Within days of introducing the option for paid mods on Steam through the Skyrim workshop, Valve announced the removal of the feature in a post on Steam, citing “it’s clear [they] didn’t understand exactly what [they] were doing” as a major reason for the decision.
This news is perhaps unsurprising, as the backlash to the introduction of paid mods has been phenomenal, with the gaming community expressing its displeasure in every possible way – from the idiotic but predictable sending of death threats to modders, to creating fake (and often highly amusing) “protest mods”, and even setting up a Change.org petition that collected over 130,000 signatures.
The message from users has been clear: “We do not want paid mods.” And Valve has listened.
While it’s encouraging to know that we can trust a company to listen to its consumers, I can’t help but wonder if we weren’t a bit too quick to judge, to scream, to throw our toys out of the cot here.
Why are paid mods such a terrible idea? The Change.org petition insists, “Mods should be a free creation. Creations made by people who wish to add to the game so others can also enjoy said creation with the game.” While I love free mods as much as anyone else, I’m not sure I agree that this should be a rule.
If there’s one thing I’ve gathered about mods and modding, it’s that they can be extremely time consuming to make. Creating a great mod takes a lot of time, but hanging around to maintain it takes even more out of a person’s life. As someone who, like many, relies on mods to make The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim more enjoyable, it’s clear to me that many modders are not simply messing about. They’re providing us with a valuable service. Is it really fair for us to demand this service be provided free of charge?
“…maybe the community just wasn’t ready for such a sudden, dramatic change.”
Apart from that, it’s not unusual for modders to abandon great mods with so much potential, simply because they just don’t have the time to stick around and complete (let alone maintain) it properly. Now, if a modder could be guaranteed a certain amount of remuneration for making sure their mod works perfectly for all players, that gives the modder incentive to work harder on their mods, thus ensuring better mods. They are paid for their work, we get higher quality work, and everyone wins.
Valve clearly had these same thoughts in mind when they decided to implement paid mods, as their post states, “To help you understand why we thought this was a good idea, our main goals were to allow mod makers the opportunity to work on their mods full time if they wanted to, and to encourage developers to provide better support to their mod communities. We thought this would result in better mods for everyone, both free & paid. We wanted more great mods becoming great products, like Dota, Counter-Strike, DayZ, and Killing Floor, and we wanted that to happen organically for any mod maker who wanted to take a shot at it.”
Now, I understand that many were concerned that paid mods would only lead to it becoming almost impossible to mod your game without spending an arm and a leg. What if modders become greedy, and everything is too expensive? Well, so what? No-one would be pointing a gun to our heads, forcing us to use and pay for mods. Theoretically, the free market would regulate this. If a mod is too expensive, we could simply choose not to use it. Another modder could create a similar mod for less, or free of charge, and we could use that instead. If some mods over-charge for very little, and the modders still manage to sell those mods, well, there’s a reason they say “a fool and his money are soon parted”. If you’re going to pay five dollars to have all red apples in Skyrim turned green, then frankly you deserve to have that money taken from you.
Either way, it doesn’t matter now. For better or for worse, Valve have made their decision. Personally, I’m a little disappointed. I would have liked to see this experiment play out at least. But perhaps asking the gaming community to accept the risk of trying an experiment that might change the entire dynamic of an established system was asking too much. As Valve states in their post,
“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. ”
I really think Valve was on the right track here, but maybe the community just wasn’t ready for such a sudden, dramatic change. Perhaps one day Valve will find a way to work towards trying out these ideas that might turn modding into a legitimate career without causing all hell to break loose. For now, I suppose I must just be happy with Skyrim mods that modders are only ever able to work on in their spare time.