get between my money and the game publisher??

    Cash flow is King.

  • When this first started my opinion on it was that yes there would be lots of shit mods created just to try and cash in on this but the try die hard modders would still continue their work out of their love for the hobby. I also felt that they would do as they have been doing for a long time, make it free with the option to donate and in steam that was through outside payment methods stated in the description. Hell, most of them include links to the same mod on nexus. Valve now removing those outside options from descriptions is just a total dick move and shows that the absolute point of this new function was to make money off the mods. I don’t begrudge them making money off of it, the workshop works really well and I really like it, but they won’t even state that. Every single thing they say is about it ‘being great for the modders and the players’. Just own up to it. It is a new way to generate revenue. I like making a buck and don’t hold it against a company for doing it, I just hate when they won’t even say that and try to make it seem like everything but what it is.

  • “and a desire to never have to pay $5 to download a map mod for Skyrim.”

    That line should read “and a desire to never have the option to pay $5 for a map.” Which is a very big difference, especially if said $5 map never gets made without the ability to sell it. I’d rather see good paid content than never see it at all, or to see amazing mods like PoP for M&B still supported by a full team because they made a living off of it. I’d rather not wait/pray for a studio to finally hire said mods so they can maybe make something they like (and we know plenty of examples where that doesn’t happen as soon as someone is hired.)

    “Steam is also now removing links to off-site donations. You know those “If you like this mod consider donating to the creator” solicitations? Yep, gone. Looks like Steam wants their cut.”

    Pretty scummy of a mod creator to use the service Steam provides, but then try to cut the hand that feeds them out. They are lucky Valve is only removing text, rather than banning accounts. If someone is really that worked up over Valve, let them self-host and see how much attention and money they can generate before either a lawsuit finds them or more than 10 people pay.

  • @SynCaine A big issue though with the removal of outside donation options is that thru Steam there is no donation option. It is either free or a minimum of 00.99. The mod creator can use the PWYW option but it still is a minimum of 00.99. If Valve had just offered a donation option along with set pricing I think this would be less of an issue. Most mod makers do it because they enjoy it and while donations are great they do not think they are going to make a living off of it. They just want to get their work out there. Now they either have to make it free, with no option to donate if you like it, or charge a minimum for it and get much less exposure. I will try all kinds of mods if they are free and just remove them if they are not for me but I am not going to spend lots of money on mods I can not even test out first. Yes I know they have a 24 hour refund option for the mods now but that is not the same thing.

    To be fair I can understand Valve removing the outside donation links, but without providing a valid way for modders to offer their work for free with an option to donate if you like it through Steam I can hardly blame the modders.

  • @SynCaine: This is actually screwing modders over though. Most of the actual mod creators HATE the system steam is using, and the fact that steam is getting 75% of the profit from it. Not only that but… Steam has even said that any free mod is “fair game” as in someone can copy a mod that is free and put it up as theirs for paid and there is nothing wrong with that, basically they only care if people copy another person PAID mod.

    Then of course there is the fact that 90% of the good mods for Skyrim take SKSE (skyrim script extender) which due to how it works can’t be offered through the workshop so needs to get gotten 3rd party… and they see 0% of the money from people selling mods that use it.

    If you go onto the petition against it, you will see many comments from modders saying they are against it. Part of the the reason being because steam doesn’t protect free mods from being copied… it almost forces modders to charge for their mod so at least someone else doesn’t profit off their work.

  • @Drath: What system? Prior to this you couldn’t directly pay for a mod on Steam, nor on Nexus. Donation links aren’t this, not even close. Plus how many modders can/would setup a payment processing system and all that, when now Valve does it for them on the largest buyers platform?

    And easy fix for anyone worried about what happens to something they give away for free; stop giving it away.

    That 75% number is due to Bethesda, not Valve, but really why shouldn’t it be that or something close? Without Skyrim, not a single Skyrim mod exists. And without the Skyrim dev kit, the mod quality/quantity isn’t what it is either. Without the workshop mods aren’t nearly as visible to the average player (Nexus is a niche platform compared to Steam). Considering someone can (and likely will) become a millionaire thanks to Skyrim existing and Valve enabling them to sell mods on Steam, I really don’t have an issue here (I’ll get better mods), and I’m guessing the top mod makers won’t either (they’ll be much better off financially).

    The people most hurt by this are the freeloaders, who I care zero about, and the lower-tier mod makers, who I don’t care about nearly as much as I do about the top-tier.

  • @SynCaine: The bottom line though, is that the people who make the mods (even the top-tier ones) DON’T want the system at all and don’t want to have to charge for their mods. However due to the fact that if they give it away someone else can make money off it, they are forced to.

    You say you guess the top mod makers won’t have an issue, but they do. They have an issue because it goes against the grain of what the modding community has been about for years (making a game you love better and sharing that with other people). The ones who don’t have the issue are the people who make the shitty mods because they can make crap and make money off it.

    That’s the problem I have with it, is that steam and Bethesda did not even take into account what the actually modders wanted at all. They just made a cash grab in a way that says “we don’t give a crap about the people who make the mods we just want another way to make money no matter how much it screws you.”

  • “The bottom line though, is that the people who make the mods (even the top-tier ones) DON’T want the system at all and don’t want to have to charge for their mods.”

    Do you have anything to support this? Only example I have is that the SkyUI team (arguably the most important Skyrim mod ever made) returned and updated the mod because of this system. What other major mod makers have stated that this (now on hold) system would cause them to NOT create mods?

    Similar example, I know that the PoP mod for M&B hasn’t been updated as quickly because of funding issues, issues that this system would have solved for them. Additionally, a few other major M&B mods have been made into official products (Fire and Sword, Vikings), with reduced functionality, that could have also been avoided with this system.

    At the end of the day, the general rule in life is something free isn’t going to match the quality of something that has a cost. On average, mods are no different, but short-sighted children have been getting something for free, and rather than work for something better, they will just sign petitions and retweet garbage until they are too big a bother to ignore. Or light their city on fire, if need be.

  • @SynCaine: If this wasn’t someone else’s blog I would get into this more. Suffice it to say, I find it sad that because something doesn’t go your way or someone disagrees with you you turn to calling them short-sighted and children and become passive-aggressive. Height of maturity there. Anyway, it’s a moot point now, good day.

  • @Kevin: Yes, the majority of the Skyrim percentage went to Bethesda, the developer.

    @Drath: So you step away the moment you are asked to provide supporting evidence of your stance, claiming now the conversation isn’t to your liking?

  • @SynCaine: No I step away because I refuse to have a debate with someone who is just going to throw insults around. I’ve found it’s never worth it, as I tend to get heated and throw them back and nothing comes from it. There is just no point is talking with anyone (you included) on any subject once they start throwing out insults.

  • The strongest point of evidence you can point to is the outcome itself. This system was canned in four (4!) short days because of the OVERWHELMING negative feedback from the modding community. That’s the mod makers themselves. Sure we can name this team or that team that was for or against it but the landslide was against it.

    That’s not to say that any paid mod system is bad but THIS paid mod system was the worst possible execution. Valve left multiple knives in everyone’s collective backs with this system.

  • @Gringar: Well put. I, and I think most people, would be for paid mods, if it was a different system. I think the main issue here is how steam/bethesda went about it, not the fact that people had to pay for mods.