Valve Tries Out Paid Mods Platform; It Fails Completely

from the money-money-money dept

Honestly, when I first caught wind that Valve was going to suddenly make its platform available for game modders to sell their mods for good old-fashioned money, I initially thought it was great. However, it took only a couple of moments of thinking to realize what a mess this would all be. Taking a modding ecosystem, where talented modders create add-ons and alterations of original games that give gamers exactly what they want, or more of what they want, and injecting money into it represented a misunderstanding of the relationship between modders and gamers, and a failure to understand the gaming community’s obvious reaction. Keep in mind that modders already have been making money on Steam, except that they’ve done so when their mods become desired enough or revered enough to warrant full and separate releases within the game store. This was to be different: modders selling smaller mods within the original game’s Steam page. Mods, mind you, help make individual games and entire platforms like Steam more desirable to gamers, also known as Valve’s customers. Injecting money this way had what probably should have been easy to predict unintended consequences.

First, the backlash by the gaming community was immediate, and it was strong.

It’s not uncommon for people to ask for donations, a nickel or two going clink in the cup, but charging upfront? Definitely not the standard. Some, however, are worried that it could become the norm, not the exception, which would fundamentally alter the mod scene. Mods, they fear (and have, to a small extent, observed), will stop updating for those who don’t pay, will abandon mod-centric services like Nexus for Steam’s greener pastures.


The feedback wasn’t any better on Twitter, where the sentiment expressed seemed to be at its most optimistic when complaining about feelings of abandonment by the modding community, once thought to be simply a faction of the gamer-side of the larger ecosystem and now firmly placed in the sellers category with game-makers, and at its most pessimistic when predicting that Valve’s move represents the beginning of the end of modding as a whole. The latter was never true, I’ll say, and frankly nobody should be pointing fingers at Valve for this at all. If the market supported paid mods, it would have worked.

It didn’t work and part of the reason it didn’t does indeed have the tint of an IP issue at its heart. It turns out there was an IP issue over one of the early, if not first, mods offered in Valve’s store, with all the accusations of infringement over the work of others that you’d expect — except the issue is between modders and doesn’t involve the game-maker at all.

As Destructoid and PC Gamer point out, “Art of the Catch” was created by modders Chesko and aqqh. It also allegedly uses assets from another mod by a modder known as Fore without permission. Fore apparently confronted the Chesko (though, the original comment seems to have been deleted).

If you pay any attention to the modding space, you already know where this is going. It’s very common for some mods to incorporate other mods within the larger distribution. This can happen when modders create total conversion mods, where a game is radically changed by implementing a plethora of previously-made mods, or it can happen when the aim of a mod is to drastically change an aspect of the game and a previous mod did part of the work already. What has always happened is that permission was attained to use the mod, credit was given in the release notes of the new mod, and everyone was happy because mods weren’t charged for.

Now, we have two modders in a pissing match (though Chesko has reportedly been reaching out to Fore to clear this all up), all due to money exchanging hands. Not only that, but there have been complaints that Steam is punishing users who are raising their voices on the issue. In other words, Valve took a modding ecosystem that was working perfectly well, injected money into it, and the problems arose almost immediately. As for the overall effect these kinds of disputes can have on the modding community? Well, for what it’s worth, Chesko is talking about quitting the whole scene entirely, so there’s that.

Between that and the general customer reaction to the rollout of this paid mods scheme, it seems clear that Valve never really thought this through. What started off as a Twitter bitch-fest from upset gamers evolved into the kind of protest-comedy only the internet can produce. The end result was Steam’s most popular Skyrim mod being a protest against paid mods, allowing characters to carry around a protest placard within the game. And, after the customers and fans had spoken, game developers will have their turn. One of them, Bethesda, makers of the afore-mentioned Skyrim, pulled all paid mods for the game entirely. The public comments from Valve, in conjunction with news that they will offer full refunds on all the Skyrim mods that had already been purchased, don’t inspire much confidence, either.

“We’ve done this because it’s clear we didn’t understand exactly what we were doing,” Valve said in a community update. “We’ve been shipping many features over the years aimed at allowing community creators to receive a share of the rewards, and in the past, they’ve been received well. It’s obvious now that this case is different…But we underestimated the differences between our previously successful revenue sharing models, and the addition of paid mods to Skyrim’s workshop. We understand our own game’s communities pretty well, but stepping into an established, years old modding community in Skyrim was probably not the right place to start iterating. We think this made us miss the mark pretty badly, even though we believe there’s a useful feature somewhere here.”

