Steam: Mods for Sale Part 2 – Why This is a Bad Thing
Steam: Mods for Sale Part 2 – Why This is a Bad 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 1 (Why This is a Good Thing) here.
Steam have recently decided to dabble in the dark arts by allowing mod makers to monetise their creations. Previously we got to explore why this is a good thing in some regards but we must remember that this cuts both ways – there's more at play here than just humble modders and customers, if you're not careful you might be eaten by a Grue.
There are so many issues at play here that my cynical spider-sense is going absolutely nuts so I'm just going to start by saying that I feel this situation makes the mod market analogous to the mobile games store: there's a lot of shit and introducing a price into the situation makes it a minefield for the customer.
Let’s examine the circumstances that make this a possibility: Refunds. The FAQ for paid mods clearly states “If you discover that a mod does not work for you, or does not meet your expectations based on the description of the mod, you can get a refund within 24 hours of your purchase.” On the surface it's a clear and fair sentiment from Valve but let’s be honest; Valve do not have the best track record with refunds. The agreement that every user has to agree to when making a purchase on Steam flies in the face of European refund regulations and their customer support, while admittedly being great in some circumstances, is usually the equivalent of blowing a raspberry while flying the V with both hands when users ask for refunds.
But Valve said it was okay to nick stuff from the internet.
We also have to take into consideration where the cash is going after a purchase is made – within 24 hours it's likely to have gone nowhere, but what if you can't get the mod installed within 24 hours for whatever reason? Chances are your cash has been divvied up between the publisher, Valve and the mod creator already and getting any of that back will be a bureaucratic nightmare. Hence why refunds will be nearly impossible for disgruntled customers to get.
That lovely segue leads us into the second dank corner; while each publisher/developer can decide how much of the price they're going to take the only example we have right now are Zenimax (parent company of Bethesda) taking 75% of the revenue! Quite frankly this is an absurd amount but likely the only way that Valve could get a greedy corporation to agree to this scheme. This has already led to mod prices approaching lunacy where you can pay £1.99 for a new sword that behaves like every other sword in Skyrim but with fancy visuals. If the modder was getting 100% of the profit, this would mean they think their work is worth about 50p and I'd be inclined to agree, that's not an unreasonable amount for a small piece of content. That's not the only thing we have to consider either.
It’s industry “wisdom” (i.e. stupidity) that mods are a blight on their precious intellectual property and must be stamped out. I don't think it's too much of a stretch of the imagination to see this situation backfiring in one of two ways: either developers/publishers will see this as a direct threat and either ramp up their share of each sale higher or lock down the ability to mod their games even more or they'll embrace it. I'm more scared of the latter possibility because we might see a return to the bad old days of horse armour. Imagine if you will a £1.99 sword mod for Skyrim on the workshop that becomes incredibly popular and gets picked up by the developer/publisher who decide to sell it not as part of a bundle (ala the excellent community weapon packs of Killing Floor) but as a single item, but now they have to consider VAT and other regional taxes and they have to please the shareholders and suddenly the mod is released as a 'proper' DLC that costs £4.99 while the modder is still only seeing 25% of the original £1.99. Or maybe I've just been reading too much Jennifer Government and see the corporate world as cartoonishly evil...
If you're curious about the rest, check out the original post on /r/Skyrim.
I don't think we'll ever see paying for mods go away now that it's here, but I think the publishers and developers will want a bigger and bigger slice of the pie for as little outlay as possible. We've already seen viral marketing put the work of advertising teams into the hands of the community, and Unreal 4 has put the work of creating content for the actual game into the hands of the community (admittedly the final product is going to be free to play but that's a whole different kettle of worms) and now this could conceivably open the floodgates to even more shoddy development practices: why should a publisher pay a developer for 50 assets when they can get away with 30 and let the community build the rest while raking in the lion's share of the profits?
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that mod creators shouldn't be paid for their work but the right people certainly should. Chesko's fishing mod was already pulled and based on evidence that has surfaced already surrounding this case, Valve was culpable in ensuring someone else reaped the rewards for the modder Fore's work. Chesko has however been very gracious about the matter since it came to light, so fair game to him for being a stand-up guy when given the chance.
At the time of writing it has just come to my attention that a Change.org petition has gathered almost 70,000 signatures for the removal of paid content from the steam workshop so it's not just me who think this is a terrible idea. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's the end of modding altogether but it's certainly an end to modding as we know it and I suspect paid mods will become a permanent fixture if they aren't taken out back like Ol' Yeller.