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First DLC, now paid mods?!

By Ian Chee - on 01 May 2015, 11:00am

The Internet was recently set ablaze by Valve’s attempt at paid mods for Skyrim. Although the decision has since been reversed, there have been many interesting opinions about it, and so I thought I’d take this chance to add my self-anointed opinion into the cesspool of toxicity that is our gaming community.

First, we go with some numbers. A Change.org petition to overturn this decision has gathered over 133,000 signatures. So clearly, the average person in the gaming community is against this. I say this because the above average people have publicly voiced their support for paid mods. The same folks who are active in the gaming community but may not actually be gamers themselves, such as Gabe Newell and Garry Newman. A rather apt analogy I can think of are politicians and citizens, where gamers are the citizens of the gaming community, and the politicians are the people with the power to change the direction of the community against its will, sometimes without actually even being part of said community.

Carrying on with the same politician vs. citizen analogy, we have this developer vs. consumer conflict that sometimes end in the worst possible way, but we end up living with it anyway. Like DLCs. Masahiro Sakurai, the guy who directed every Super Smash Bros. games ever, said himself that: "These days, the 'DLC scam' has become quite the epidemic, charging customers extra money to complete what was essentially an unfinished product," although he was being hypocritical with that statement, he followed it up with: “The DLC we are releasing for Smash is authentic, developed only after we finished working on the main game. Of course, said content will come to you at a premium as compensation for the work put into developing additional content post-production," referring to the add-on content for Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS.

In his defense, I can see some merit in post-release DLCs, even if it still stinks of selling an unfinished product, and then asking for the price of another for the rest of the missing bits. And let’s not even go to Disc-Locked Content.

So what does DLCs have to do with paid mods? Simple. Think of the community being the developer of a DLC, and there you have it. There is now an equation between paid mods and DLCs, the only difference between them being who created the content. And now, we’ll take a closer look at why paid mods are a greater issue than DLCs which, to me, were already the greatest problem of the gaming industry.

//www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/34005/?" target="_blank">Skyrim Nexus</a>.

Let’s start with Garry Newman’s position on the matter. To sum it up, his stance is pretty much: “If you don’t like it, don’t buy it. No one’s pointing a gun to your head and forcing you to part with your money.” He goes on to say: “You don’t need these mods, you just want them. Are they worth more to you than whatever else you’re going to spend the money on? No? Well don’t buy them, do without.”

While he has a point, it’s kind of like saying: “You don’t need to play games, you just want to.” And call me bitter, but this is exactly the kind of response I expect from a person who made it big by selling something people want, not need. Like Garry’s Mod.

Also, while Garry’s Mod is now big enough to be a company that can hire over 30 people to keep the mod bug-free and actually worth the money people are paying to get it, can the same be said about the average hobbyist modder? One of the major concerns is that with paid mods, gamers will have to buy them before being able to see if they like it, or if it is playable or compatible with other existing mods. And then there are the mods that require other mods to work.

Before I carry on, I would like to point out that I have no actual issues if said mod was a cosmetic upgrade in a multiplayer game. In fact, I bought a cosmetic set for Sven (a hero in Dota 2) that was released in conjunction with 2013’s New Moon event (Valve’s idea of a Chinese New Year event). I liked it so much that I bought it even when I don’t play Dota 2 that often anymore, and Sven being one of the characters I play the least. But this is fine by me because such skins are a virtual form of cosplaying; a way you express your liking for the character. However, paying for custom skins for a single player game feels like showing off to yourself, which is sad. It’s like flexing the muscle that you don’t actually have, but paid someone to put silicone over, in front of a mirror, and with no one else there to admire your “hard work.” Showing off to others to feed your ego is natural, humans need a bit of that every once in a while. Showing off to yourself? There’s a hand gesture that makes for a perfect analogy, and I’ll leave it to your imagination as to what that gesture is.

And paying for mods that add such a significant amount of content that it changes the game entirely, I have no issues with. In fact, Garry’s Mod is one such mod. But for the point I’m trying to make, Counter-Strike is probably the best example. What started as a Half-Life mod has turned into a game – that you have to buy to play – in its own right, and for the competitive scene no less. Paying for mods like these make sense. Paying for an extra gamebreaking weapon that can be added with 30 minutes of learning how the Creation Kit works, doesn’t.

Motivation is the next issue. The modding community has always done what they do out of interest, and hence the motivation to keep their mods in tip-top condition has been pure. But once money comes into the picture, will that remain the case? Many people don’t think so, with quite a number of gag mods, or what the community calls “protest mods” showing up, having close to no content but charging exorbitant prices – up to US$35 – for them, to prove the point. This brings us back to the earlier point on quality assurance and compatibility with other mods. What’s stopping a fake modder from selling one and then playing Harry Houdini after they’ve gotten their cash? This is an issue especially because, for one, as mentioned before, you have to buy it to test it, and also because you don’t have the sort of assurance that what you buy will work from a modder individual as you would from a developer company. And even if the one who takes your money doesn’t split immediately after, Valve’s idea of a money-back-guarantee lasts only 24 hours. Not many people have the luxury of playing a game to test the mod for 24 straight hours, and even if they do, some mods can be so complex that gamebreaking bugs may not be discovered until way after the 24-hour period.

From the perspective of Gabe Newell himself, things started with questionably good intentions, but without a lot of thinking things through. Obviously, paid mods will be a good way to compensate mod makers for their work. Garry Newman made a living out of it, and bought cars and houses with that living, no less. But with all the implications mentioned above, is it really such a good deal? In fact, a few screen captures by Kotaku on reddit sums things up quite nicely, chief of which being one where username TheAscended said: “Modding is something that should continue to be a free community driven structure. Adding money into the equation makes it a business not a community. With all the drama that has happened it is clear that this will poison modding in general and will have the opposite effect on modding communities than intended.”

