Over the past few days, the PC gaming community has been up in arms over the new paid modding system Valve implemented into its flagship Steam Community Workshop. Almost as quickly as it arrived, it was shunned and then shuttered only days later. It’s a rare occasion for Valve to blunder so violently in such a short time, however I will give them credit for responding as quickly as they did. So what happened?
The majority of the backlash started with one mod which was removed within hours of the paid program’s launch. The controversy began due to the mod’s creator having used assets from another mod by another creator. As should be expected, using another’s content to get paid is rather frowned upon.
However, Steam Workshop was never set up to have the kind of regulation you might expect from a paying service. The mod mentioned above wasn’t even removed by Steam, but by the developer for having received so much negative press. Yet, with Valve offering paid options for modders, not only does it infringe on some of the communities’ ideologies, but potentially creates an atmosphere where mods might become exclusive to Steam due to a developer’s interest in profits. The proprietor of the Nexus modding community Robin Scott weighed in on Reddit asking:
“Can you make a pledge that Valve are going to do everything to prevent, and never allow, the “DRMification” of modding, either by Valve or developers using Steam’s tools, and prevent the concept of mods ONLY being allowed to be uploaded to Steam Workshop and no where else, like ModDB, Nexus, etc.?”
It’s fair question considering what a mod actually is: a contribution to an already finished product. It’s kinda like if you took a painting, added your own character to it, then asked to be paid for your work. While you may have legitimately improved upon the artwork, and perhaps put in nearly as many hours as the original artist, the fact remains that it was never yours to begin with. So the question stands: does a modder deserve to be paid at all?
It’s a tricky question. While the point still remains that mods are not original contributions, there’s no arguing that some mods have evolved into highly successful standalone games on their own merit. DayZ for example, was a mod to the ARMA 2 engine by a single developer (who did happen to work for Bohemia Interactive before it was appropriated by them, however), and is now one of the highest selling games on PC. Counter-Strike and Team Fortress Classic began as mere mods to the Half Life engine as well, and have also gone on to become two of the most highly celebrated and influential games in the industry. Not to mention the original DOTA having been a Warcraft 3 mod.
Successful mod developers have come forward, unsurprisingly, in favour of the paid system. Garry’s Mod creator Garry Newman suggests that the market would balance itself, rewarding quality over quantity. He is convinced that people won’t pay for unimpressive mods, while the better ones will shine through and receive the funding they deserve. Shawn Snelling, a prominent modder and map designer for CS:GO also believes modders should be compensated for their time.
A lovely satire piece from The Beaverton.
I just want to be clear in my position that I do not disagree with their sentiment. Of course hard-working modders deserve compensation, and many of them have already been rewarded. Again, some of the most successful titles we know today began as mods, and wouldn’t be as such if not for their developers having made the decision to monetize their efforts. But mods like DayZ didn’t become paid, standalone versions overnight. The decision to sell was almost always after they had become celebrated, and provided enough content to be sold as complete games. Even still, the original DayZ mod for ARMA 2 can be had entirely for free.
The issue here was strictly implementation.
With almost no warning or advisement from the community, Valve issued an option to allow the content creators to decided whether or not their work had value, when point of fact, it should have been at the discretion of the community itself. Right out of the gate, there were already mods with little effort done by the developer, and/or stolen assets, wrongly asking for payment with absolutely no regulation nor communication from Steam. Anyone could put in as little effort as they liked, and still demand payment just for you to download it. As one can imagine, this kind of honour system doesn’t work on the internet without oversight. “Protest mods” even appeared, some asking for $hundreds to provide a single, worthless asset, just to prove how ridiculous the new system was.
While I don’t see this as the last we’ve heard from this kind of program, my hope is that it comes back in the form of a “tip” system, where customers can chose to donate to mods deemed worthy of compensation and recognition. This way, both the consumers and the developers can get a more realistic idea as to whether or not a mod should be monetized or perhaps made into its own game.
Feel free to weigh in yourselves. Do you think it’s fair to charge for mods before they’ve had any recognition?