Steam drops paid mods plan

The headline says it all, however if you’re not familiar with Steam, I’ll give some background and explain just what that headline means.

Steam is a digital software distribution platform developed by Valve, itself a well-known and well-respected developer of computer games such as the legendary Half-Life, and founded by former Microsoft employee and now-billionaire Gabe Newell. Steam has become the standard for digital distribution of software, and although there are others such as Electronic Arts’ Origin service and Ubisoft’s UPlay, none have had the impact or influence of steam.

Another function of Steam is to allow mods, or additions to games that have been created by fans. They may be upgrades to graphics, new items, levels, characters, sounds, or numerous other tweaks. Steam allows for the easy, one-click install of these mods through what is known as the Steam Workshop, whereas installing them any other way would require manually manipulating the files.

Some entries in Steam's Skyrim workshop

Some entries in Steam’s Skyrim workshop

Recently, Valve announced they were going to allow mod-makers to charge for their creations. That was a bold move, since in most cases mods are, and always have been, free – labors of love by fans of a particular title. Needless to say, the reaction was swift, and brutal. There are several reasons for it.

The first is that mods have been free for so long, that to introduce a pricing structure gets an immediate negative knee-jerk reaction (remember your responses when I asked if you’d be willing to pay $1 a month for Facebook?).

The second issue is that many people saw it as a slippery slope, another way to nickel-and-dime everyone for everything in every possible way. On top of that, how would they police people who stole the mods created by others, made slight changes or none at all, then sold those mods themselves?

But how is your knee?

But how is your knee?

Then there was the revenue plan. At first, the only game to have paid mods was Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. The revenue would be split at 25% to the mod makers, 30% to Valve, and 45% to Bethesda, with the mod developer being the one to determine what to charge, if anything. That drove people crazy and was considered very unfair. When a fan makes a mod does Valve deserve anything? And if they do (for, say, providing hosting infrastructure), does Bethesda deserve anything at all, especially 45%? It’s a tough question.

There was even a mod that had in-game characters carrying signs protesting the plan. Very clever.

This fellow in the dragon priest mask isn't happy

This fellow in the dragon priest mask isn’t happy

The plan only lasted four days, with Valve quickly backpedaling and announcing on their forums that they were dropping the plan. This doesn’t mean it won’t resurface in some new form in the future, but for now, it’s dead.

I’m torn. I don’t have a problem with mod makers getting some revenue for their efforts, but I worry that what has always been a labor of love will become just another revenue stream with no quality control – some mods were really terrible. They should continue to be personal endeavors rather than cash attempts.

Full disclosure: My version of Skyrim uses 85 mods, for everything from added ambient sounds to multiple graphical and mesh improvements to wild horse herds to additional weather patterns to the stances used by non-player characters (NPCs) to name only a few. I recorded a video to show you exactly how it looked, and even ended with a dramatic battle between myself and a couple of mammoths and a dragon, but my recording software – Camtasia – won’t record games played through Steam, instead only registering a black box. Sorry!

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