Steam: Mods for Sale Part 1 – Why This is a Good Thing
Steam: Mods for Sale Part 1 – Why This is a Good Thing
This is an opinion piece. As such it is this writer’s opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of PixelJudge.com or any associated entities. This will be a two part article series where two of our writers will look at the good, the bad and the ugly. Read Part 2 (Why This is a Bad Thing) here.
Yo jurors! Valve just dropped a bombshell on Steam today by implementing a system that allows mod creators to charge for the mods they create. This is mostly great news and I’m going to explain exactly why.
Modding has historically been seen as a hobby. For some games, some mods and some modders it’s a simple task and not terribly time consuming. For others, it’s a very time intensive task. As an example, Peter “Durante” Thoman is known as the modder that created the popular Dark Souls Fix mod as well as the GeDoSaTo mod/tool. The DSfix is a mod that fixed a lot of problems with the original Dark Souls game as well as enabled advanced features that the game doesn’t support natively. This mod was fairly time consuming for him as he had to research the game to figure out if it was doable in the first place, then come up with the method to implement it, then test said method, release it into the wild, then revise it multiple times over a period of several months post initial release. Oh, then a patch or two broke the mod and he had to make it work again. All of this, as well as providing direct “customer support” for people using his mod was done free of charge with a donation option available. Donation...
A donation by its nature is a charity on the part of the end user to choose an amount they deem reflects the value of whatever they have received. In a nutshell, someone else is allowed to assign a value to someone else’s work. Valve’s new system allows the content creator to decide what they think their own time and effort is worth, and then see if the people who would use their product agree. And make no mistake about it, a mod is a product and always has been. It is the fruit of someone’s labor and this system allows the laborer to decide its value, like most other products in the world. A product is released, a price is set by the entity offering the product and the market decides if the price is fair or not. This new system allows this as an option. I’m a content creator/provider in a few different industries (not getting into exactly what here because it’s fairly personal and none of them are germane to gaming). Some of the stuff I create, I do for free as time allows. I’ve allowed donations and the reality of it is that the number of people who actively donate is an infinitesimally small number compared to the number of people that use what I create. It costs me money and time to do this despite the donations. Then there’s the stuff I provide that I charge for. I don’t charge much, but what I do charge allows me to make more of it because it provides for the cost of materials and for the time I pull from other projects to allow for this. It’s a win for me because it allows me to do what I do and it’s a win for my consumers because they get to enjoy more of what I do than they would if I was doing it for free. This system by Valve has the potential to be this very same thing for a great many people.
Mods for sale. Is this a new beginning or the beginning of the end?
Now, one counter argument to this that I’ve seen made is that, historically, a very small number of modders were able to translate their modding experience directly into getting hired for a job working in the games industry. That’s great for them but here’s some key differences being overlooked. Firstly, this new system doesn’t have people creating mods for free on the hope that a few of them can make money off of their passion later on down the road. Its available now for a large number of them to potentially be successful with it right now as they work on their passion. Secondly, the idea of landing a job is great for people married to the idea of working for someone else...but some people prefer to be their own boss and this system has the potential to allow just that for more people than there are gaming industry jobs available.
Another counterpoint tossed around is that “well mods were always free in the past”. So? There are a lot of things that used to be done differently in the past. In the past I wouldn’t be allowed to write this piece, I would be beaten if it was discovered I could even read this, and if I were writing I’d be writing this with a quill and ink by candle light. “Because it’s always been this way” is an empty argument because for one it offers zero substance, and for two it defaults to assuming the past was always the better way. In the past I couldn’t sit in my house, see a game I liked, click buy, and wait 10 minutes to download it and start playing. I’d have to drive to the store, find the game, wait in line, and then drive through traffic back home. In the past I couldn’t click a subscribe button for a mod and have it install itself with no muss and no fuss. I’d have to do it manually myself. In the past I couldn’t have over 2000 games all installed on my machine at the same time as I do now. Technology didn’t allow for this but someone saw fit to design storage systems with higher density and bring them to market. In the past I couldn’t send a friend overseas a message that they could click on to allow them to see me playing a cool game in real-time that I want them to check out. I’d have to describe it to them in a letter, email or phone call. Times change. We can’t cling to what always was...simply because it always was. Here’s a notion: Perhaps it has never been fair that someone could spend hundreds of hours making an unofficial patch/expansion to a game with nothing to show for it other than a virtual pat on back from a random anonymous screen name?
