Cast your minds back to 2015. We were all slightly younger, slightly better looking, and enjoying a modding community where everything was free or based on donations. Between now and then, Steam attempted to make gamers pay for mods. To say it didn't work is an understatement — the scheme failed, miserably. With the hint that #Steam will once again try out paid mods, it raises the question: Can the distribution platform manage to make it work this time?
Changing The Game
What is modding? In its simplest form, modding is when someone makes new code or changes old code within a game to enhance the features, offer new textures or new content to PC games. #Modding is not a new concept; it's been recorded that the earliest mod was made in the 1980s. Steam is a platform where you can access a large variety of games and, odds are, find a mod to suit you. Some mods ask for a donation, or the modders have set a price. However, with so many mods available, there is a competitive market and it is sometimes difficult to charge for a mod that you can get for free elsewhere.
Steam did attempt to make a change to this policy in 2015. Trying to make PC gamers pay for mods does not feel like a matter of if Steam is able to do it — of course it can. The platform proved that it's possible when it rather hastily started making gamers pay for mods in Skyrim, arguably one of the most modded games on the site. However, it is the management of how paid mods were introduced that became the issue. Anarchy quickly ensued, with people ripping off mods they had not made and overcharging for them. Ridiculous things went on sale in protest of paid mods. For example, a golden potato for $9.99, extra apples for $29.99 and added rubbish for $2.49.
With all the issues it caused for modders and the ensuing objections from gamers, Steam quickly shut down paid mods for #Skyrim. PC gamers rejoiced, having won against the big corporation with free mods for all! But it wasn't a win for modders.
Whilst I agree that Steam mishandled paid mods, there might have been a good reason why we should pay after all. Modders put a lot of time and resources into their creations, and while a lot of them are passion projects and offer a hope of getting noticed by industry players, these budding creative minds get very little reward for what they do.
Mods also have this amazing ability to keep games going and helping to keep a community alive, but the modders tend to see no return for their work. While some get donations and others use Patreon, it's difficult to find success as a modder. It was not clear what Steam's cut of the profits for paid mods would be, but at least modders were going to get a bit of income for their work.
Has Valve Learned From Past Mistakes?
This issue is now being raised again. In a round table meeting, #Valve head Gabe Newell made it clear that paid mods could be making a comeback for Steam. Newell commented on the previous mistakes of paid mods:
"The Skyrim situation was a mess. It was not the right place to launch that specific thing and we did some sort of ham-handed, stupid things in terms of how we rolled it out. EJ [Valve's Erik Johnson] basically said we just need to back off of this for now, but the fundamental concept of 'the gaming community needs to reward the people who are creating value' is pretty important, right? … the degree to which Valve helps contribute to efficiency in the system is one of the ways in which we're adding value to the system as a whole. So, you know, we have to just figure out how to do it in a way that makes customers happy and that they buy into it, it makes creators happy because they feel like the system is rational and is rewarding the right people for the work that they do."
Newell went on to address how modders should be treated:
[Modders] create a lot of value, and we think that … absolutely they need to be compensated, they're creating value and the degree to which they're not being accurately compensated is a bug in the system, right? It's just inserting noise into it. You want to have efficient ways so that the people who are actually creating value are the people that money is flowing to."
Strong words from Newell, but not something I disagree with. Modders should be compensated for the time and effort they put into creating fresh content. Again, you have to question how much of a cut Steam would take, and what the price point would be for a mod, as different mods would bring various values to a game.
How Could It Work?
There are a few issues that Steam needs to learn from. For one, what is the right game to test out paid mods with before rolling it out to the public? Newell admitted that trying to start paid mods with Skyrim was a mistake, so maybe starting with some of Steam's own property would mean the new system could be better regulated and monitored.
Steam must also consider feedback from modders and from the community. Newell admitted his team got responses by the truckload regarding how gamers felt about paying for mods and how the scheme was introduced. While it would be foolish to not listen to the gaming community, the people with the real input would be the modders, as they have an understanding of the economy and how to sell their mods. Plus, Steam is relying on modders to be on its side and to work with them, so it wouldn't be the worst idea to foster open communication.
One final point that Steam could tackle is trying to figure out how to stop modders from being copied and other people selling their mods. This was one of the biggest issues with the paid Skyrim mods, with no way to regulate who created the mod and therefore deserving of the monetary rewards. If a system was put in place to verify mods, then the original modders would be the ones reaping the benefits.
The Current Mindset
When something is free, it proves problematic to then try charging consumers for it. Game developers have never been expected to make a product and give it to us for free. Perhaps the least of the problems this practice could lead to is the reduction in innovative and exciting products. So is it fair to expect modders to give their work away for free? Surely we can all agree that they enhance games and bring new life to them, and so are deserving of rewards for their creativity and dedication.
I try to view paid mods as a #microtransaction, that you're getting something fantastic for what you are paying for. It may not be easy at first, but paid mods could be the way of the future.
How do you feel about paying for mods? Let us know in the comments below.
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