Paying for mods? – The backlash and reversal of paid mods on Steam

What is a mod?

A mod is a modification made to a game by the general public. This is a form of user generated content which can add minor changes to textures or new items within a game. They can also be massive changes to the core game with new locations, quests/storylines, or even be unofficial patches to fix broken games.

Paying for Skyrim mods?

Now this was a recently announced plan by Valve on their digital distribution platform Steam starting with the popular game Skyrim. These mods would be bought through the Steam workshop which would also continue to host free mods. Skyrim has a vibrant modding community with thousands of wonderfully weird mods to add thousands of hours of enjoyment to the game. There are examples of huge mods such as the Flaskaar mod.

The creator of the Flaskaar mod was hired by Bungie.

mod it until it breaksThe game itself is a lot of fun and the addition of mods can produce a rather unique experience. There are a range of mods that change the dragon model. For example there is a mod to change the dragons to look like Thomas the Tank Engine.

There is a weird and wonderful mix of mods available. My last play through of Skyrim I used a few pony mods which gave me a good laugh. This included a mod to play through the game as Fluttershy.

The Joy of mods – Fluttershy the dragonborn

However, with a community already producing a wide range of mods without monetary incentive resulted in an impressive backlash. The initial announcement  was on the 23rd of April with a new way for workshop creators to earn money. Along with this was an initial line up of paid mods for a range of prices. These mods have been wonderfully critiqued by Ganerumo and one of the mods was pulled off the store quickly when a copyright issue emerged. A backlash against Valve emerged quickly and a lot of people were angry. So what was the issue with paid mods?

The issues with paid mods:

There were a range of reasons for this backlash. In particular, the following three issues:

  • Revenue share:

Now this one in particular annoyed people. To access a paid mod you would have to pay upfront to download. This money would then be split 75% would go to Valve (30%) and the Developer (45%)  while only 25% would go to the maker of the mod. This appeared to be a cash grab by Valve and the developer claiming money on a product they did not make. In particular, this was worrying as mods often fix issues with the game. For example the user interface in Skyrim is awful but a mod fixed that problem.

Why should the developer profit from issues from their game? If paid mods became standard would this lead to more broken games being released with companies presuming modders will fix it?

This was a sore point for most people, but there are two other serious issues with the system of paying for mods.

  • Mods break/Valves lack of customer service:

Now when you download a mod you are taking a risk. They may break your game, they may not be compatible with other mods you run, and they may have unexpected bugs which do not emerge until many hours of play. Alongside these issues there is the additional problem that if the developer releases an update then there is a chance it can break the mod.

This is an issue with Valve trying to run this system. There was a refund policy with a 24 hour money back guarantee on the paid mods. This is simply not good enough. Paid mods are a risk to the consumer and if there was a patch that broke the mod then its up to the user to ‘politely ask’ the modder to update the mod to make it work again.

Valve is not known for its customer service and has taken a very hands off approach over its Steam store. Its difficult to get a refund from Steam even if you have bought a totally broken game on there service. Early access was a great idea with some wonderful games such as Besiege and Kerbal Space Program. The latter has recently been released only a couple of days ago.

However, there are other Early Access games which lack any basic content and rarely updated. This hands off approach Valve has taken would mean that there is a risk of dodgy, low quality, and awful mods could flood the paid modding scene. There is an additional issue of stealing from other modders.

  • Copyright issues and stealing from other modders

 I was surprised Valve decided to even attempt paid mods. There is a major issue with people stealing the work of modders and uploading themselves. How was Valve going to police this?

Another aspect to this was copyright issues. A lot of mod uses copyrighted material. Some of the examples I have already mentioned, but there are mods that add things like Hogwarts to Skyrim. Again this seems like a legal nightmare for Valve. However, the main concern users had was people stealing work from other modders and putting it on the Steam workshop as a paid mod.

The backlash: 

There was an impressive backlash to the paid mods. A petition was started and signed by over 130 thousand people. There was a range of negative coverage of Valves decision. This included coverage that Valve was seriously harming the modding community it was claiming to be supporting through paid mods.

The good news is that this backlash was a success. So soon after setting up this new paid mods system it has already been taken down. An announcement by Valve makes it clear they were mistaken for trying this approach.

Personally I am happy to see modding protected by the gaming community. Mods are a wonderful example of user generated content with people working alone or in small teams to produce amazing content to please a community of users. Hopefully, paid mods is something we don’t see a company trying to implement again.

However, with that good news the announcement does sound like they may try this again. Perhaps paid mods will rear its ugly head when Fallout 4 comes out, but until then we just have to wait and see.