Many others have expanded on this point as well. There have been many precedents that have shown us that for every great thing that exists, there is passion, not money, behind it. What’s more, when there is no monetary reward, there is one less motivation for cash-grabbing people who don’t really give two hoots about modding to crowd the pool of mods and obscuring the good ones that gamers want, and are willing to donate to its creator for. Put money into the equation, and you get an insurmountable pile of Extra Apple and Literally Nothing (both protest mods, which have since been removed) to wade through before finding something that isn’t a blatant cash grab.

Then there’s also the question of value. It wouldn’t be farfetched to say that, somewhere out there, there is someone who honestly thinks, without implying sarcasm or irony, that adding an apple into Skyrim is worth half the game’s retail price. Of course, no one will buy these, but they will clutter up a market of potentially proper mods that may actually be worth their asking price. This Steam user FilthyCausal said it, along with the following points I’m about to bring up, best.

"Seriously, will you pay for a mod like this?" <br>Image source: <a href="http://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/34005/?" target="_blank">Skyrim Nexus</a>.

Then there’s the fact that, if paid mods became a thing, the mod makers only get 25 percent of the earnings, with the remaining 75 percent going to Valve and Bethesda (Valve takes 30 percent, while Bethesda takes 45 percent). Why is that? Bethesda has made the game Skyrim, so it’s fine if they get paid for that, but why is the company getting paid for things others made? That’s just greedy, even if the mod makers are using Skyrim as a platform. That’s like saying people who make custom maps for StarCraft II have to pay Blizzard for using StarCraft II to make said maps. It’s just silly and, in case I’ve not mentioned it, greedy. Valve, on the other hand, is getting a huge slice of the cake, just by providing the selling platform. This made more sense, since it’s like paying rent for a shop lot in a supermarket, but the size of the cut just feels excessive, even if this is an industry standard.

Shouldn’t the mod maker be getting the 75 percent? Shouldn’t Steam get the 25 percent, maybe less, and shouldn’t Bethesda get nothing since its staff didn’t think of making that mod an official DLC, but a fan of its game did? And if Bethesda really wants to monetize fan-made mods, shouldn’t they just hire the mod maker and turn said mod into an official DLC? Or at the very least, buy the idea from them? I know that’s not how ‘intellectual property rights’ work, but still, credit where it is due, right? Or does cash override credit?

There are a number of other issues with this that are self explanatory, but since I’ve gotten this far, I might as well carry on and explain them. First is piracy. For-profit organizations hate this word more than they love their money. And yet, paid mods do not guarantee that someone won’t take resources from a free mod and make a paid version, claiming all earnings for himself without even crediting the creator of the used resources. It’s as if Valve and Bethesda are encouraging piracy, as long as it doesn’t happen to them.

Returning to a previous point where I mentioned mods that require other mods as prerequisites before they work. Imagine if they were all paid mods. For a game like Skyrim, mods are what really makes the game great. Charging for mods makes them become something like microtransactions, where you have to buy every mod you use to make your Skyrim experience a unique one. Your mods will cost twice, maybe thrice the amount you spent on the game itself.

Perhaps what staggers me the most is that there are a number of people who do not understand the obvious backlash this whole debacle has caused. Sure, I’m all for letting modders become millionaires from their passion. I’m all for kids making money out of what they enjoy doing and preventing their parents from forcing them to get “proper” jobs. But this clearly isn’t the way to do it. it’s obvious that once you start charging for something that is has been free from the beginning of time, people are not going to be happy. Do we really need to wait for the day we have to buy the air we breathe for this to be understood? Yes, modders should indeed be compensated, but I’m sure those who are really into it are not in it for the money. And that’s why donations are a thing; to award the modders who really like doing what they do, instead of paying every single modder indiscriminately and end up feeding the greedy money-grubbers. Of course, there is the argument of the proper, passionate modders not getting compensated, to which I refer to the previous point of charging for something that was free.

Then there’s the argument that it will be exciting if publishers open up their games to mod support. This I have no argument against. Except I do, and many others have voiced it before me. If a publisher sees profit in supporting mods, then they are the ones that will profit, while the independent mod developer gets a sliver of the cut for his or her hard work. The day when virtually every PC game can be easily modded will come when publishers prioritize the community they are serving before profits. Sure, take a cut, but if the one who made the mod gets merely 25 percent, while publishers get the bigger cut of the profits for someone else’s work, does the modder really benefit if he dumps his day job for modding?

Perhaps it will take a fresh new market to test this paid mods thing. Established ones like Bethesda's games will definitely resist it, as this attempt by Valve has shown. Maybe things will be different when another publisher that has never before adopted mods for its games starts doing so. Until then, we can only wait and see.

In the end, however, I have to say that I’m glad this happened, even if it was an ugly scene to behold. It shows the motivation behind the people making their statements on both sides of the divide – arguably an uglier thing to see – and shows who it is that actually deserves our money. As expected, those who deserve it don’t have it on the top of their list, and those who don’t deserve it prioritize it above everything else.

And on that bombshell, adieu to y’all.

Disclaimer: The content of this blog post is the writer's own opinion, and does not reflect the views or opinions of HardwareZone.com.my, its affliates or any other institution unless clearly stated.

Ian Chee

Ian Chee / Writer

Having given up his dreams of playing games for a living, he has gone for the next best thing: writing about them for a living. Or at least, whenever given the chance. Quite clearly a Japanophile, it's a wonder why he doesn't yet speak the language, although that might have something to do with the fact that he doesn't speak much in general.