First things first: for me, this isn’t about “taking sides”. I like Valve. And as for the community, well, I’m part of that.
I’m a modder, and I deserve compensation. Or, to be exact, I deserve the option to ask for compensation if I feel that’s reasonable.
Let’s talk about what that looks like for a second. Is it 25% of a sale on a Steam item? Should Valve and Bethesda get 30% and 45% respectively of any item I sell? Actually, I’m not sure. If I’m selling one trillion units, I’m not minding that cut really. If I’m selling six units and I’m eating ramen noodles under a bridge somewhere in Detroit, I’m minding that cut a lot.
Steam is a huge platform, and when Valve promotes your stuff as a modder, you’re in the territory of making huge money. Huge money, for doing what you love. You can’t really get that elsewhere, and that’s a credit to Valve and how great Steam generally is and has been. So that cut, I’m not sure I mind it as much as you might think. But let’s go ahead and agree Valve needed to put more thought into their plan, or at least into explaining and executing their plan. There are real considerations here that just don’t feel like they were addressed at all (did you know that some Skyrim mods can completely break your game?)
Here’s my real question: just how effective is this system going to be at rewarding modders?
Well, if everyone is pissed off at Valve and refusing to purchase stuff, not very; in that situation, modders won’t get paid.
So let’s talk a little bit about this, shall we? Let’s agree that modders deserve to get paid. That’s right, I said it. Those people who put their time and effort into something that provides you with countless hours of entertainment. Let’s start the discussion right there—those people deserve to get paid. But only if they dig the idea.
This is the trajectory of most mods historically: a small team of people works very hard to make something they feel is special and unique, and very often it is. Many of them have no interest in professional game development. Many do, and their mods serve as their resume when they look for a job in the industry. These hardworking individuals have an intense and productive relationship with the community, only to be shuffled off and placed into cubicles where their artistic voice is diluted and stifled churning out sequels for giant publishers. Instead of earning money doing what they love, they’re earning money so that they can someday do what they love once again. Compensating modders is one potential answer to this thoroughly broken dynamic producing lousy games for all of us.
Speaking personally, the Steam Workshop has gotten to a point where it’s netting me a real salary and I feel rewarded and compensated for my work. I love what I do, and Valve has created a system which enables me to do it full-time, and to learn and improve every single day. Explain to me again why I secretly want to go develop the gaming equivalent of a TPS report?
However, even if the industry was a wonderful utopia, I actually kind of like working from home and not having a boss. Is that wrong? Am I bad person? Nah. I’ve got a pretty sweet gig. And that’s thanks to Valve and Gabe.
That’s right, I said it! COME AT ME, INTERNET, LET’S RUMBL—no I already regret saying that please do not come at nor rumble me.
To me, Gabe is still the same good guy he always was. But we need to realize a few things about Valve.
First and definitely foremost, they suck at communication. There are legitimate reasons for this that I could get into, but I won’t bother. We know they suck at communicating. And that recently hurt modders. Because Valve communicated their plan ineffectively, it turned people off completely, which meant “hey, modders might not get paid at all!” As a modder, that makes me sad. Actually, it makes me worry about eating. Which is more scary than it is sad.
Secondly, and let’s be honest, Valve’s plan kinda sucked. If you’re going to announce a bold new initiative, you should probably avoid mentioning that part where you’re not going to pay people a majority of what their sale earns. Even if a handful of Skyrim modders could quite plausibly make hundreds of thousands of dollars in the near future, the revenue splits we’ve all seen just don’t look great. And that big uproar Valve faced is proof that Bad Marketing leads to Bad Stuff.
I admit, the community response was surprising and worrying. Seeing Gabe downvoted on Reddit is, uh… spooky! But I’m also deeply impressed with how legitimate the community’s gripes have been. I hope Valve reads some of the discussions on Reddit, because they’re precisely not “whiny entitled gamers crying about having to pay for stuff.” People immediately identified serious and troubling issues with Skryim’s paid-modding plan.
I do think there are solutions to the current situation. If people are opening their wallet, they want to get something great as a result. The idea that anyone, regardless of curation or objective criteria, can simply charge $100 for an “Extra Apple,” isn’t alright. There should be some level of subjective, human-level curation. I believe that 3rd party DLC works well. You have to put in time and effort as a developer, but customers like knowing that they’re getting quality content. After all, customer happiness should be what matters, even if Valve hates the idea of “bottlenecks.”
The next glaring issue is paid mods ceasing to function or breaking your game. Obviously, that is unacceptable, and a 24-hour refund policy is inadequate.
Perhaps most importantly, gamers do not want to pay for bugfixes on a product they’ve already purchased. The workshop should have a clear promise to customers (a rule, if you will): bugfixes and bugfixing mods will be FREE for customers, even if that means bugfixing contributors have to settle for donations. Incentivizing people to fix bugs in AAA games is wrong -- that’s the developer’s job. The community isn’t here to clean up after major corporations, and rules are necessary when the alternative is exploitation and unethical business practices.
I believe these are important steps forward. Talented hobbyists are beginning to become talented pros, people more capable of delivering high-quality mods to you. As a gamer, I want that. I believe that modders could soon have the opportunity to pursue their own path and explore interesting ideas with totally unprecedented creative and financial freedom—I don’t believe that’s “bad for modding culture”. Quite the opposite.
Valve, please put together a plan that sucks less; or at least, seems to suck less. But, most importantly, please continue to support modders. Like you’ve done. Like no one else really does. As a modder, I appreciate it more than I could possibly tell you in this short article.
Over the past three years, you guys have literally changed my life for the better, and an internet mob will not deter me from saying it.
Read more of Shawn's thoughts on the issue of paid modding and Valve's announcement on this Reddit discussion.