Look, I don’t actually have a problem with modders trying to make money from their work, and I have zero problem with Valve providing a platform for that…I just don’t think it will ever actually work. The modding community functions in a way that doesn’t benefit from the injection of money-making opportunities for these more modest mods, which are among the most popular. But, as I mentioned at the open, it’s not like modders can’t make money from Steam. They do, and have. You’ve probably heard of some of them, like DayZ, or Team Fortress, and The Stanley Parable. All of those games started off as mods (in the case of Team Fortress — now one of Valve’s most profitable properties — years before the Steam store even existed) and all of them now have full Steam game pages themselves. The gaming market worked that out on its own.

And you can bet that the smarter game publishers out there aren’t going to get on board with allowing paid mods on their Steam pages now that the backlash is in full swing. Mods make games more buy-able, and a negative aspect in the modding community for a particular game isn’t something a publisher is going to want to put up with (see: Bethesda).

Whatever Valve thought this was going to be, it isn’t.

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Comments on “Valve Tries Out Paid Mods Platform; It Fails Completely”

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Ninja (profile) says:

I followed the discussions on Steam and I think it could be done but it depends on several factors. Skyrim is a good example of an extremely complex mod community that would be a mess to introduce money in it. I use mods from nexus, from the workshop and that I installed manually. I had to comb the esm and bsas and whatever you have up there because at some point the pandemonium of mods started giving me CTDs. I haven’t been able to fully fix everything (yet) but it’s working. Mostly. So yes, you can’t simply think on mods isolated. And there’s the fact that you need to actually use the mod to find out if it works for your setup, if it meets your needs etc etc.

I believe Valve learned their lesson. If it can be done it will be done more carefully. They could allow donations within Steam for the mods as a start.

jilocasin (profile) says:

Re: But how would Steam/Valve get their 75% cut?

Donations (or the busker’s hat) would probably work out well for a community of modders that work mostly for their love of the game.

The problem I see, from Steam/publisher’s point of view, is where would they get their 75% cut from?

Apple started it (Apple’s 30% cut for the right to sell your product), Google’s doing it, and Microsoft really wants to as well. Now Steam/publisher’s are hoping to get on to the gravy train of getting a cut of other people work. Of course only leaving the developer with 25% is rather greedy on their part.

I think allowing modders to put out their hat for donations, and then skimming 75 cents out of every dollar donated will go over even worse than charging directly.

Just my $0.02 (before taxes)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: But how would Steam/Valve get their 75% cut?

This exactly. I think one of the biggest issues here was Bethsoft’s desire to make a ton of new money from the modders. To a lesser extent, Valve was also going to make some as well. I think the suits thought this was a great way to squeeze more out of the gaming community without having to invest a dime.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: But how would Steam/Valve get their 75% cut?

The difference between charging developers and modders should be clear: Developers are buying a service, while developers will be caught as an awkward third party in terms of mods.

Valve can be seen as double charging on the developers work (charging the developer for their game on steam and further charging some people modding their game for money).

FM Hilton (profile) says:

Paying for mods

It’d be one thing to pay for mods. Hell, some games do have that option.

The big problem was the Valve was going to take a very generous cut of the money from the mod…like 45% of it.

They make enough money without having to put their paws on some mod. Really inexcusable and greedy.

But it doesn’t mean they won’t try again. They hinted as much in their apology.

“We think this made us miss the mark pretty badly, even though we believe there’s a useful feature somewhere here.

They just don’t know how to make it work yet…give them time, and they will.

Anonmylous says:

Re: Paying for mods

No, Bethesda wanted 45%, Valve wanted to take their standard 30%.

Also the modder issue was on Bethesda/Valve’s side with them enforcing an NDA on the first contributors and instead of working with them to bring in another modder who’s package was necessary to the first one, Valve chose to be dicks and say “That’s not our problem”.

The entire thing was a huge mess, modding is…copyright soft in general. It adds a ton to a game ecosystem, but has always been the bastard step-child of the gaming industry. And of course the only the time it gets smiled and praised is when Uncle Moneygrubber suddenly thinks he can money off it. Without a lick of forethought they said “Valve you get 30%, we get 45% and Step-Child can have scraps! Well, that covers everything I think, let’s do this!”

What about copyright issues? “Not our problem.” If it had been music or characters from another game, you bet your ass it would have been their issue.

What about vetting or quality control? “Not our problem.” Gee, think maybe the issues with copyrights would be prevented with proper vetting and quality control? I think it might!

I think mainly the mod community is mostly up in arms about how half-assed this entire enterprise really has been executed. But Bethesda saw $$$ and Valve saw $$$ and that’s all she wrote.

Ven says:

What's old is new again

Back in the 90’s iD software had licensing terms for modders to sell their mods. I’m credited as a beta tester for a Quake 2 mod that was originally a paid commercial release. (A few years later the mod and it’s source was released for free.)

The mod I did testing for came with custom maps, all new textures, all new player models, all new weapon models, and all new sounds. Third party maps could still access textures, models, and sounds form the base Quake 2, but out of the box only the game engine was being reused.

