A vocal selection of PC gamers were incensed at the new policy. Some complained that Valve’s cut of the profits from paid mod sales was too high and criticized the company for its perceived greed. Others felt that such a policy would encourage the development of de facto shovelware mods for sale. Yet others felt the policy was a stab at the very heart of the modding community, which gives content away for free and has done so for many years.
The cacophony of voices was enough for Valve to reverse course. Now Valve and Bethesda Softworks, the developer of Skyrim, are trying to explain what happened.
Bethesda posted an explanation on the Bethesda blog for why the company was willing to experiment with Skyrim mods on Steam. “We believe most mods should be free,” reads the statement, “But we also believe our community wants to reward the very best creators, and that they deserve to be rewarded. We believe the best should be paid for their work and treated like the game developers they are.”
It later updated the post:
“After discussion with Valve, and listening to our community, paid mods are being removed from Steam Workshop. Even though we had the best intentions, the feedback has been clear – this is not a feature you want. Your support means everything to us, and we hear you.”
Bethesda also shared that only 8 percent of Skyrim players have ever downloaded and used a mod. With a relatively small base of users, even a vocal minority of critics would have a larger-than-average effect on the discourse.
On Sunday, Valve Software CEO Gabe Newell took to a Reddit AMA, and tried to explain what Valve’s new policy was all about. “Skyrim is a great example of a game that has benefitted enormously from the MODs,” Newell said. “The option for paid MODs is supposed to increase the investment in quality modding, not hurt it.”
“About half of Valve came straight out of the MOD world,” Newell continued. “John Cook and Robin Walker made Team Fortress as a Quake mod. Ice frog made DOTA as a Warcraft 3 mod. Dave Riller and Dario Casali (were) Doom and Quake mappers. John Guthrie and Steve Bond came to Valve because John Carmack thought they were doing the best Quake C development. All of them were liberated to just do game development once they started getting paid. Working at Waffle House does not help you make a better game.”
“We’ve done this because it’s clear we didn’t understand exactly what we were doing,” Valve announced Monday on the Steam Workshop forums. “We’ve been shipping many features over the years aimed at allowing community creators to receive a share of the rewards, and in the past, they’ve been received well.
“But we underestimated the differences between our previously successful revenue sharing models, and the addition of paid mods to Skyrim’s workshop. 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.”
Illustration by Max Fleishman