The 2015 attempt to bring paid mods to Steam was an unmitigated disaster, but that's not going to stop Nexus Mods from taking a different shot at a paid-mods system of its own. The site recently announced plans for a new "mod author donation system" that will enable mod makers who opt in to earn a few bucks, or other rewards if they prefer, from their work. That doesn't mean that users will have to start paying for mods, however: Nexus Mods founder Robin "DarkOne" Scott made it clear that the mods will remain free.
Instead, Nexus Mods itself will inject a variable amount of money, expected to be in the neighborhood of $5000-10,000, into a donation pool each month, which users will also be able to donate to if they wish. At the end of the month, the total pool will be divided among mod makers based on a system of "donation points" earned through unique downloads from each mod maker's page. That metric was chosen, Scott explained, because it's both objective and difficult to mess around with.
"Unique download counters are so hard to game in the grand scheme of things that they are the safest bet when it comes to preventing fraud. You'd need to make about 20,000 new accounts, and download the same file using each of them, to make any sort of noticeable dent in the unique download counters across the site. I think that's unlikely," he wrote. "In contrast, if we were to use something like the endorsement system, or the file of the month system, you'd still need to make a lot of new accounts but it would be considerably less difficult to game."
Donation points can be accumulated, shared between mod team members, or transferred to someone else entirely, and mod creators will have to opt in if they want to take part. To ensure adequate time to resolve any issues that may come up, there will be a 90-day delay before points are actually distributed, and there will be "strict rules" and moderation to ensure that everyone plays fair. Collected points will be redeemable for PayPal donations and Amazon gift vouchers, but Nexus Mods also aims to offer games, software licenses, and PC hardware, which may be of more value to mod makers struggling with creaky hardware. Modders who don't need any of the above will also have the option to donate their points to "a few hand-selected charities" instead.
"Let me cut to the chase and clarify right now that this system definitely isn't going to let any mod author quit their day job. However, it should fulfill that original wish many mod authors have expressed for years now of wanting at least a little something tangible back from their modding hobby, even if it's just some recognition and a couple of free coffees/beers each month to keep them topped up while they're working on their mods," Scott wrote.
"On a personal level, I've been wanting to find a way to personally donate to mod authors past the occasional donation I throw out to mod authors whose mods I use, from Nexus Mods to you, for a long time now, and this seems like the best way of going about doing that in as fair a way as possible."
He acknowledged that the donation system is bound to be a "contentious" issue for some users. But he's also very clearly taking steps to avoid the crash-and-burn of paid mods on Steam by laying out exactly how the system will work, and revealing it well ahead of launch: Barring unforeseen troubles, the donation system will go live in the first quarter of 2018, probably late January or early February.