Steam, Modding, and the Internet

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Valve recently launched a feature that allows game mod developers to sell their content through Steam, testing the feature with one of the most highly-modded games on the market: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. People were NOT happy about the move; the Steam community, Reddit, and other forums exploded with the rage of the PC Master Race. Reports of users getting banned from the Steam forums for their outspoken dislike of the feature quickly surfaced.

Gabe Newell himself dropped by Reddit shortly after the launch to answer some popular questions, which even lead to a dialogue with the owner of the popular mod hosting site, Nexus.In his Reddit AMA, Newell spoke out against censoring forum content and user comments, and promised to take steps to eliminate the issue. In his conversation with the Nexus site owner, Newell re-assured us that he believes developers should be able to share their mods for free if they choose to do so.

Including incredible side-quests like this one
Including bad ass side-quests like this one

One large downside to the Skyrim Workshop is stolen or “borrowed” content; Valve doesn’t have a fool-proof way of preventing content from being stolen, which became apparent when the system went live. The feature basically allows mod creators to offer paid content; Steam and Bethesda would both receive a large cut of the income. According to Newell, these percentages are set by the owner of the game, so Bethesda would be to blame for this one (big surprise, right?).

This is the only issue I take with the service, and one of the main complaints from critics. Game corporations, like Bethesda, shouldn’t be able to profit from user-created content. By allowing creators to sell their mods, Valve’s goal was to give indie developers a platform for income for the amazing content they’ve created, in the spirit of games like DOTA, Killing Floor, Counter-strike, and DayZ, which originated from modded content.

A few days after the service was announced, Valve decided to pull the payment feature from the Skyrim Workshop, admitting the feature wasn’t rounded out enough to give users what they wanted to see. In the announcement, they even confess that “it’s clear we didn’t understand exactly what we were doing” and that “Skyrim was probably not the right place to start iterating….this made us miss the mark pretty badly.”

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Let’s talk about a few things this debacle brought to light. First of all, PC gamers (myself included) are entitled sons of bitches. We live in a world where people pay for a minimum of 3 different television services to legally watch the shows they want to watch, and mobile in-app purchases are a huge source of revenue for games like Angry Birds. But gods forbid a large company, regardless of their proven track record focusing on users, allow indie-created content to be sold. With Skyrim alone, the amount of modded content out there is ridiculous–I personally run around 80 mods, some of which boast 20 + hours of added game time. In my opinion, the mods I use are nearly as valuable as the root game itself; why should Bethseda being the only one profiting from content they’ve moved on from? Steam isn’t interested in taking over the modding world, so I personally don’t see what the fuss is about. Newell himself responded to a concern about mods becoming solely available through Steam by stating

“Exclusivity is a bad idea for everyone. It’s basically a financial leveraging strategy

that creates short term market distortion and long term crying.”

Now, big companies like Bethseda could certainly abuse the system and prevent mods from being added to sites like Nexus, but Newell mentioned that they’d be greatly discouraged from doing so. The owner of The Nexus himself said that he wasn’t taking a stance for or against paid modding either way; he’s created a site for free content, and that’s the way things will stay.

Valve has the right intentions with the feature, and listening to the feedback of their customer base will prove a huge step in the right direction for any steps taken to release a future paid-mod service. Paid mods are a natural step in the evolution of user-created content, and I’m curious to see who will be next to jump on (or off) the bandwagon.

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