Late last week Valve started to allow game modification developers to charge for their endeavours through the Steam Workshop. The idea of paid for game mods was to help support mod developers so they could increase their time investment in the mods they are working upon, even perhaps to earn a living. This should help creators make "amazing new experiences for your game," while doing something that they love to do.
Game modifications include new cosmetic items, sound packs, custom skins, fancy houses, epic quests and entire new cities. The sale of mods via Steam Workshop began for Bethesda Game Studios' The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim game on Thursday. Coinciding with the start of the initiative, or experiment, over 20 new paid for 'premium' mods were launched for Skyrim.
As described above, paid for mods sound like a good thing. However the modding community on PCs have always, until now, provided these game modifications for free. The rewards were the hobbyist satisfaction, the recognition and sometimes a job in the games industry later on. Also glitches and small bugs could be easily forgiven. Money can get in the way of that…
An example of paid for mods causing community friction is given in a PC World report. On Friday paid for mod 'Art of the Catch', by established modders Chesko and aqqh, was voluntarily removed from the store by the authors. This was because it used assets from another prominent modder by the name of Fore – but Fore wasn't getting a cut of the sale lolly. Previously with all mods being free there was no such friction - everyone modded games with perhaps a nod to the contributing author works and elements. With money involved that camaraderie can easily break down.
In light of the above, other free mod developers have decided to pull their mods for similar reasons or so they don't "get stolen and monetized against their will," reports PC World. Another part of the modding community have gone all-in, aiming to rake in maximum cash - some modders with paid mods to promote have started to insert pop-up ads in their free mods to encourage purchases of the premium paid-for version. Interestingly the developers only get 25 per cent of the money from their mod sales, Bethesda/Valve gets the rest.
To try and douse the fire Valve CEO Gabe Newell opened a Reddit AMA session yesterday. He defended the idea of paid mods, "Skyrim is a great example of a game that has benefited enormously from the mods," he began. "The option for paid mods is supposed to increase the investment in quality modding, not hurt it". Newell went on to say that half of the developers at Valve came from the modding community.
Looking ahead at how the paid for mods 'experiment' will pan-out Newell says that Valve will monitor the situation with paid for mods and adjust things if need be. He concluded that "Our goal is to make modding better for the authors and gamers. If something doesn't help with that, it will get dumped. Right now I'm more optimistic that this will be a win for authors and gamers, but we are always going to be data driven."
It will be interesting to see how this develops over the coming weeks. Will this paid for mod initiative spread to other Steam games or be "dumped"?
UPDATE: The paid mods features discussed above have been removed. The official announcement began; "We're going to remove the payment feature from the Skyrim workshop. For anyone who spent money on a mod, we'll be refunding you the complete amount. We talked to the team at Bethesda and they agree.
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."