The problem with writing a weekly blog is that you can pitch an idea one day, then seven days later the whole event’s over, leaving you to pick through the smoking remains and wonder what on earth’s happened. This week has been one of those weeks, as anyone who’s been following the Steam paids mods debacle can tell you.
So, what happened? Very recently, Steam announced that would be offering their community modders the opportunity to monetise their creations. Usually offered for free, modders could set a price for the download of their creations. 75% of that price would go to the game developers, with the remaining amount going to the modder themselves. Starting out, Steam decided to offer monetisation of Skyrim mods, as the game has attracted hundreds of talented and enthusiastic modders.
As can be imagined, there was an immediate outcry from the Steam community. Many were understandably frustrated with the idea of being suddenly charged for services that were traditionally free, and issues with ownership of mods made the idea of monetising them suddenly very complicated. Gabe Newell hosted a Reddit AMA to try and address some of these queries, saying that ‘Our goal is to make modding better for the authors and gamers. If something doesn’t help with that, it will get dumped.’ Addressing accusations of greed on behalf of Steam, he said, ‘Yes! It’s like saying, “Tom used to give me his apples for free. Now he’s selling them at the grocery store for $X.XX. The grocery store is a greedy monster!”’
Despite Newell’s attempts at damage control, the damage had already been done. On the 28th April, Steam decided to remove the payment feature from their workshop. In the blog post outlining their reasons for this, it was explained that they thought introducing paid mods would encourage modders to create more, and for developers to involve modders in the design process. It’s very clear that they were slightly blindsided by the outrage they received, and that they will have to take a step back and think carefully about their next step.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the Steam community would have been delighted with this result, but some have been less than pleased. Some are mourning the opportunity that could have been, removed because of the ‘whining and crying’ of unhappy community members. Others have pointed out that they can’t justify putting out mods for free anymore, as it costs too much time and money to make them for no reward.
So what does this mean for the Steam modding community? No one can argue that this idea was poorly handled. Some have suggested that perhaps a better option would be to offer an ‘optional donation’ option, rather than mandatory payment for certain mods. If Steam could have pulled this off, this could have led to higher quality mods, and developers getting involved in the modding scene. As it stands though, it’s just led to rifts within the community, and modders feeling as if their work is less valuable than Steam’s bottom line. Steam themselves have taken a large hit to their generally favourable image, and so will have to decide carefully what they do next.