The gaming industry can be a difficult one to traverse, especially on the professional front. Game modders are a pretty vital piece to ensure a game’s overall success, and while years past have shown a efforts to adequately compensate them for their work, little progress has been made. Until today, when developer Studio Wildcard announced it would be financing a small group of modders as they work on a new mod for the Early Access action-adventure title ARK: Survival Evolved.
Studio Wildcard is stepping up to the plate to establish and carry out an effective system that properly finances modders. In a phone interview with PC Gamer, ARK: Survival Evolved‘s lead designer, lead programmer, and co-creative director Jeremy Stieglitz spoke at length about the new program, which will be officially announced during GDC 2017 this weekend.
At the start of each month, Studio Wildcard will choose 15 modders to develop and improve mods for ARK. Stieglitz stated that each modder will receive a $4,000 USD ($1,000 USD per week) introductory stipend for their work, and will then go through an evaluation process to determine if they will be chosen to continue working into the next month. Modders who are re-selected will receive the same pay rate, while modders who are dropped from the mods program are replaced with someone new.
Stieglitz also mentioned the possibility of program expansion and what the system means for the mods who are chosen:
“If we have to expand the program because the 15 mods are all doing so well that we don’t want to cut any of them, then we’ll expand the program to more mods every month. The hope is that with this kind of stipend… will let them spend more time on modding, and ideally, hopefully, take some of these mods to completion.”
Studio Wildcard is set to officially announce the sponsored mod program during GDC 2017 this weekend. During that time, an ARK patch will be released to allow players access to view and download the current sponsored mods.
Studio Wildcard employee and modder himself Cedric Burkes will be making the call on which mods are a success and which ones will be scrapped. Interesting and effective mods making during the sponsor program may be incorporated into ARK: Survival Evolved‘s official DLC. However, feedback from the community may also be taken into consideration. “Once we get this kind of process going, we’re almost certainly going to work out a community-driven aspect to is it as well,” Stieglitz stated. “The community maybe even ultimately can vote, along with some discretion, maybe, on Cedric’s part on who goes into that voting pool.”
Stieglitz also discussed the “safety net” policy the sponsored mod program will include, which required modders to upload their source assets to the developers working on ARK: Survival Evolved. He did state that once a modder is dropped or decides they can no longer continue on in the program, all obligations are wiped away.
“We don’t expect anything of them after that, if they are no longer in the program, or if they quit, they have no obligation to us, it really is no strings attached. We’re not looking to run their lives or anything like that.”
The Studio Wildcard sponsored mod program is one that varies from proposed structures in the past. Both Bethesda and Valve had, at one time, implemented a network in which modders could sell their creations on Steam to players to earn compensation. Valve has since dissolved the system and removed it from the Steam Workshop, a decision that came after the company reportedly misjudged the situation and “miss[ed] the mark pretty badly,” according to Valve employee Alden Kroll.
Working around paid mods and getting to the core goal of the system, which is to provide modders with livable pay, seems quite a smart idea for Studio Wildcard and for the future of ARK: Survival Evolved. Paid mods have been a massive hot-button issue within the gaming community, particularly among fans, who have gone so far as to threaten violence if they were required to purchase mods. Complaints came pouring in when Valve confirmed its paid-for mod initiative, with negative responses spiraling out when Skyrim modders received death threats over the game’s paid system.
Thankfully, the response to Studio Wildcard’s new program has been positive thus far. Many gamers (who are mostly non-modders) have expressed satisfaction, claiming that systems like this one should be the example for other game companies to follow. And perhaps players will be seeing enhancements, like the most recent ARK: Survival Evolved Pokemon mod, rolling out from Studio Wildcard in the near future.
ARK: Survival Evolved leaves Early Access to officially release for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One later in 2017.