PC gamers have appreciated the Steam Workshop for how easy it is to upload mods and then to find and try said mods. Steam usually even takes care of installing a chosen mod, so the difficulty of following complex installation directions is eliminated.
Nearly overnight, however, attitudes toward the Steam Workshop changed due to Valve’s decision to allow mod developers to sell their mods for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Many were concerned that complications would ensue, and these concerns were proven valid following the removal of a mod containing stolen content.
The Skyrim mod, entitled ‘Art of the Catch’, was one of the initial Skyrim mods available at launch of the new paid mods system. As an animated fishing mod, it initially appeared fairly simplistic and harmless, but the modding community quickly took notice that ‘Art of the Catch’ utilized another mod called ‘Fores New Idles In Skyrim’, or FNIS. However, Fores was not credited for the use of his mod, nor was he receiving compensation when gamers purchased the mod. Shortly after this discovery, the Art of the Catch was removed from the Steam Workshop.
Following the mod’s removal, Art of the Catch creator Chesko posted to the Skyrim Mod subreddit in an effort to explain himself. Chesko wrote that he was concerned about the use of another modder’s work to implement his own, and contacted Valve for advice. Surprisingly, the Valve representative had this to say:
[Valve] Officer Mar 25 @ 4:47pm
Usual caveat: I am not a lawyer, so this does not constitute legal advice. If you are unsure, you should contact a lawyer. That said, I spoke with our lawyer and having mod A depend on mod B is fine–it doesn’t matter if mod A is for sale and mod B is free, or if mod A is free or mod B is for sale.
Chesko, who did not consult with a lawyer as suggested, proceeded to upload the mod. After Fores’s uncredited and uncompensated work was discovered, Chesko attempted to do the right thing, and pulled the mod from the workshop. However, yet another problem arose, as Valve is actively refusing to fully remove the mod from the Steam Workshop. While the mod is unavailable for purchase, those who’ve already paid for it still have access, and Chesko has been informed by Valve that they will not remove the content unless “legally compelled to do so”.
In just this one case alone, there’s plenty of proof that selling mods on Steam Workshop is a bad idea, at least as long as it’s a primarily automated, community-regulated service. Other Steam-based games like Team Fortress 2 have successfully made a market selling community-designed in-game items, but those items must meet strict design regulations, undergo community voting, and ultimately be chosen to be added to the game by Valve themselves. As Chesko himself pointed out, many mods rely upon other mods, tools, or scripts like FNIS and SkyUI in order to function at all, which severely complicates how all those involved can be compensated.
Finding a way to compensate modders for their hard work is a good idea, but the entire process seemed rushed and not entirely thought through on Valve’s part. Anyone who has ever installed a mod for a PC game has likely downloaded a second mod to make the first work, so it’s a wonder that nobody thought of the complications that would arise from these kinds of mods being uploaded to the Steam Workshop.
Chesko didn’t make the right decision to go ahead and upload his Skyrim fishing mod without even asking for Fores’s permission. Still, Valve could have avoided such problems entirely by requiring that every mod uploaded to the Steam Workshop be properly credited and set to split compensation between all the mod creators who had a hand in any mod asset.
Other gamers feel that the paid system for Steam Workshop mods should be done away with entirely. After all, The Elder Scrolls series and other PC games have had a long history of free, incredibly detailed mods, so why start paying in to this complicated and flawed system now?