Opinion: Why Steam’s For-Profit Mod System Is Bad

By | 2 years ago 

It seems oddly appropriate that since Oblivion ushered in an era of DLC with its horse armor, its successor Skyrim might usher in a new era of paid modifications.

Valve stirred up plenty of controversy last night when they announced mod creators could now sell content for profit in the Steam Workshop, prompting plenty of previously free modifications to suddenly have price ranges from $1-$10 (and, in some cases, even more). The move has riled up the community, which prompted us to take a look into the problems of a for-profit Steam Workshop, and how it might have a negative impact on the gaming community.

Much like Nintendo’s controversial Creators Program, Valve is introducing a platform where they take a cut of the proceeds off of user-created content. All profits generated from any game modification sales will be divvied up between Valve, the respective game developer, and the mod creator. The latter gets 25% of the cut, whilst Valve and the game developer will split the other 75% – quite an uneven system, especially for items that were universally hosted and distributed for free before.

It’s worth noting that mod creators can still offer their content for free, and not everyone is gung-ho about the for-profit system. Don’t get us wrong, if someone makes a quality mod, it’s good to see that they can get paid for their dedication – but plenty of large modifications out there already have donation systems. If the majority of this content becomes exclusively purchasable, it means far less people will be able to enjoy the mods themselves – especially with no guarantee that the aforementioned mods will work after developers release game updates, or for that matter, even work at all.

Steam Mods for Sale

The fact that Valve will have no quality control for the mods release over Steam Workshop is worrisome, as game updates and patches from the actual developers may end up breaking game modifications people have paid for. Since modifications were a free item before, there were some expectations of leniency in that regard, but now that it’s a product users have purchased, should the mod developers be responsible for ensuring the modification works after the game itself updates? Right now, it’s not their problem; gamers have to accept the risk that any modifications they buy might break at any time.

Currently, Valve has no proper system in place to detect stolen mods – it’s relatively simple for someone to take someone else’s mod and upload it to the Workshop for a profit. If the original creator sees that someone else uploaded it to the Workshop and is making money off of their own work, they must file a request to have the mod removed – a process which takes some time. While stolen uploads aren’t a new scene on the Steam Workshop, as soon as financial gains enter the equation, the situation becomes a lot more complicated.

Steam Debut Pack

Skyrim is currently on sale for $5.This mod pack costs $35.

When asked if modifications could use part of other modifications (insert your Inception bwoom here) while still generating a profit, Valve responded with a statement explaining a mod creator profit-sharing system is put into place, allowing them to divvy up their percentages even more. Of course, there’s an honor system in effect that people will ask for permission when using any files that were made by someone else.

During the Workshop feature’s launch yesterday, a modification Steam placed on the front page was removed because it featured stolen content from another mod creator. It’s not a great start for the idea, and it’s annoying for customers who had already purchased the modification prior to its removal.

Gamers will have 24 hours to get a refund if they are dissatisfied with any mod purchases, which is actually a step up from their usual refund policy. Of course, if a gamer runs into problems with the mod more than 24 hours after purchasing, they’re stuck with a defective item.

Skyrim Thomas The Tank Engine

It looks like the Steam Workshop will be going through a whole new frontier in the next few days. Steam is already bundling content together into packages that cost more than the game they play on, and we’re waiting with baited breath to see if people are still willing to spend their cash. Plenty of popular mods from free-host websites like NexusMods have packed up ship and moved over to Steam, selling their previously free items for fees (Wet and Cold being a good example).

Valve is often held in the high regard by fans for creating such a proficient gaming distribution system and developing stellar titles like Portal and Half-Life. They also heralded a system to digitally download games back when in-store retail copies dominated the market, and are often at the forefront of innovations. But this move seems like a large step backwards, and ensures gamers will get to enjoy far less content than they usually would be able to, at prices that may not match the quality they’re paying for.

What do you think about Steam enabling for-profit modifications, Ranters? Do you think the benefits will outweigh the negatives?

tags:PC, Steam