The license terms as I understood them mostly boiled down to, if you didn’t make use of any art assets from the base game you just needed to kick back a portion to iD, if you wanted to use art assets then you needed to go to Activision and also give them a portion of the sales. (Activision had the copyright on the art, but iD held it on the source code, IIRC)

Do you think this might have gone differently if this was Bethesda who were offering a license directly to Skyrim modders to sell mods on any licensed platform (XBox, PSN, Nexus, etc. in addition to Steam) instead of Steam announcing paid Workshop mods on their own?

Or maybe people wouldn’t have freaked out if this was done for a brand new game instead of watching as released free mods suddenly moved behind a pay wall.

Ryan H (profile) says:

Is this really new?

Valve’s been offering a similar pay-for-mod service in TF2 for ages and it’s gone over great. The ‘Mann Co. Store’ allows players to buy items for use in game, and part of the money goes to the creator in the case of community-created items.

I’m sure that there is a difference, but it doesn’t seem like a massive step forward and I’m not surprised that Valve didn’t think it was a big deal.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Is this really new?

The difference is that every Steam game with a Workshop is a curated system where only a select few are chosen to be put into the shops. That, and people making skins explicitly upload them into the workshop for review and the hopes that it becomes an official store item.

This system with Skyrim had no review or curation, and let anyone upload anything they wanted and charge whatever they wanted, with the consumers bearing all the burden.

And, more importantly, the modding ecosystem existed for decades (the Skyrim community is very much an extension of the Morrowind and Oblivion ones preceding it). So Valve wasn’t creating something new and exciting, they were just trying to force monetization into something old, and opened a giant can of worms that they didn’t understand.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Is this really new?

Also people frequently have >100 mods in their load order with Skyrim – and there are many interdependencies. Attacking part of it endangers the whole thing. The sneaky way beth/valve went about this set off alarm bells about what their future intentions were. Once it was normalized and the million$ started rolling in (the revenue is potentially massive) how could they tolerate Nexus continuing to run as normal?

Anonymous Coward says:

My number one issue with this is that it allows publishers/game makers to get paid twice for their game; once when they actually sell it, twice when they get a cut of someone else making a mod for it and selling that.

For one, that introduces an incentive to make games that aren’t finished, and *need* mods. So that someone in the community will step up to the plate, make a vital fix in a mod, and suddenly the dev is saving money (having not finished their product) and actively making money (off of the profit of the necessity-class mods.)

Much more minor is the issue of reducing the long-term value of the products they sell; Skyrim for example is popular (at least on PC) at least in part due to how ubiquitous, prevalent, and diverse mods are. If you reduce the ubiquity, ie, having a copy of the game does not instantly mean you can mod it to your heart’s content, Valve and Bethesda both lose in the long term as their product becomes less valuable.

Killercool (profile) says:

Re: Also, people are entitled.

Really? Maybe we move in different circles, but most of the venom I saw was for one of two things:

1. The insultingly small amount of money going to the mod developers, or

2: Modders using the established popularity of their mods to lock UPDATES behind a paywall.

For me, it was #2.
I have supported one of the modders involved in this fiasco since his first texture replacer, and considered one of his mods essential to my gaming experiece. When he locked his mod’s bugfix update behind a barrier is the first time in my life I’ve considered actively pirating. However, I took the high road, and removed all of his mods from my build, and found the functionality I wanted elsewhere.

I then removed all of my endorsements, and blocked the author. I tracked his profile, hoping he would change his mind, but in the end, Bethesda blinked first. He’s now on my permanent block list.

One other author I follow (Chesko, noted above) DID learn his lesson, and removed his update from the store. If I had cash, I would toss some in his cup. One of his problems right now, though, is that he used assets from other authors (aside from Fore) that were nominally “free-to-use” but the tacit understanding was that they would be FREE to use.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Also, people are entitled.

Context is needed here.

Mods, at least for games like Skyrim, are very much community driven efforts. Most use resources other people released, frameworks other people developed (SkyUI, SKSE, etc.), and the community in general provides feedback, troubleshooting and support when its needed.

The important thing is that the things uploaded to the mod store weren’t new (except for the quick and dirty stuff). So essentially it was old modders taking what they’d done while being involved in a community that shared knowledge and resources, then decided they deserved sole credit for all of it. It was very much an abuse of the entire modding community.

If you want to charge for your work, you’re perfectly entitled to that. But using everything that the community offers, and then feeling entitled for a paycheck that no one ever agreed to? That doesn’t fly.

Killercool (profile) says:

Re: Re: Also, people are entitled.

Well, the SKSE team chimed in and said that anyone and everyone is free to use their work; that forbidding paid mods violates their ideal for the community.

