Tales from the Steam Workshop: we talk to modelers making six figure sums
Valve's Steam Workshop is life-changing. The community curated creative space has finally realised the dream of modders everywhere, rewarding them for the work they put into making games better. Team Fortress 2 and Dota 2 enable contributors to earn money from their creations, leading to some modders earning a six-figure income, according to comments made by Gabe Newell at CES. A living wage from making intangible hats, fish, and imaginary weaponry? I had to find out who these people were, and what modding - specifically modding Team Fortress 2 - has added to their lives.
Anthony Carriero is a 35 year-old Australian. He is professional digital artist and a certified baker. Your in-game Demo might be wearing his Ali Baba’s Wee Booties, or wielding his Persian Persuader, just two of seven items Anthony's contributed to the game. Anthony's day job was the catalyst for his interest in Valve's Mannconomy.
"Item creation for TF2 came about through working in a game studio," he told me. "I was first exposed to the game there, while I was undertaking style research and development. Every day after work the guys and I would play couple of hours of TF2, among other titles. Being a huge long-time fan of the 40s and 50s commercial art, Ren and Stimpy, WB cartoons, I fell in love with the TF2 art style.
"What got me really making items was the seductive tangibility and illustrative quality of the TF2 art style. I wanted to try it out for myself."
So he did.
"The Pyro's Connoisseur's Cap, was the first item submitted and put into the game, but the first thing I made for TF2 was a slingshot. It was a style test and I never submitted it. I have seen it pop up around the place. Unknown to me, the original finished screenshot was even submitted a couple of times to the workshop by item pirates."
Item pirates! The Steam Workshop has become so profitable it's created rip-off merchants. How profitable has it been for Anthony? He, like many of the other contributors, was coy about the exact mount: "Let me answer this as indirectly as possible. I am sure that Valve has a new Lamborghini in the staff car park."
FYI: you can buy a used Lambourghini for under £200,000. As you'll find out later on, Anthony's guess is about right.
Like Anthony, Shaylyn Hamm works as an artist for a games company, and she began making TF2 items before the Workshop existed: "Part of my Master's project involved modelling playable female versions of the Medic and Heavy classes. When the Polycount contest was announced, I was an art intern at one of the local studios, and one of my co-workers suggested I enter, since I had a bit of background with the game already. It seemed like a lot of fun and potentially some new work to add to my portfolio, so I totally went for it."
"I created the Saharan Spy pack for the Spy, which includes the Familiar Fez hat, the Your Eternal Reward knife, and the L'Etranger revolver."
All of which now dangle from various stabby bastards in-game. Since her items landed in the game in 2010, Shaylyn's stepped away from the Workshop, but even so her contributions continue to spread throughout the servers: "I've been told that the Eternal Reward is the most popular. It's pretty crazy that it's been two years and the set is still selling! All told, I've made enough money from everything in the past few years to set me on the path to paying off my (extremely expensive) education. And that is pretty amazing, since it's generally not something that many people with fine arts degrees are fortunate enough to say!"
It also means, according to Shaylyn, that "whether at work or at home, my butt never has to sit on a non-Herman Miller chair."
Herman Miller chairs are hella-expensive people, but even so that's not why Shaylyn does it: "I love games, and I love art, and it's awesome to be able to combine both of those interests into something that I actually get paid to do all day."
Which is sentiment echoed, somewhat, by Bob Scott. Bob's a self-taught artist from the UK. His route into the business isn't as straight-forward as the others. He loved art and modelling, but ended up a GCSE level art student with a chemical engineering degree. "I think the logic was not wanting to turn something I loved into a job I hated, which with hindsight was dumb because I turned making stuff into a full time job without even thinking about it."