It’s been four days since Steam announced it was introducing paid mods, starting with Skyrim, which means every gamer and their dog has had plenty of time to say that it’s a bad idea. The popular argument seems to be that paid mods will lead to the destruction of the modding community. Turning modding into a quick buck rather than an artistic endeavor done out of love for a game goes against everything that modding is supposed to be. There’s also the potential for abuse. People were quick to point out that unscrupulous modders could overcharge for work that takes only a couple of hours, or that buggy mods would rip people off, or that modders might charge for work that isn’t theirs. The latter actually occurred a couple of days after the paid mods scheme was introduced, with a mod called “Art of the Catch” being taken down for apparently using content from another modder, Fore, without permission. That mod maker, Chesko, has since said that Valve told him it was okay to use content from other people’s mods.
Then there’s the argument that Valve is messing with a system that works. Modding has been around almost as long as gaming, and plenty of the titles that are staples in any Steam library today owe much of their success to the modding community. Case in point: Skyrim, and any other Elder Scrolls or Fallout game. The free availability of a multitude of mods has meant those games continue to be bought and played long after they otherwise would have. Skyrim itself, now three and a half years old, continues to be played by countless gamers because of the plethora of new and interesting mods being made available on the Steam Workshop and on Nexus Mods. People are rightly saying that it’s a bit rich to hear from companies like Bethesda and Valve, both of them companies that owe much of their success to the modding community, that they now want us to pay for mods.
And then there are the proponents of paid mods, though you may struggle to find them. Most of their arguments have been drowned out over the din of people angry about Valve’s decision to mess with modding. Gabe Newell himself went on Reddit yesterday to defend the move, but you may struggle to find some of his comments, with many of them downvoted to oblivion. Their number one argument is that having paid mods is no big deal. Nobody’s being forced to pay to for them, and modders can still choose to make their work free. And since modders are always asking for donations anyway, how much has really changed? Right? Well, it turns out modders might have to continue asking for donations because Valve and Bethesda are taking 75% of profits from all Skyrim mods. How much goes to Valve and how much to Bethesda hasn’t been disclosed, but unless modders are selling their work by the bucketload, they shouldn’t expect to make a lot of money out of this. And in his AMA, Gabe Newell himself stated the paid mods had only generated $10,000 of revenue. And only 25% of that went to modders.
This brings us to the argument not a lot of people seem to be making, or at least the one that hasn’t been shouted the loudest. It’s not about how paid mods will affect the players. It’s about how they’ll affect developers. Now we all know there are plenty of big developers who have struggled over the past few years to, you know, actually finish their games before they release them. Players are sick and tired of paying top dollar for games that are so buggy they’re barely playable. *Cough* Watchdogs *Cough* Assassins’ Creed Unity *Cough* Well, you know what they are. So how are players going to feel now that developers have even less incentive to release working games? I guess we’ll find out soon, because that’s exactly what’s going to happen thanks to these paid mods. Remember how broken Watchdogs was when it first released? I myself had to download a mod patch just to get rid of the game-breaking lag. Imagine if there had been paid mods back then. Modders would have been stumbling over themselves to release their own patch for the game, which means we would have had to shell out even more money just to get the game to work. And where would 75% of that money have gone? Straight back into Ubisoft’s hands.
This is the real problem behind paid mods. It’s not that it’ll destroy the modding community – it’s that it’ll destroy anybody’s ability to trust that when they buy a game, they’re buying a complete, finished product. Developers can save money by releasing broken, unfinished games, and then rake in even more money as people pay for the mods to fix the games the developers should have finished in the first place. So developers actually make more money by making their games more broken. It’s not paying for mods that’s the problem here. It’s who’s being paid. Maybe hard working modders should be able to make some sort of profit – even a living – off their work. It’s not going to destroy PC gaming as we know it. But paying developers for mods just might.