I wrote this on Monday prior to the news breaking that Valve was reverting the paid mod system. I will try to write a follow up to this blog following the end of my last final. However I am disappointed to see Valve go back on it so soon and what this has meant to the modding community. The idea that Valve would give into what are essentially internet bullies is troubling.
As of late there has been a lot of news, angry tweets, and even angrier forum rants about Valve implementing a feature into the workshop that will allow modders to sell their mods to the playerbase of a game as if it were DLC. After reading around and learning why people are for and against this subject I feel I need to explain why I am for this and why I think this will better improve the modding scene as well as address some issues with the current model and how Valve could improve it.
Who am I?
My username since I started PC gaming in I would like to say 2006-2007 has been Wazanator so if you want to look up my history to validate this go right ahead I have nothing to hide other then some really awful comments when I first started learning what a message board was at the age of 14 and my tutorial videos with my awful voice. The very first PC games I bought and played were Star Wars Empire at War, Battlefield 2, and Portal, all of which are known for their very active modding communities even to this day. I did not get heavily invested into the modding scene until I happened across an ad for Zombie Panic! Source after playing Portal in October of 2008. Zombie Panic! Source would lead me to learning how to make maps, textures and the basics of modeling for that mod for roughly 4 to 5 years, during which I made lifelong friends, joined the development team and would come to realize I actually preferred teaching people how to make content and helping them finish their own projects rather than my own. After ZP!S I worked for some time as a playtester and a very short time as a mapper for Monchromes first game Contagion which was meant to be a spiritual sequel game to ZP!S. However after some time working on it I began to realize the game was not what I wanted ZP!S to become and lost interest in it and would then get offered a position fixing and updating maps for NMRiH which had in the past few months gotten through Greenlight and on to Steam to a very warm reception. During that time I also became semi involved with various other Source Engine communities like CSGO, TF2, and Garrys Mod.
As of right now I mainly work on NMRiH (which my opinions here do not reflect the rest of the teams) and helping as many people I can on various forums with learning how to make maps and mods for the Source Engine as well as providing a software tool to replace the one Valve broke but have not fixed. Recently I have taken up in addition to the prior the task of video recording as well as writing out how to make a mod from start to finish as the documentation on that process has become decrepit with changes to the engine over the years.
How I am going to approach this discussion
Now that my boring life story is out of the way let address how I am going to approach this discussion. For this subject I feel it probably going to be best if I do this more or less in a bullet point approach so if you are wondering why these sections don’t exactly flow well into each other that’s why. This way I can explain to you in detail my thoughts on each section without trying to weave you a story out of what is really a boring lecture.
The Facts(PLEASE READ)
If you read one thing in this blog please read this. Since this has started I have seen a lot of false facts being passed around that many people assumed were true without doing any investigating on their own.
Modders do not have to charge for their mods. They get several options to choose from, free, set price, and pay what you want
The pay what you want option allows modders to set the starting price
It is the modders setting the prices not Valve or the developer. If you have issues with the price of an item that is something you need to take up with the modder
Publishers/Developers decide if they want paid mods, this is not being forced on every workshop
The developer/publisher sets what percentage modders get of a sale. Valves portion comes from what the developer/publisher gets, the modder does not get hit twice.
AGAIN Valve does not get all of that money, the portion that the modder does not get is split between the developer and Valve. It is the developer that set’s the percentages not Valve.
Valve has a system in place that is supposed to check for copyrighted content that is not detailed to the public for obvious reasons
Workshop moderation falls upon the developer/publisher, it uses the same moderation system that the forums do. What this means is that Valve expects the developers to moderate their own stuff and only step in with a global Steam moderator if things go really south.
Valve allows you 24 hours from the time of purchase to ask for a refund. Refunds are returned in the form of steam wallet cash. If you abuse this system you lose your privileges.
If a mod breaks because of an update or because of another mod it is on the consumer and the modders in question to solve this issue. Right now Valve is recommending you inform the mod authors.
You can filter the workshop by paid, free or both
Modders can add contributors. Adding a contributor lets you dictate how much of a percent cut of your earnings that person should get. This is there to help out groups and those who have content that is based on someone elses.
