Monday, April 27, 2015

Steam Workshop allows mod authors to sell their work. Steam users are revolting.

UPDATE: Valve has cancelled the paid mod program. Here's is their official statement:

We're going to remove the payment feature from the Skyrim workshop. For anyone who spent money on a mod, we'll be refunding you the complete amount. We talked to the team at Bethesda and they agree.

We've done this because it's clear we didn't understand exactly what we were doing. 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. It's obvious now that this case is different.

To help you understand why we thought this was a good idea, our main goals were to allow mod makers the opportunity to work on their mods full time if they wanted to, and to encourage developers to provide better support to their mod communities. We thought this would result in better mods for everyone, both free & paid. We wanted more great mods becoming great products, like Dota, Counter-strike, DayZ, and Killing Floor, and we wanted that to happen organically for any mod maker who wanted to take a shot at it.

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.

Now that you've backed a dump truck of feedback onto our inboxes, we'll be chewing through that, but if you have any further thoughts let us know.

So apparently this is big news: you can now buy community-authored Skyrim mods on the Steam Workshop, with more games planned to follow suit.

I say "apparently this is big news," because when I heard about it my reaction was "well, duh." It makes perfect sense to expand the role of the Workshop as a marketplace for community content. Making real-world livings off virtual-world goods is at least as old as Second Life, and you can already make good money on the Steam Workshop by making items for TF2 and a couple of other Valve games. Nothing about this concept is revolutionary.

I have since been informed that the fact that some mod authors may have the temerity to ask people to pay for the fruits of their labor has caused great outrage among people who believe that other people should be forced to work for them for free, and that by thus stepping out of their rightful place, these mod authors will surely upset the social order, planes will fall from the sky, dogs and cats will live together, et cetera.

Now, I'm a big fan of free software. I've used a lot of free software, and I've written a lot of free software. I love it when people make cool stuff for free and give it away. I even have a fairly casual attitude toward table scrap-pilfering grabasses who are either unable or unwilling to part with money and use stuff for free that other people have to pay for, as long as they at least feel a little guilty about it.

That said, if you feel so entitled to the fruits of someone else's labor that you'll loudly claim the moral high ground over them because their attempt to make a living off their passion project might impede the flow of free stuff from them to you, you need to go mow some yards.

I realize that it might be a bitter pill to swallow when I just put it like that, so I'll take a little more time to paraphrase and respond to some of the specific asinine complaints and concerns that I have read on these Internets about this whole thing, which in a reasonable world would not even merit a discussion.

What do you mean, I have to pay for this meal?  I cook for fun all the time!
Q: I thought modders made mods for fun? I don't get paid to play mods and whine about them on forums, why should they get paid to write them?

A: The difference between you and the modder is that the modder has produced something that is valuable to you, whereas you are producing nothing of value to anyone. See how that works? If you can find somebody who's willing to pay you to play games and be obnoxious, more power to you.

Look, not all hobbies are created equal. Some hobbies are just a pleasant way to spend time, providing some form of instant gratification with very little investment of talent or effort required. Some hobbies take the form of long projects, where months of sweat pay off with the satisfaction of a job well done. Some things that some people do as hobbies just for fun are done by other people as their full time job in order to earn a living, and sometimes people cross over from being hobbyists to professionals, or vice versa. The thing that makes it possible to do a "hobby" professionally is your ability to make something that other people want to have, and are willing to pay money for because they're unable or unwilling to make that thing themselves.

Q: Mods aren't real games; why would anyone ever pay for them?

A: If you're asking a question like this, you probably think the line between "mod" and "game" is a lot sharper than it is. A number of popular standalone games on the market today started their lives as mods, and started getting sold on their own (often with the same exact technical underpinnings) once they reached a popularity threshold sufficient to be worth that effort. There are also a lot of games that are developed commercially using engines licensed from other companies, which is essentially all a mod is -- building on someone else's game engine to deliver your own experience. Ambitious mods can represent years of hard work by multiple people. What it comes down to is this: if a "mod" provides you with the same amount of novel entertainment as a new game, why would it be worth less than a new game?

And if somebody tries to charge you $50 for a slapped-together mod that's just a new hat for your horse or whatever, well, maybe don't buy that particular mod, unless you're really into hats.

Q: What if somebody steals content and puts it into a mod they then turn around and sell? What if people want to share content freely with other modders, but then the other modders unfairly profit off their work?

A: Hey, welcome to the entire history of human creative endeavors. People have been ripping each other off since the first cave paintings. Art somehow endures, even into the digital age. Partly because, as obnoxious as copyright law can be, this is exactly why it exists.

If you want to share something with other people but with certain restrictions, like them not being able to charge money for it, there's a Creative Commons license for that. If somebody violates the terms of your licensing (CC or otherwise), you have recourse under copyright law, and if that content is hosted on the Steam Workshop then Valve is going to have a legal obligation to help you protect your intellectual property.

Q: Isn't it unfair to have the game developer taking a cut of the mod sales?

A: Just like mod developers get to decide whether they want to release their mods for free, game developers get to decide whether they want to let other people use their engine for free. Mod developers put a lot of work into their projects, but they're still standing on the shoulders of giants -- there's a very good reason that most game developers try to use an existing game engine rather than building one from scratch, and it's very similar to the reason that so many game developers start off in mod development.

There are plenty of moddable games out there, and plenty of engines that are completely free to use -- if one particular game out of all of the other available options is the absolute best at what it does and it's the perfect fit for the mod you want to make, maybe that's worth paying for.

Q: I have questions or comments not addressed here.

A: Please leave your thoughts in the comment box below and await further instructions.

Sam Stafford refuses to write a bio. Get off his lawn.

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1 comment:

  1. Q: Don't I have the right to dictate what other people do that doesn't impact me financially or materially?

    Q: Why don't you have a bio?