Charging for Skyrim Mods Was a Horrendous Idea

Shamus Young

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Charging for Skyrim Mods Was a Horrendous Idea

The controversy over paying for Skyrim mods on Steam has almost subsided, but Shamus still has a lot to say on the subject.

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Signa

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All that, and you didn't even touch on the problems regarding copyrighted content, like Lightsaber mods. It's amazing how bad this whole idea was.
 

Olas

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I agree with most of this. Bethesda certainly shouldn't profit from someone else fixing bugs in their game, but I don't think the underlying idea of letting modders monetize their work is a bad idea.

I just think it needs to be properly policed for plagarism, which Valve probably isn't the best company for.
 

Fdzzaigl

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Agreed with all that's said in this article. Valve has no business barging into the modding community and wrecking up the place.

It's the story of the goose with the golden eggs all over again. Modding was already giving you golden eggs, because it fixes games and adds immensely to their longevity, thereby also increasing the chances that people will buy your DLC (many Skyrim mods depend on the official DLC). But they just had to cut in there to get more than that.

An easy to use donation system, that's something I could get behind, but not this.
 

Firanai

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Of course it was a bad idea. But you know what is the worst of all? That it was an obvious cash grab and they though that we would be stupid enough to fall for it. I don't know you guys but I feel insulted. I mean come on! 75% for valve and bethesda and a 25% for modders? what the hell! Don't pretend that it's anything else.
Look I said in other posts, if they really cared about the modders they would have add a donation button. Simple as that. You choose if you want to pay and how much you want to pay. I have no problem helping my favorite modders with some cash but I'm not okay with companies robbing me and taking advantage of the modders hard work. I hope that they consider this idea in the future.
 

Lightknight

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Caramel Frappe said:


It baffles me why Valve or anyone thought this was a good idea... heck, i'm not even an economic apprentice or some form of businessman and even I could see this failing HARD. Never try to make profit on a free service ... it would be like a company allowing charities to charge the homeless money for shelters, but 75% of the charities' money goes to said company. Just no... charities do what they do for the good of the community, same as modding communities (sorry if that wasn't the best example).
Two things:

1. The fact that we've had modding for free does not mean we could not have had even more money and resources put into modding if there was also a financial incentive. Money does steer work. Not everyone who is skilled enough to do so is able and/or willing to mod for free. So this could have hypothetically led to more and higher quality mods.

It also wasn't like people couldn't still produce it for free.

2. 75%/25% isn't a bad split. As is, development studios only get 15% with the rest of the money going to the publisher, console maker, marketing, the retail store, and anything else. In this scenario, Steam is the console maker (since Steam is a platform) and serves as a kind of marketing and retail store while Bethesda's store front is itself also marketing and a retail store. Bethesda is also the publisher (They financially assisted the modders by backing the game engine and dev tools as well as providing the storefront). This isn't bad to rent space on this kind of highly visible storefront that is Bethesda's even though it's on Steam.

So 25% is good. It's especially sweet when you don't have to create your own assets or build your own engine components like real developers have to do. It also isn't obligatory. If they don't think it is worth the 75% then they can still go elsewhere.

This was only one more option that was being made available. Shame we killed it due to not understanding that this is an industry norm.

Now, is Bethesda asking for too much? Probably. But that's their prerogative. Especially when the previous model was 100% free and no one got paid at all.
 

Dark Wraith

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Quick correction: Under the now-defunct plan, authors could cash out once they've earned $100 dollars, which means $400 in sales. The internet telephone game is responsible for morphing this into the $400/$1600 number that's been floating about.
 

Smiley Face

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Lightknight said:
(Truncated)

Two things:

1. The fact that we've had modding for free does not mean we could not have had even more money and resources put into modding if there was also a financial incentive. Money does steer work. Not everyone who is skilled enough to do so is able and/or willing to mod for free. So this could have hypothetically led to more and higher quality mods.

It also wasn't like people couldn't still produce it for free.

2. 75%/25% isn't a bad split (...) This was only one more option that was being made available. Shame we killed it due to not understanding that this is an industry norm.
This wasn't killed because people on the receiving end didn't understand it, it was because on the balance of things, this was a policy that had the potential to seriously disrupt the modding community with very little upside. The fact that there are minor possible upsides doesn't make it a good idea in the face of the massive problems and downsides it creates.