Modders can set the required mods and DLC for their mod.
Prices are not set it in stone but Valve does not want people changing the prices willy nilly like
Valve has a DMCA takedown system in place that everyone is encouraged to use
When an item is bought that person does not get that money right away. This is very important as it is how Valve makes sure people who put up stolen content do not get free money
Mods can not be deleted. You can delist an item so it is no longer for sale but people who have bought your item always have access to it
Valve does not allow you to sell content that you do not hold rights for, being caught doing so means you forfeit all earned revenue, you are liable for damages and compensation, and can be banned from the workshop or the steam community in general
Valve requires modders to earn a $100 prior to them being paid. It has always been this way with Valve as far back as when community made TF2 cosmetics started. The reason being Valve does not do direct deposits they use a third party service called WorldPay to handle the payments.
Valve requires valid contact, banking and tax information before someone gets paid
Valve requires modders to use their legal first and last name
Valve requires modders addresses
Valve only does bank to bank transfers they do not do paypal or to steam wallet
Valve has no intention to put third party sites like Mod Nexus out of business and are more than willing to reach out to them and work something out
Sources for these facts:
We need to be making suggestions to the system not demanding its removal
I’ll get to why I think this is good groundwork in a moment but for now we need to understand that we are much more likely to get Valve to do a change rather than a removal. What Valve has started with is a good start it just needs to be refined. Instead of trying to fuel this hate machine we need to redirect that energy into coming up with suggestions on what can be done to improve it. Everyone who has put time and effort into making a unique product deserves to have the option to sell it.
There are still thousands of free mods
As of this writing according to the Steam Workshop Skyrim has maybe 25 paid mods and 25,000+ free ones. As Garry Newman, the guy behind Garrys mod, pointed out in his blog there will always be free mods. This system does not mean the end of free mods.
Why is this?
A good number of modders are kids and probably do not have the option to setup a paid contributor account. These accounts require a bank account, tax information, and other information that a kid is really not likely to give out or have without having a parent involved. How many parents do you know that if their child came to them and said “Mom I need to setup a bank account and get my tax information in order so I can make money off the internet selling swords I made for this game” would say sure and not look at them like they were insane.
There are people out there that strongly believe in free content. Look at open source software, a lot of that could have easily been put behind a paywall but these people believed in their content being free for everyone. The same applies to modders. Yes there are some of us who would like to charge for our content but the notion that we are going to put all our content behind a paywall is insane.
There is no point in selling light content. What I mean by light content in this context are things that took maybe a few hours to create and anyone could do. These are the kinds of things someone would see for sale and go “I can make that in half a day and put it up for free so I think I will to make a point”
Paid mods have been around for a long time
Paying for mods is something that has existed for a long time now. Garrys Mod has had several sites over the years dedicated to selling content to players and server owners. In addition to that is the rise of Patreon. Patreon is a platform that allows people to pledge monthly donations to a person or group, this led to modders giving their donors access to the newest version of a mod or sometimes even being the only way to get that mod, notable examples for this include Minecraft and Skyrim.
All Valve has done in this instance is bring to the light what has existed for a long time.
https://scriptfodder.com/ for Gmod has made $27,631 on job and $212,911 on Scripts
Prior to that there was CodeHire which is now defunct
Important to note of these two was that nothing was ever guaranteed to work, if it broke or you broke it you were on your own
Big list of Minecraft Patreon links: http://forum.feed-the-beast.com/threads/patreon-links.40527/
Just do some googling it’s not hard to find sites and communities setup around the idea of others hiring them out to make them content for an already existing game especially when it comes to server plugins for games like CSS, TF2, Gmod and DoDS.
The good will rise and the bad will sink
The workshop works just like Steam does for games. Good games tend to float to the top and bad games fall to the bottom and become lost to time. The same holds true for the workshop, just because a mod charges $10 does not mean it is worth $10. The community is hopefully smart enough to realize this. If someone is overcharging, selling a broken mod, or just selling something dumb it will not sell while a good quality, reasonably priced mod will. Not to mention these for profit mods are competing with free mods. They will have to be exceptionally good to get a sale.