Part of the problem with adding paid mods so late in the game is that “modder’s resource” packs are free. But maybe not free like that.

Some are free as in freedom, some are free as in hotdogs. Some authors don’t mind how their work is used, some are actively forbidding paid uses.

How does this reflect on donations? Is that unacceptable, or only requiring payment?

It’s, ugh.

It’s a mess right now.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Also, people are entitled.

Yeah, the SKSE team came out and said that, but it shows quite well the problems with the system when the creators of the most important framework addition for Skyrim had to clarify their stance after the fact.

Which is basically the crux of the entire matter, that Valve, Bethesda and individual modders all just automatically assumed that they could charge for bits and pieces of work that couldn’t be easily attributed to individuals.

Killercool (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Not malicious intent no, but not much thought either. They actively told at LEAST one modder, “As long as it’s made for Skyrim, it’s okay to use it,” in reference to other peoples assets. Sure, they prefaced it with “IANAL,” but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out some of the glaring issues.

So no, not malicious intent. They were, however, blinded to the obvious by money flying through the air.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

EA does allow modding. All of the Sims interations have been modded by third parties out the kazuga. In fact, paysites (mods being sold) became a huge deal in the Sims2 years, causing a serious schism in the fanbase due to abuses and trickery perpetrated by some of the modders wanting paid.

The majority of these paysites weren’t making overly complicated game modifications – those were freely available on trusted 3rd party sites (who disdained payment up front and opted for donation drive type activities if needed). On paysites it was pay yer money for some hairstyle that you only found was missing the back of a simhead after putting it in your game. No refunds, sorry! That kind of bullshit and even stupider, like DMCA notices and DDoS attacks and utter asshattery. Turned into quite the community fooraw and EA stayed well out of it – peeps were still buying the game, these game mods and attendant splatter were all hosted on third party websites and thusly they didn’t care. I do recall EA swiping wholesale a mod or two for offer on their official website with absolutely zero credit to the plebe who made it first.

I guess the difference is that Steam provides the platform. In the end though, introducing moneychanging into a hobbyist effort is going to be a full frontal clusterspank no matter what game it is. Whether it’s IP issues or attribution or whatever, it really is better to keep it free for all and chip in what you might. Or the game dev can just hire the bugger if they’re so good.

Beech says:


I think this article misses the main points of contention here.

First, modders would only get 25% of their sales, and wouldn’t get any money at all until they hit $100 in sales. Steam took it’s normal 30% cut, which most people didn’t have a problem with because servers and providing an audience and such. For some reason Bethesda decided that they deserved to take 45% of the income from the mods based on…umm…how much they like money? I guess?

Second, goes with the first. Some of the most popular mods do nothing but fix Skyrim’s just plain terrible UI. So now look at this from Bethesda’s viewpoint. Why put any effort into fixing the UI when some chump not on your payroll will do it for you, and THEN if he decides to sell it, you help yourself to a lion’s share of the profit for what SHOULD have been a free patch.

Third, counterfeiting. People were already trying to copy free mods off the Nexus and sell them on Steam, hoping to make a quick buck before they got caught. Valve was purportedly NOT curating their workshop, so catching scammers would be the job of the guys who made the mods. So it’s either decide to sell your mod, or spend who knows how much of your time browsing Steam’s paid mods section looking for knockoffs of your work.

Fourth, many were afraid that putting money into the ecosystem is a one way road to DRM on mods.

Fifth, you pay money for a mod and it doesn’t work you have a 24 hour window to get a refund for it. If it takes longer than that to find the problem you are SOL. If you buy 2 different mods and they don’t work together, you are SOL. If an update for the game comes out and breaks your mod, and the modder decides not to fix the problem, you are SOL. If you do get a refund your account is suspended from transactions on steam for a week because of some kind of fraud prevention.

I think the cut modders got was the most insulting. Most would argue that Bethesda made their money when they sold the copy of Skyrim. Modders modding mods encouraged a LOT of people who otherwise wouldn’t have bothered with the title to purchase it. Likewise, if Steam is getting a 30% cut of Skyrim sales, they’d be making money hand over fist off of the extra game sales too. Nickle and dimeing the poor hobbyist that you’re trying to help isn’t one of the best ways to help.

All the complaining aside, as for solutions: one would be to start this plan on a NEW game. One that doesn’t have mods yet. Then modders would know ahead of time what they’re getting into. They could structure their collaborations accordingly.

Making sure a game is intentionally mod friendly in the first place would cut back on a bunch of the compatibility issues, but you would still need to find some kind of sane way to handle refunds.

And the money split….i mean, just come on! I would say have Valve take it’s standard 30%, then split their share with the game developer and let the guy who we’re actually TRYING to support take 70%.

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