Your first point is a valid possibility, financial incentive might lead to higher quality, but the article makes a fairly good case that the problems this system would create and the behaviour it would incentivize would create an environment where there would be poorer overall products.

Your second point is largely irrelevant, and somewhat flawed. Even if it were accurate, it's neutral to the modding community at best, and therefore does little to outweigh the problems that have to be outweighed before this is a good idea. But the point does have flaws.

First, it makes little sense to compare this to an industry standard, since modding is not an industry. Modders are not employees, they are not paid by Bethesda, and their work isn't guaranteed any money at all. In fact, their work costs Bethesda nothing, and is good for them as it promotes sales and people becoming invested in the company brand. Given all of these things, perhaps the smarter move, from a business standpoint, would be to take less of a percentage, rather than strangling the Golden Goose in an effort to squeeze all the eggs out.

In short, it's not that people don't understand this, they do. And it's not that anyone thinks the companies involved shouldn't have the power to do this. It's just that it's a stupid idea with few upsides for anyone involved.
 

rgrekejin

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Oh hey! I didn't know you had a Patreon!

Here, have a small amount of money! It's the least I can do for all the joy 'DM of the Rings' brought me.
 

shirkbot

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Lightknight said:
2. 75%/25% isn't a bad split.
A bad split is a bad split, even if it is better than the industry average. Not to mention that those companies are not splitting the sale directly with all other parties. They make contracts ahead of time, they have terms and timetables which decide who is paid what, when and for what duration of time. Contracts that the companies in question negotiated for themselves, as opposed to being dictated to them from on high.

We killed this because, even if the core idea of compensating modders for services rendered is a good one, the execution was poor at best.
 

Bad Jim

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Signa said:
All that, and you didn't even touch on the problems regarding copyrighted content, like Lightsaber mods. It's amazing how bad this whole idea was.
Too bad they didn't let the system run a little longer. It would have been amusing to see Valve and Bethesda in court over all the money they were making from copyrighted material, defending against Lucasarts, Disney, etc
 

Sniper Team 4

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Thanks for breaking this down and summing it up for me, Shamus. I don't have Steam and played Skyrim on the PS3, so I didn't really understand what was going on. All I heard was that Valve was going to start charging for mods. After reading this though, I understand why this backfired so horribly, and honestly, I'm more than a little disappointed in Valve. They're supposed to be the good guys of the gaming world, but this? This is on the level of EA and Activision in regards to some areas. That's pretty low.
 

fix-the-spade

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Sniper Team 4 said:
They're supposed to be the good guys of the gaming world, but this?
The days of Valve being in any way consumer oriented are long past us. They basically take the attitude of it's your problem, fuck you now, even EA has a better sales and refund policy than Valve.

Think about that, EA has better customer service than Valve, how times change.
 

Sardonac

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This piece is misguided, even for something written on Sunday. Most of its contentions are with the incentive schemes of capitalist markets, not this marketplace in particular. It also takes the 75/25 number at its face, rather than seeing it for what it means. I've already posted about the confusions about capitalist incentive schemes in this discussion here: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/7.874507-Gabe-Newell-Speaks-on-The-Whole-Paid-Skyrim-Mods-Debacle?page=3#21973324 and here: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/7.874507-Gabe-Newell-Speaks-on-The-Whole-Paid-Skyrim-Mods-Debacle?page=4#21975310

The 75/25 number is worth talking about independently. The proposed split was plausible: modders would retain financial incentives, Valve would cover their costs, and Bethesda would retain a strong financial incentive for supporting the modding community. As I outline in the above links, getting developers actively engaged in the modding community can be a big win for everyone. But all this is assuming the split is inflexible. Bethesda and Valve could agree to new terms, offering more money to modders, or a different split for certain sorts of mods. Bethesda could even offer their full share in particular mods, or just a flat buy-out, to modders who fix their product. These are workable solutions to foreseeable problems - nothing that's worth writing home (or an editorial) about.

The biggest issue with this roll-out was its lack of consumer resources. If Valve had offered more transparent methods for administering to the community, policing copyright, and growing the system of incentives then this idea would be quite nearly ideal. As it stands Valve has been cowed by a largely misguided response from consumers. I hope they implement a mod shop in the coming years, one that has learned from this week's mistakes.

EDIT: It's also a little startling that so few have recognized the tension between the claims that "mods keep Skyrim/[other games] alive!" and "this 75/25 split leaves no money for modders!" If mods really are essential to playing a game then most people will buy them, especially since so many people buy games during Steam sales. Bethesda, too, would have a substantial financial incentive for making this market viable and popular.
 

