A couple of weeks back Steam made headlines with a big decision. They decided to try out ‘paid’ mods, starting with a trial on Skyrim. Needless to say this didn’t go down too well with gamers, or the modding community itself, and within the space of a weekend Valve completely back tracked.
So that’s the very basic run down of what happened and I thought I’d take a look and share a few of my thoughts on it.
My disclaimer up front is that my initial reaction at the time Valve launched ‘paid’ mods on Steam was a negative one. I’ve long been a fan of free modding communities and have tried out free community-made mods on loads of my games past and present. These days a lot of these mods have been through the Steam Workshop, which has been a fantastic way of broadening modding and making mods easily accessible to every PC Gamer. That’s where I’m coming from on this whole ‘paid’ mod thingy.
First up, the most obvious lesson of this sorry story is not to mess with established gaming communities! Skyrim’s modding community is infamously strong and vibrant, and its been going for years. Doing an experiment with that was a big risk that probably wasn’t worth taking!
That’s maybe over simplifying it a bit, but it would’ve been a much better decision if Valve really wanted to test out implementing this idea to trial it on anything other than Skyrim and see how it did there.
As it turns out, it seems the ‘paid’ mod thing was just as much, if not more, Bethesda’s idea and they approached Valve about doing it. It’s difficult to really tell how true that is, and we’ll never know whether it was Bethesda’s or Valve’s idea.
That said, both companies should have known their customers better and maybe approached it in a different way if they were really set on trying it with Skyrim.
The big question though is whether the heart of the concept was any good. So, was it?
Well, I can’t help it but the ‘paid’ Steam workshop brought up very unfortunate parallels to App Stores, the likes of Apple and Google Play shops. These are the shops that have brought the world the hugely successful mini-games such as Angry Birds and Candy Crush Saga (interestingly reportedly now going to be a pre-installed app on Windows 10!).
I don’t want to belittle the achievements of App-type games in the slightest. These games have been massive finanical successes as well as bringing gaming to whole new audiences. They’ve achieved a lot in their own Disney-esque way.
What the problem that this throws up is that PC game mods are no Angry Birds. These are two opposite ends of the gaming spectrum in many ways, with a pretty much completely different customer base and certainly a completely different customer focus.
Given that, I’m not sure ‘paid’ mods was a good idea being implemented in a micro-transaction app style fashion. I don’t think it would ever gel that well with the user base.
That said, the idea behind the ‘paid’ mods of making modding pay talented people for their work and encourage them; and therefore benefit the whole gaming community, is a pretty sound one.
Well, rewarding modders for their work is no new thing. ModDB modders often have ‘donate’ buttons on their pages, which nobody has to pay into but many thousands do willingly. The Steam Workshop doesn’t have this, so what the Steam Workshop could do is introduce a Humble Bundle style system.
They could add a ‘donate’ option to every mod that gets released on the Steam Workshop. Modders wouldn’t have to put it on the page if they believed strongly that they didn’t want payment – as many do feel. Those that did, it would feature somewhere noticeable.
When you click on the button it allows you to donate whatever you feel like donating – with a blurb explaining that you don’t have to but Valve recommends you donate to modders who’s creations you really enjoy so that you can foster their talents.
Valve is of course a business, so they wouldn’t do all that for free. There was some controversy over the split of revenue for the ‘paid’ mods, which left the modder with just 25%. I guess that’s the price you pay for publishing through Steam and getting those kinds of hits on your creations.
There’s not much that can be done about that, Valve has the ultimate say, but I’d personally love to see the creators of mods getting more than 25% – just as I would love to see musicians getting far more from their record sales.
Anyway, that’s my solution to this whole ‘paid’ mod shenanigan, which I think resolved most of the problems that the initial release threw up and that caused such an epic failure.
What do you think? Could a donate/Humble Bundle style system work? Should mods be free forever? Let me know what you think by commenting!
Digital Salad – lifeasadigitalsalad.wordpress.com