The end choice is the consumers
In the end it is up to the consumer on whether or not they should buy that mod. No one is being forced to buy mods, in fact you can play the game without them entirely. They are not a required product to have a full complete experience and if they are then you should be mad at the developer in question. It should never fall upon the mod community to make their product a complete product.
Is the price cut a fair cut?
The 25% cut has been around for a long time. That is typically how much a content creator for cosmetics makes for TF2, CSGO and Dota2. This of course can be different from person to person because Valves NDA states they are not to share this kind of information but from what has leaked out over the years this is the estimated normal cut.
Valve has provided us with a service to upload our mods and not worry about third party sites closing down and losing all of our hard work (remember the FileFront scare a few years back?). They have made a very robust system in which they turned what was once a confusing process into an easy way to get a mod in game and it fits in very well with the rest of Steam. The developers made the base game and our mods would be nothing without that. No if ands or buts without those two groups a lot of what is modding today would not exist. They more than rightfully deserve a share of our profits.
Not to mention on top of this that if we were to sell stand alone on Steam Valve would be taking an estimated 25%-30% cut and if you were using say the unreal engine tack on another 5%. Yes you would be getting between 65%-70% but you are also launching a complete stand alone game which requires a lot more work.
On top of all this at what point did it become the general internets concern how much someone agrees to make? If we like the terms we will use them if we don’t we will release our mods for free. It’s not like this cut percentage is going to stop someone from making mods. Take it or leave it. Nothing bad happens if you ignore it and release for free like we have been for years.
But is 75-25 a good cut? Well as various people have pointed out, including myself, Skyrim has a huge playerbase with an average of roughly 30,000 since the start of the year. This works well for smaller mods like those that add a new sword or two for a $1 because hey even if you get 1,000 sales you made $250 off what may have taken you a day. If you could make $250 for a days worth of work and you worked 5 days a week you are looking at roughly $65,000 a year. That is nothing to sneeze at.
However when you think about these bigger mods, ones that are attempting to act as an equivalent to an expansion you begin to see the issue. Let us say you made a big content mod that took you and 4 people maybe a year to make and you are selling it at $20 and you assume everyone is getting a fair cut of the 25% you get of the sales, at 1,000 sales you only made $1,000. That’s only 4 times as much as something someone spent a day to a week working on where as you spent a year. It’s part of the reason you now see some 3D artists making it their job to make cosmetics for TF2, CSGO and Dota2. They can pump out a lot of content and see a significant return even though they are only getting 25% due to the size of the games userbase. If you can work fast and good you stand to make a lot of money in this model even if you are getting a very minimal cut.
That is why I feel there needs to be a sliding scale. A sliding scale would allow for adjustments in the amount people are charging for their larger more content rich mods and they could justify spending more time working on them.
For profit modding encourages more games to include workshop support
By adding this Valve has given another reason to developers to add workshop support. Prior to this adding workshop support was a way to entice buyers with the idea that there will always be the chance that someone is adding new content to the game. With this it encourages developers even more because not only is it a selling point to your consumers but it’s now a way to continue to generate revenue long past the time your company stopped creating content for it.
This will lead to better workshop integration into the base game I feel. Skyrims integrations is okay but it isn’t the best. For this to work the game in question needs to have very good integration like Garrys Mod and Left 4 Dead 2. Those games have great workshop implementation you generally do not have to worry about things being incompatible and they work without the player needing to open up things like the console command line.
For profit modding opens up the possibility of people making a decent amount of money off it and makes it a competitor to indie gaming
Prior to this it was expected that if you wanted to make money in the industry designing games or content for them you had two choices. You joined an established studio or you set out to become an indie developer. What this does is blend both and provide a third option, the option to make content for games that are already established.
