Valve’s attempt to introduce paid mods to the Steam workshop came to a close yesterday when the company announced it was cancelling the program. The move to allow modders to charge for their work on the Steam Workshop incurred the internet’s wrath in a big way not least due to its atrociously mishandled roll-out. The community seemed to feel almost betrayed that Valve and Bethesda would simply go ahead and introduce this scheme without first discussing it with the public. Even worse, the two companies remained largely silent on the matter for several days before Gabe Newell, Valve CEO, finally took to Reddit to defend the move. That didn’t go so well, with most of his comments downvoted to obscurity. Valve and Bethesda both took a hit to their popularity, Valve in particular. But when you’re a company, hate is easy to deal with. For individuals, it’s much harder.
Two days ago, a Skyrim modder called James Ive told Polygon he’d faced abuse and death threats from the gaming community. Ive, who creates mods under the name Jimo, was one of the modders charging for his work on the Steam Workshop. There was also an artist named Thiago Vidotto, who created weapons for Skyrim based on DOTA, who received messages saying that he was “destroying the gaming world.” Meanwhile Ives was faced with “countless death threats, attacks and hateful comments… Just about everything you can think of.”
Valve’s actions may have brought the paid mod debate to a head last week, but it has actually been going on for some time. There are modders that work exceptionally hard to create superb and original content for games. For Skyrim, a great example is the Falskaar mod. Created by Alexander Velicky, it adds an entirely new land to the game as well as 20-30 hours of extra gameplay. Since creating the mod Velicky has been given a job at Bungie, but until then he was receiving nothing but donations for his work. For most, it would be hard to imagine putting so much time and energy into a project for so little financial return, but this is how the modding community has been going for years. There have always been arguments on both sides. It’s hard to argue that modders like Velicky would have been unjustified should they have chosen to charge for their work, but the community wants mods to remain free and available to everyone.
Valve’s ill-fated plan to enable modders to make money off their work should have worked. It should have benefited the community and helped modders, but instead it was so mishandled, it had to be shut down less than a week after it began. The absence of a pay-what-you-choose slider and the fact that Valve implemented the plan without warning riled up the community to the point of no return. Two days ago, I wrote about the risks of giving 75% of the revenue from mods to the developers and Valve. Gabe Newell said on Reddit, “Our goal is to make modding better for the authors and gamers.” I hope it’s become clear to Gabe by now that giving just 25% of the revenue to modders was never going to make them any better off than they are relying on donations. In fact, the decision to give them only 25% makes it look suspiciously like Valve didn’t care at all about the interests of the modders.
Now, not only have modders missed out on an opportunity to monetize their work, but any future attempts to monetize mods will also have to deal with the fallout from this attempt. And we can only hope this whole fiasco won’t discourage modders from continuing to create awesome content for the games they love.