Money money money.

I gave up on consoles after the 360/PS3. I bought into Valve’s idea of a PC gaming utopia and I’ve largely done well out of the deal. Despite the constant chants of “CHEAP!” and “EASY” from members of the PC gaming master race, PC parts aren’t that cheap, and putting it all together isn’t that easy. A lot of hardcore PC gamers seem to underestimate the fear and laziness of the average console owner. On the other side, console gamers will tell you that console gaming “just works”. Of course, we’ve seen since day one of the new generation of consoles that it doesn’t “just work”. From hardware issues, to atrocities like Assassin’s Creed Unity and Halo: The Master Chief Collection, consoles have the same problems as PCs, but they’re harder to fix.

One thing which continues to hold me back from getting back into console gaming is mods. Games like Skyrim and Fallout 3/New Vegas (both Bethesda games, not coincidentally) are constantly being modded, with everything from bug fixes Bethesda couldn’t be bothered to deal with, to new quests, armour, and most important of all, Macho Man Randy Dragon.

Then Valve decided they didn’t have enough money. Yesterday they launched a new scheme on Steam whereby modders can charge for their ‘products’. This is pretty unique in the gaming community as I can’t think of a fuck up this big that has united everyone in condemning Valve. Valve were the pre-coalition Nick Clegg of video game companies, but over the years they’ve slowing morphed into the actual evil Nick Clegg we all burn effigies of in dark country fields.

There is nothing good about charging for mods on Steam. No one benefits from this except Valve and the developers foolish enough to join the scheme. Here are some of the biggest problems I have with it.

Entitlement

Modders often have short attention spans. A lot of great mods go unfinished or unsupported because modders or players have lost interest, which is fine, and you can’t really complain about it, because the mods are free. Now, though? Mods are officially sanctioned by publishers and developers and cost actual money. Mods are now paid DLC with no quality control. What’s stopping someone making a mod, taking your money, and fucking off when they’ve made a quick buck? Valve, who are famous for having awful customer service and shitty refund policies, have your back covered –

Q. What happens if a mod I bought breaks? A. Sometimes one mod may modify the same files as another mod, or a particular combination of mods may cause unexpected outcomes. If you find that mod has broken or is behaving unexpectedly, it is best to post politely on the Workshop item’s page and let the mod author know the details of what you are seeing.

So. When your mod breaks — and depending on the mod, modder or game, there’s a good chance it will break at some point — you have no recourse. You will have to “politely ask” the modder to fix it. There’s no time frame, there are no refunds, you are not dealing with professionals. You’re dealing with someone in their bedroom who may or may not have the inclination to fix the mod you’ve paid money for. We’ve already seen Steam’s Early Access scheme abused and not 24 hours in we’ve seen mods ripped from the Nexus, a popular free mod hosting service, and put up for sale by people who didn’t even make them.

Gamers are often criticised for being too entitled, but if they’re paying money for something, there’s going to have to be a level of professionalism that isn’t usually shown (or needed) in the mod scene. Modders are going to have to start doing some actual customer service and quality control. I don’t know if this is going to be worth the pittance Valve are paying them. Speaking of –

Q. Is there a minimum revenue I must earn before I can receive a payment? A. Yes. There are costs associated with issuing each individual payment as well as potential bank fees charged to you upon receiving money that make it prohibitive to pay out for small amounts of money. Therefore, we may hold your payment until a minimum of $100 payout is earned.

Good luck with that. Valve, who have done so much work tackling piracy in video games, have now inadvertently kicked off a new world of piracy — pirated mods. A lot of people are going to be illegally downloading mods (let’s assume the mods are legal in the first place, it’s often a bit wild west when it comes to legality) that probably aren’t worth buying anyway.

Community

One of the great things about modding is the community. Modders work together to make sure mods are compatible and when they’re not, they give out advice or warnings. The glorious mess that is the Creation Engine and the thousands of Fallout/Skyrim mods just wouldn’t exist without the hard work and cooperation of the modders. This will disappear with paid mods. Midway through writing this article, news of the first big mod takedown has come up.

Chesko’s Fishing Mod, which went on sale yesterday, has been taken down because it used character-idle animations created by a modder called Fore. The animation mod was used without permission, which would be fine when the mod was free, but it was taken without permission and put in a paid mod. Chesko claims Valve said it was okay –

I would like to make it clear that I have been under a non-disclosure agreement for over a month, and was unable (not unwilling) to contact others. I asked Valve specifically about content that requires other content, and was told that if the download was separate and free, it was fair game.

Speaking on the mod’s page on Steam, Fore wrote

Making money with mods is totally against my attitude. It’s the end of a working and inventive modding community.

Modders have taken to Reddit, Change.org and Steam’s own forums to complain about the situation and suggest a boycott of the paid mods. Mods that require things like the Skyrim Script Extender are going on sale and the developers of SSE aren’t seeing a penny of the proceeds. Insanely overpriced microtransactions like swords and armour have already started flooding the store and Valve are woefully understaffed and can’t control it. Mods are being taken down from the free (and superior) Nexus service, left unsupported, and put behind Valve’s paywall. Mods are now being released as ‘time exclusives’. Mods are broken.

It’s a mess. It’s a clusterfuck and Valve are losing credibility and respect by the hour. I don’t think modders should have to do everything for free, but I also think this system has had no thought put behind it, short of Valve trying to claw as much money as possible through as little effort as possible, consumers be damned. The best thing Valve could’ve done was set up a donation system akin to Patreon. You could set up a monthly or one-off payment for a modder, and they’d get paid every month (maybe even in Steam credit, to get around the fact that a modder gets paid zilch until they reach $400 in sales).

Valve have been constantly trying to gamify and monetise every aspect of Steam. From trading cards to the seasonal sale games, Valve have a talent for wringing every penny they can. In the past it’s all been cosmetic and easily ignored, but this has rubbed tens of thousands of Steam users the wrong way and I don’t think Valve are going to care.

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Originally published at harryvale.com on April 24, 2015.

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