If Garrys Mod gets this I think you will see a lot of cool impressive things come out of it. One of the biggest problems with the Source Engine is the engine license price. Valve will not tell you the full price of the engine until you have signed various NDA’s but to give you an idea of how much it costs if you look at their FAQ over here you can see Havok licensing alone is going to run you $25,000 and you have to pay that up front. That is not including the amount you have to pay to RAD software for the use of their audio system and their file formats. Yes you can replace these sections of the engine with your own as seen in Contagions audio system but that is going to set back development a lot.
I’m clearly not a lawyer but I’m pretty sure this would allow people to loophole that system and provide these people with the opportunity to make awesome content for you. Garrys Mod could in all regards become the de facto place to go if you want to make Source Engine games. That would mean developers would not have to worry about porting to Linux or OSX and the added extra features that Garrys Mod has over the base vanilla Source Engine is astounding. Garry Newman has already stated he would love to see it come to his game and would want modders to get 75%+, that’s more than fair and would really help to take expand on the awesome content that is already there for the game.
There has also been talk of Starbound getting this and while I have not looked a lot into it's modding community what I saw there was great. A lot of people are generating custom sprite art, inventing new stand alone gameplay mechanics, and entire new races. This model would fit that game well I feel. Would you really not feel inclined to pay $3 for some custom fully fleshed out custom race someone made for your game?
Look the fact of the mater is right now in it's current state modding is not something a lot of us can go on doing once out of college. A lot of us have gone on to get full time jobs and no longer have time for modding. While we would love to keep making content for the games people love to play we have to manage our real lives and the issues we have out there such as maintaining relationships and working a 9 to 5 job so we have a place to live, food to eat and we don't die alone.
Valves current method makes modding a very competitive market
Not only are for profit modders competing with others in it for the money it also means they are competing with the people who are making free content. They will have to provide top quality work if they want to make a sale. On top of this the developers and publishers will now have to compete for modders attention. As user Chris_Bruin pointed out on Reddit he stopped making content for Chivalry and started making content for Dota2 and CSGO because he was getting the same cut but Valves games had a bigger audience which meant more sales. So perhaps while Bethesda is offering Skyrim modders 25% Facepunch is offering modders 75% so maybe that is going to bring some modders over from Skyrim into Garrys Mod or vice versa because Skyrim might have a bigger playerbase. It’s going to be an interesting time to see how companies will respond to this.
The contribution system and “what mods are required to run your mod” are there for a reason
And that reason is you are supposed to give credit where credit is due. You can not say “this is not fair to those whose content is based off another persons” because everyone has the option to add the people who contributed to your mod, whether it be models, sounds, coding, etc because in the end you have the option to include them and give them a portion of your profits. If someone does not get permission and tries to make money off your work file a DMCA and Valve will take care of them for you. They are very serious about DMCA take downs and are not afraid to wield the banhammer.
When people talk about “well this mod would not even run without this mod” that is what this system is for. Valve has thought this through, if a modder is not following the rules they need to be informed of that and if it isn’t corrected you need to contact Valve and the games developer.
Why there is so much outrage
This outrage by the communities was only natural to happen. Something was taken away that they once had for free and rather than reading into it and educating themselves they have chosen to instead fly into a blind rage. I think given enough time and people learning the actual process behind it will help to clear things up.
That said the amount of hatred that has been directed at those involved in this is beyond disturbing. What I find even worse is those that are meant to be moderators on various forums joining in on witch hunts and openly harassing these modders. If you think that is going to make them change you are out of your mind. If anything it is going to make them leave and not think twice about coming back. It's okay to be upset but you do not take to doxing people because they started charging for a mod.
Valves model still needs revision
Valve has a good basework I feel but it needs more revision, that is why I have come up with some suggestions after reading around and listening to other modders.
Allow modders to choose 0 as a starting price on the pay what you want model that way it becomes more of a donation option. This is something that has been requested a lot and I see no problems with this as long as a portion still goes to the developer/Valve.
Require a one time fee of Steam users who want to sell paid mods of $20. Part of the ongoing issue right now is that people can make a new steam account, buy the game and start uploading stolen content right away to try and make off with some cash. While Valves system in place right now should prevent this it would not hurt to require an entry barrier similar to Steam Greenlight. A one time $20 should be low enough that anyone who wants to seriously get into paid mods can do it while still preventing bots and other riff raff.
