Remember when Oblivion charged you for horse armour, and you never thought it’d catch on? Steam, in conjunction with Bethesda, has now rolled out an update that will allow mod creators taking part in the Steam Workshop to sell their mods to users. Currently, the system only applies to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, but you can be sure they’ll add more titles once they’ve got all the bolts screwed on tight. Reaction has been… well, heated.
I have no beef with modders charging for their work if they so choose – there have been some excellent mods that honestly deserve more than a pat on the back (Durante’s tireless work on Dark Souls and GeDoSaTo comes to mind). I’m in favour of modders creating original work being rewarded for their efforts. But there’s some troubling issues with the update and the way it’s being implemented.
To begin with, content creators can only receive a maximum – yes, maximum – of 25% of the revenue share, which, quote, “May be smaller if you have added other contributors that share in the royalty payments.” Essentially, if you have a mod that requires several other mods to work, you may allocate a portion of the revenue share to them. Or, alternatively, you can allocate a share of that revenue to a “service provider” such as Blender or Nexus. That’s frankly a slap in the face; who is taking the lion’s share of this user-generated content?
I said “may”, because there’s many mods going up right now that are built on the work of others without proper credit or recognition, which leads to the second problem. Valve is suggesting that DMCA take-down notices should be used in the event that your mod is being “infringed” by another. You know, those handy notices used spuriously by copyright holders to take down pesky YouTube fair-use game reviews and game footage Let’s Players show? It creates a very messy situation where “first” is preferable over “best”. It also creates a very troubling scenario where Valve begins to impinge on platforms outside of its ecosystem.
You make horse armour and charge $3 for it on Steam’s Workshop, then someone creates similar (Because honestly, how many types of horse armour can you have? Don’t answer that.) and releases it for gratis on Nexus? Just DMCA them. Currently, the burden of proof lies on the accused, not the accuser. Mods work well because the community operates on an honour system that favours recognition over monetary reward. As a result, you can find mods with a long list of credits as to whom provided what aspects of the mod. Donations are occasionally asked for but hardly ever expected.
Valve and Bethesda are expecting users to moderate and police the market, which is a bit like Apple asking its users to double-down as intellectual property experts for the apps they’re downloading. Publishers have traditionally been in two camps – the one’s that embrace it wholeheartedly as added value and the ones that lock out modding as well as they can in favour of their own DLC or content platforms. Starcraft II famously allows its users to sell maps created via their content creation tool, and Rockstar has taken a very firm stance to modding GTA V.
What I’m concerned about it is people like Let’s Player’s, enthusiastic modders and dedicated fans are increasingly being seen not only as consumers, but virtual employees operating in the long-tail of a game’s lifecycle under management, while those not looking to play ball are criminals. And I’m not sure I’m happy with that.
What’s your thoughts? Let us know in the comments!