Valve has recently begun to pursue new ways to make money with the Steam Workshop. Recently, Valve opened the Workshop to any game to allow those games to give users a place to post and charge for content they create. Buildings in Cities: Skylines, hats in Team Fortress 2, and that kind of thing has been a source of a lot of income for some more productive modders, with Valve having paid out just under $60 million so far to users for content created.
This week, Valve announced that they’d be adding mods to that list. In addition to being able to buy content, Valve wants you to be able to buy game mods — files that can significantly alter the experience of the game — as well.
Of all Valve’s ideas, this one might be one of their worst. It’s already getting weird just a day in, too.
While modders definitely deserve to be compensated for their work in some way, the modding community is built on mods being free and open. Skyrim, for example, has thousands of mods. It’s hard to wade through all of them or even the best of them to know what you want, and packs of mods — tested to work by other players and guaranteed to make a notable difference — have been a huge part of helping many of those mods gain popularity. Mods also don’t always do what players expect. Many people who make use of mods will immediately uninstall 80 to 90 percent of the mods they try out because they don’t work how they had hoped. Being able to try mods is crucial because there’s no quality assurance for them the way there is for a full game (Insert Battlefield 4 and Assassin’s Creed Unity jokes here).
Simply put, there are a lot of tough hurdles to overcome with this program.
In one case, noted by Kotaku, a modder started charging for his creation, which was built on top of another one’s work. When modding is free and open, that’s not such a big deal, but the second money enters the equation, that kind of arrangement gets complicated. Shouldn’t the original creator be compensated for his or her creation?
Another problem is that mods can be uploaded by non-creators. If Valve can police this well, it might not be a problem, but the tens of thousands of mods and users might make that an insurmountable goal. This is already happening according to some users.
Finally, Valve doesn’t have a stranglehold on the mod market the way they do with Steam Workshop specific cosmetic content. Another site, Nexus, is a huge source for fans of mods to discover and upload content, and Nexus owner Dark0ne said previously that he has no plans to change the way his site operates and that he sees charging for mods as only hurting the community — players and mod creators alike.
If — and that’s a big if — Valve can overcome the issues of user satisfaction and mod piracy, if they can find a way to ensure that both mods and developers are happy with the rates developers set, and that the rates aren’t too high to scare off downloaders (we’re talking cents, here), it could open up a whole new market for mods and give smaller developers a potential revenue stream. But introducing money into a previously free ecosystem is going to be difficult and the issues are already appearing.