Hold modders more responsible by allowing people to flag their mods as broken. If a mod is flagged as broken enough times the developer or Valve should need to investigate it, see if it is truly broken and if it is give the modder a set time of maybe one or two months to fix it at which point if it is still broken then refund everyone who ever bought the mod and put that bill against the modder to work off on any more sales they make from other mods. This will help to ensure once again that those getting into this are serious, will have to provide support for their product, as well as provide the consumers the safe of mind feeling that if the mod does break down the line they will get their money back.
- Keep a version history going so if something breaks in a mod the end user can roll back to a previous version on their own.
We have an option to mark mods that require other mods but we also need an option to specify which mods conflict with our mods. And warn a consumer before buying “Hey we see you own these mods, please be aware the one you are buying right now does not work with these. If you wish to use the mod you are buying you will need to unmount them, here’s a link that will show you how to do that if you decide to buy this mod”
There needs to be an option for a sliding scale approach that developers can choose to use as a way to better take into account that what might be the equivalent to a $20
Frequent statements made by those against paid mods
“Monetizing cosmetic mods does not work in singleplayer because it only works for things like hats in multiplayer due to people being able to show off to other players”
- I disagree, various games such as the Sims 2 and 3 has shown us that people are more than willing to buy cosmetics for their singleplayer game.
“It won’t make developers want to add workshop support, the time required to do so is too expensive”
- This isn’t necessarily aimed at just AAA studios. There are plenty of mid range studios and even indie studios that it makes more sense for them to consider modding with this system. I do not see companies like Rockstar using this but I can definitely see companies like Volition and Relic using this. This is going to greatly benefit studios that either only make PC games or focus greatly on them. I think once Valve has data to show this off we will see more studios doing this.
“This was free at one point why should I have to pay for it now”
- I’m sorry but that is just how the world works sometimes. If someone owns something and decides they want to switch business models they have the right to.
“This inhibits collaboration”
- No it actually encourages it through the contribution system and the “what mod does your mod require” system. Let’s say I made a really awesome basemod that’s focused around adding airplanes to Skyrim for $5 but mine only adds 5 airplanes and Bob over here wants to make 3 more airplanes for my mod and charge people nothing. That’s awesome and I don’t care that Bob is doing that because he is giving people more incentive to buy my basemod, maybe if I notice people are buying my mod just because Bob made these sweet airplanes I give him a percentage of what I’m making via the contribution system.
- “Modders are only getting 25%”
- And your point is what? You are not the one making the content and if you are then it is up to you in the end whether you like that amount. You can either take it or leave it. If you leave it it’s like nothing ever happened you are still releasing a mod for free. If you take it then you are making a little extra for your hard work.
- “This means modders can’t make mods using licensed things like Lord of the Rings or Star Wars!”
- Of course we can’t sell a product that contains someone elses work. But this isn’t going to change the fact that modders can still release that stuff for free and play dumb and hope they don’t get a DMCA notice. If they do more often than not if the modders were making no money off of it the holder doesn’t care to press legal issues on them they just want them to stop doing what it is they are doing.
Other readings and listening
Here are some links to articles that I have come across from people in the industry that I feel contribute to the discussion while staying informed
- I make a full-time living from the Steam Workshop. Here's what I think of the recent modding uproar
- A word from a mod creator
What I would like to see most out of Valve at this point is a sponsored modder summit meeting physical or digital with them and developers or publishers who are interested in this system. Give us a place where we can discuss this thing civilly without the anger of the internet forums, twitter and other social media drowning out our discussions and suggestions. What is there is good but like I said it needs some refinement still. If we can work together on this I think it has the potential to be very beneficial to everyone.
Big thanks to those who took the time to read through and I hope if I did not change your opinion I at least educated you on some of the facts. I am pressed for time at the moment so I’m sure I missed something and I’ll be sure to update as I come across new information and ideas. I’m more then willing to debate my opinions with anyone so if you think you found a hole in my armor please feel free to leave a comment.