This system allows control and choice...to go the content creators. One of the things that saddens me as a gamer in his late 30’s is this culture shift in the last decade or so towards entitlement on the part of the end user. And I don’t like the term entitlement because it’s overused and inherently negative but it fits here so bear with me. People buy games now and they expect modders to come up with cool alternatives to a game. PC gamers expect that modders will fix a games problems if the developers don’t do a proper job of it themselves. PC gamers expect that a modder will continue to work on their mod for months to years post release. And they expect that it will be available for them to consume at their leisure free of any obligation on their part and updated in perpetuity when problems arise. In a nutshell, they want someone else to do the work for them and provide customer service and troubleshooting for free...which doesn’t fly in any other industry but it’s a culture that’s rampant in gaming. Here’s the thing. A modder isn’t some mystery entity that just happens to do cool things. A modder is a human being with the same needs/wants/obligations as the person(s) playing the games and the mods. I don’t expect someone to come to my house and add a second kitchen for free, not even if I provide them will all of the tools and materials to do so. I have to pay them for the labor unless they choose to do me a favor. It’s their choice to set the price or lack thereof. But in gaming it’s expected for someone to add that new Kitchen to my sim’s house free of charge with the excuse often being that some of the assets and mod tools are already available. Sure they are, but the work has a value too. I don’t expect someone to swap out my car stereo for one with better sound for free. But in gaming, this type of change is expected for free. I don’t expect someone to change the lighting fixtures in my home to give me a better range or to paint my home so that the walls have better reflections for free. But in gaming, this is the expectation. It’s transitioned from a “nice to have” that we appreciated to something people expect and express outrage over if just maybe they might have to put a few coins in the person’s pocket who made it available for them. Outrage that they might have to...pay someone what they think their own work is worth. And I stress here, might have to because the decision is left in the hands of each modder. The excuse is made that it’s not “real” work or that it’s easy. Sure, but it’s real enough that they value the enjoyment it gives them and it’s hard enough or time consuming enough that someone else had to do it for them otherwise they would have done it themselves. It’s odd the lengths gamers, or people in general, will go to justify these kinds of things to themselves and it troubles me as a gamer when I see this attempt to minimize another’s efforts when the possibility of a monetary exchange is brought in. “Hey did you see that awesome Skyrim mod? I’ve been playing it nonstop for weeks!” turns into “It wasn’t that great, all the assets were already there so it was easy for them to make that mod. Why do they think it’s worth money?”
Creators can choose to make mods free, for a set price or a pay-what-you-want style donation.
This system Valve put in place allows the people who actually put in the time to do the work to decide if they want compensation for the work and if so, how much they want for it.
...that’s good for Valve because they’ll get a cut of the money to continue to grow their business, improve/innovate Steam, maybe make some new games, etc.
...that’s good for the developers of the games in question because it’s my understanding they get a cut too which may incentivize more developers to allow modding and provide mod tools for their games.
...it’s good for the content creators because they can earn a little something (or a lot of something depending) for the time and effort they put into making other people’s gaming experience better as well as possibly making it easier for them to do so with more/better mod tools.
...it’s good for gamers because it will breed competition, which we all know tends to raise the level of quality, as well as possibly allowing proper mods to show up in more titles due to the aforementioned reasons above.
Of course, the whole thing could go pear shaped as well and implode if handled poorly by Valve so I’m strictly on a wait and see with this. As it stands right now, it’s a completely optional system for everyone involved. Developers/publishers get to decide if they want it in their games, modders get to decide if they want to make paid mods or free mods, and gamers get to decide if a mod is worth the price to them. In the end, it’s nothing but more choices and choice is always good...it’s the precise reason why people who prefer PC gaming tend to claim they prefer it. We choose our games, we choose our mods and we choose our hardware, so we choose our entire experience. Choice is good...except when the choice is someone else’s it seems.
Modular Combat indeed. The PC gaming community is currently going to war over these mod changes.
When choice is removed from this equation, I’ll grab my pitchfork and lead the charge. Until then, someone create a really cool mod and set your price and I’ll see if I think the price is agreeable, that’s how a market works. Gaming has been a market for decades and it’s about time all content creators got a chance to make something for their efforts if they deem it necessary.
What say you jurors? Think this new system will make the Steam Workshop a shop that’s worth the work? Or do you just want your free stuff regardless of what it could mean to someone else’s life? Let us know in the comments.
For more content on all things PC gaming, keep coming to Pixel Judge free of charge...for now. *insert sinister laugh mod here*