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 http://steamcommunity.com/profiles/76561198008693173/

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.

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Could memes be an effective way to communicate climate change?

Memes are an interesting aspect of Internet culture. The term meme originates from Richard Dawkins in his book ‘the selfish gene’ who argued that memes were culture that is transmitted ‘brain to brain’. This was heavily contested for two key reasons. Firstly, there are issues with defining what a meme is. Secondly, we do not study culture by focusing on a single ideas, but instead culture is studied on a broader scale as ideas do not exist in isolation.

However, the term meme has been appropriated for use to describe the viral sharing of information. As a result a meme can be either a video or image that has had viral success. A popular series of memes are cat based. Below is two cat memes. The first is a variation of the ‘If I fits I sit’ meme that emerged in 2011. The second is a video meme called ‘Nyan Cat’ also from 2011 which has had at the time of writing 119,811,155 views on Youtube.

if its not for sits

These examples highlight an important issue with whether it is possible for memes to spread information about environmental issues. Internet culture is very fast moving and a key aspect of the success of an meme is a requirement that the meme is general enough to be used in a variety of ways or mutated to be used with other memes. This means novelty is an important aspect in the spread of memes. Another core aspect is that memes are often spread for entertainment or because the meme  represents a personal belief or identity.

The sharing of memes for entertainment and identity can be seen in the Brony subculture. This is the mostly male adult fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic that emerged over 4 years ago originally on a website called 4chan. Pony memes became so popular on 4chan (reaching over 6000 posts per day) that they introduced new rules which led to the deletion and banning of pony memes. This was eventually reversed by 4chan with the creation of a pony board /MLP/.

However, pony memes have proved to have high survivability within Internet culture. At the time of writing the Knowyourmeme.com website has an image gallery of over 207 thousand pony images (far larger than any other meme image gallery on the website). This is due to the memes being created for both entertainment and also it is mutated to be used with other memes. For example the creation of pony versions of popular memes like ‘Its dangerous to go alone take this’

Due to memes being shared for entertainment it does call into question the ability for memes to be used to communicate serious issues such as climate change. While there are environmental memes shared they don’t often leave the environmental networks to be seen by a wider audience. There has been two examples I have seen that has managed to get a wider audience and both have been examples of culture jamming. Culture jamming is when you take a corporate or governmental message and subvert it.

The first example is from Greenpeace. This video was used to get people to sign up to a petition to pressure Lego to end a partnership deal with Shell. This was highly successful. The emotionally powerful video uses a depressing version of the upbeat song ‘Everything is awesome’ from the highly successful Lego movie. The success was due to the subversion of a popular song from the successful movie. This video has been viewed over 7 million times.

The second example this time aims to increase awareness of the use of palm oil in Doritos. This video is designed as a parody of adverts with a nice sharp twist ending. This has been viewed over 2 million times. However, the impact of this video is questionable. The video is funny and as a result could have been shared for the entertainment value rather than the serious environmental message that it aims to give to the viewer.

In conclusion, while there are occasional environmental memes that achieve wide viral success it is questionable the impact they have on the user. In particular, the palm oil example may simply be a success due to the entertaining nature of the video. Even then compared to other viral videos such as ‘Nyan cat’ the viewer count is relatively tiny.

The ability of memes to spread environmental information will be explored in more depth in my through a series of focus groups as part of my PhD. I plan to produce a journal article on this subject, but I will make a blog post about my findings when I have completed transcription and analysis eventually. However, the ability for memes to be an effective way to communicate climate change does seem to be very questionable.

An Introduction: exploring the impact of the Internet upon public understanding of science

Starting this blog: 

I am a politics PhD student at the University of Exeter based at the Environment and Sustainability Institute on Penryn Campus. I have been intending to start a blog for a while now to communicate my research with a wider audience. Also to discuss some interesting examples that emerged from Internet culture that have emerged through my research. My research focuses on public understanding of science and the impact of the Internet. In particular, my work focuses on public understanding of climate change and the impact of junk information from climate sceptics.

Some of the areas that my research covers can be seen in a talk I gave at a postgraduate research conference on Penryn campus on the challenge of Internet research. The video is low quality as it was taken by a fellow PhD student with their phone. This talk was given to an audience of PhD students from a range of subject areas with the majority being from the bio sciences. So the talk was designed to be accessible and entertaining with some wonderfully weird examples from Internet culture.

Focus of this blog:

This blog will focus primarily on sharing my research and exploring interesting things that emerge from Internet culture. There will also be the occasional post on my experiences as a PhD student and teaching in the department, but the primary focus will be on Internet culture and its impact upon public understanding of science.

My main research focus on the Internet has resulted in my developing interest on memes, user generated content, and online communities. Memes are essentially anything online which has viral spread including images and videos with most people being familiar with cat memes. An example of a cat meme can be seen with Grumpy Cat (see below). Grumpy cat is a great example of this as this meme has achieved success outside the Internet with books published and even a film ‘Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever’.

Grumpy Cat meme example

Memes could potentially be shared to spread information on serious political issues, but the majority of the popular memes are spread mainly for entertainment. Memes can often be in jokes within online communities.

Another key interest I have developed is on the subject of online communities as the Internet has enabled people to set up groups surrounding any interest. This has led to health support groups being formed for patients to support each other while on the other hand communities have emerged surrounding video games. My particular interests in online communities focus on video gaming communities, such as World of Warcraft, and the Brony subculture.

The term Brony refers to an adult fan of the show My Little Pony. The majority of these fans are men. This unexpected fan base originally emerged on the website 4chan around 4 and half years ago with the reboot of the show. 4chan is best known by the majority of the public with the sharing of naked celebrity images and harassment campaigns, but the website is core to Internet culture with many memes emerging from this anonymous chaotic environment.  The Brony subculture has produced a huge quantity of user generated content from original music, mods for video games, original video games, fanfictions, animations… The Brony subculture has also produced a huge quantity of memes (see examples below). These online communities are particularly interesting to my work as the way people choose to use the Internet and social media is important to understand.

The Internet has produced a wide range of seemingly random content and online communities. This blog will as a result explores user generated content, interesting memes, and discuss online communities for the majority of posts. I will also post findings from my PhD research on the impact of the Internet upon public understanding of climate change.