DrOswald

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Sniper Team 4 said:
Thanks for breaking this down and summing it up for me, Shamus. I don't have Steam and played Skyrim on the PS3, so I didn't really understand what was going on. All I heard was that Valve was going to start charging for mods. After reading this though, I understand why this backfired so horribly, and honestly, I'm more than a little disappointed in Valve. They're supposed to be the good guys of the gaming world, but this? This is on the level of EA and Activision in regards to some areas. That's pretty low.
Don't be swayed by this shoddy article. Speaking as an actual modder turned software developer, this article is of shockingly poor quality and Shamus should be ashamed for writing it.

I mean, consider this: One of the big points he brings is that by making mods paid people will have an incentive to steal mod content and pass it off as their own. Well of course! The only reason this didn't happen before was because the content was inherently valueless. His solution to this problem is for the content to remain valueless. That is like saying that selling comic books is bad because someone might photocopy the art and sell it as their own. It is a pathetically bad anti-creator argument and I am shocked he would repeat it. We can't let creative content be sold! If it has value then people might try to steal it and sell it, so the creator wont get compensated! Far better to just prevent creators being compensated in the first place!

And then, get this, he goes on to talk about how a donation button would be a more appropriate method. But donation buttons already exist, he even gives himself as an example of how it can support people. But his entire stolen content point rests on the assumption that mod content is valueless!

Either donation systems are so ineffective that content that relies on them is typically valueless or the theft problem is not nearly as bad as he is assuming it would be (because, if they work, content is already valuable enough to steal.) Either way he is dead wrong about something. And I am pretty sure what he is dead wrong about is the effectiveness of donation systems. They can work, but it is rare.

And he didn't even properly fact check the article. You know the 1600 sales/$400 dollar figure he gives? The actual figure would be 400 sales/$100 dollars. But because Shamus didn't bother to do a 5 minute fact check and instead relied on rumors from his besty he inflated the figure by 4 times. Can you really trust that Shamus was thinking critically about this subject when he wasn't even willing to source a publicly available fact?

And that isn't even getting into his questionable assessment of the 75%/25% split or his incredibly anti-creator views on the dependency chain issue. "Modders should just work for free and then beg for donations (which by my own logic is damn near worthless.) That solves all the problems!"

Edit:
"if I was a mod author, I'd rather have 90% of optional donations than 25% of mandatory fees."

[sarcasm]Thanks so much for deciding how I should want to be paid.[/sarcasm]
 

Phrozenflame500

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I'm firmly in the camp that payed modding is a possibly ok idea, but would have to be implemented extremely well, and we got the exact opposite of that. All the IP and support issues shows that Valve had completely and utterly didn't think through this system and took the "free market" plan without thinking about the context of the situation.

Regarding the "cut" portion, which is one of the more argued about points, I believe Valve takes around 30% for all games on their service. Whether that's ok or not is up for debate (personally I'm ok with it since brick & mortar stores take similar cuts albeit with more expenses), but I would argue that 5% is definitely too low. The 45% Bethesda cut is duel-purpose stupid and unfair though.

I'm probably going to still use Steam since this wasn't a big deal for me, but it is yet another example of Valve being completely unable to manage such a big and important service like Steam.
 

CD-R

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It's certainly nice to read an article about this whole debacle that isn't parroting the whole "hurrr gamers are entitled" nonsense some of the other sites have been saying for a change.
 

luckshot

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for me one bright spot of this entire debacle has been drawing my attention to where a donate button may or may not be on some of the larger/necessary mods and considering if i should donate to the modder or not, interestingly only 2 of them so far have donate buttons on the nexus
 

SecondPrize

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Don't forget the companies that make the modeling and other creative software modders use. How much do you want to bet they're all using licensed versions and paying percentages where applicable?
 

Lazule

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Unjustified greed ladies and gentleman. Thats what happens some times in the industry.

Why not give the money (in optional forms of donation) to the modders directly instead? they are the ones who worked their asses learning the software and made the mods. Thank you Bethesda for letting anyone that has the game make mods of your game, they make your games infinity better actually the free form and "take it easy" attitude of that pumps up the sales by a huuuuge margin.

Skyrim without mods (this includes DLCs they are mods after all) is lack luster and boring.