Valve’s Paid ‘Skyrim’ Mods Are A Legal, Ethical And Creative Disaster
Valve and Bethesda’s announcement of a jointly run paid Skyrim mods store has been met by nothing but fury from fans over the past 24 hours. Even modders, whom the idea is supposed to benefit, are coming out against the idea, which they deem detrimental to the entire community.
It should be good news. Now modders have an official way to get paid through a partnership program when before most were getting nothing and many were squeaking by on a few donations alone. But in practice, Valve/Bethesda’s Skyrim mod store is an absolutely terrible idea for reasons that are already becoming clear even in the first day after launch. Let’s go through the issues fans and modders themselves are bringing up.
The Split is Unreasonable
The modders only take home 25% of the money made from the sale of their mods. The rest is split in some undisclosed way between Valve and Bethesda (Update: 30% to Valve, 45% to Bethesda). As Erik Kain pointed out yesterday, this is well below something like the Apple AAPL +0.47% store, which gives creators at least 70% of the cash and just 25% seems abysmally low (although in an interview, Erik found that DayZ creator Dean Hall believes 25% to be perfectly reasonable). Even if it’s “better than zero” as proponents will claim, it’s more than a little reminiscent of Nintendo’s we-don’t-understand-the-market YouTube policies which forced a revenue share program that most content creators couldn’t be bothered with.
Modders are Friends, Not Food
Mods have kept a game like Skyrim alive for years after many would have otherwise stopped playing. Bethesda is choosing to look at this like “why are these players not giving us more money?” rather than “wow, this is amazing advertising and community building for our franchise!” Modders usually love the games they mod, which is why they spend so much time on their creations. Changing the equation and turning them into employees is going to dishearten many of them, and attract the wrong sort of crowd.
The Wrong Sort of Crowd
A mod store like this has the potential to turn a game like Skyrim from “fun, infinitely modifiable sandbox adventure” to “Guinness World Record holder for most microtransactions.” It will create a flood of modders who aren’t the type of passionate players doing it “for the love of the game,” but rather people trying to reskin a sword and sell it for $5. The game could be overloaded with this kind of crap, and even if it’s all “optional,” it puts a black mark on the entire modding community.
The Legal Questions
Already, one of the paid Skyrim mods has been taken down after one user claimed another user was selling it using animations that he had originally created in his own mod. The mod store seller claimed that Valve actually forbade him from contacting the original animator about using his work because of an NDA about the existence the store. And this is somebody who is actually well-meaning. The “wrong crowd” mentioned above could easily slide in and just start stealing other people’s work left and right and selling it on the store. I’ve already heard of modders taking down their mods rather than let them potentially be stolen and used for paid store offerings. Even if Valve has some sort of report system in place, it’s going to be a headache to sort through justified and unjustified claims based on who iterated off whose work and who has the rights to the original mod and so on and so forth. It’s a nightmare waiting to happen.
Potentially Broken Products
Mods, are by definition, experimental. Though Steam has a 24 hour return policy for mods, so you can send something back (so to speak) if you don’t like it, there doesn’t seem to be anything in place to prevent a modder from selling something to consumers, having it break down the road, and then simply never fixing it, leaving the buyer with a useless piece of software they paid good money for. Most gaming companies don’t do this because they’re large organizations with reputations to uphold. But some modders might not care and be perfectly comfortable with abandoning a mod they can’t be bothered to fix. They and Bethesda and Valve already made their money when they sold it, and the return policy prevents further recompensation, so who cares? Let the consumer rant into the void about it.
Dividing a Community
The Skyrim community has always been a pretty tight group, but now through the introduction of the store, a lot of tension has been created overnight. Fans are looking at modders like this was their idea as an attempt to cash in. Free modders are looking at paid modders as sellouts. Legitimate paid modders are looking at newbie paid modders as opportunists. It’s awful, and only made possible through the introduction of the store. Bethesda had a creative, united community until yesterday, and now there’s tons of infighting, not to mention the rage directed at the company itself.
Here’s some fun with theoretical extrapolations of this concept. Let’s say that Bethesda wants to make another Skyrim DLC expansion involving some new order of warriors. They want to make their signature weapon a flail, but the oddly behaving weapon is proving difficult to animate and operate effectively on PC. Under this new system do they A) work really hard to get past the issue and release the flail at launch or B) say “oh the modders have flails, let’s just promote their mod in the store.” Under the old system, Bethesda would have been motivated to make the flail themselves, but under the new one, someone is doing it for them, and they’re taking up to 75% of the revenue for each flail sold. I’m not saying this would for sure be their philosophy going forward, but when a company can charge handily for someone adding extra content into their game, you can bet that the opportunity for exploitation is there.
Honestly, all of these issues were just off the top of my head after glancing through a few forum posts about the store where fans are expressing similar concerns. There are probably many, many more issues no one has even considered yet. The pros are technically “modders get paid, the game maker gets paid,” but past that, there are too many cons to count.
This will prove to be a disaster, and may damage the PC the modding community irreparably if the practice spreads.