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An Old School Modder's Take On Why Valve Should Bring Back Mods To The Workshop Storefront

Why I believe giving mod makers the ability to sell their work is healthy for the mod community in the long run.

Dwayne Douglass, Blogger

April 28, 2015

5 Min Read

Valve recently announced the ability for mod developers to sell their wares on their new Steam Workshop storefronts this weekend and the PC gaming apocalypse has come once again.  And after a overwelming negative response to the poorly handled roll-out Valve quickly reversed their decision.  It's currently unclear if they intend to rethink or revamp the system, but I would like to make the case that it should happen.  Efforts should be made to work out the kinks and bring it back because the underlying idea is a good one for the health of the mod community. 

PC gaming has benefitted from the mod scene for, dare I say, decades.  It's long been one of the strong distinctions between PC gaming and console gaming and has added value that is unavailable for console gaming for the most part.  Over the last few years with the indie scene taking off like a rocket, the mod scene has changed.   And while Valve's announcement caused some understandable fear and anger.  But it doesn't have to be that way.

I was the lead on a mod called Action Half-Life. As a long time modder in the early days of Half-Life (7+ years working on various Action mod versions) who watched longingly as peers crossed the boundary from mod to developer, (most notable, my fellow Action mod alum Minh Lee of Counterstrike fame,) I have to say I'm fan of this change in general. And slightly bummed it didn't exist 15 years ago. 

Mods have traditionally been free because you just plain couldn't make money on them.  It was nigh impossible without a publisher granting you entrance to the secret club.  Mod teams were often the subject of legal action as publishers didn't often know how to deal with this new 'mod scene'. But companies like ID and Valve were early champions of us lowly mod developers. ID released Quake II Extremities to get mods exposure and yet the mod teams involved did not get a cut. They got exposure.  Which at the time was coveted.  I see Valve's latest move as very similar to the Extremities experiment but this time the modders can take a cut for themselves.  This is a good thing. People should be paid for their work.

As for whether or not mods should remain free, I’m very much on the side that everyone should be able to sell their work if it can be made possible to do so.  I once had a "fan" rip me up one side and down the other that I didn't get an update out soon enough and he had the gall to tell me I OWED him because he was a fan of my game.  I owed him my free time.  My hard work.  My sacrifices I made to make the game.  Some of the outrage I’ve heard lately brought that memory bubbling back up to the surface.   Just because we didn't have the ability at the time to charge anything for our work doesn't mean our work was worthless. Quite the contrary as he explained to me.  But ultimately that is what it boils down if you begrudge that a person would charge for their work like any other tradesman. 

The mod scene has been and will continue to be changing anyway.  There are more opportunities all the time for a talented modder to ply their wares in places like the Unity store or the budding Unreal Marketplace. Or the multiple options for talented modders to step up and make a commercial game of their own with the Unreal Engine basically free now and the recently announced Source 3 going down a similar path.  Let alone the well-established Unity engine and more engines coming down the pipeline.  With so many opportunities to make money elsewhere the mod scene has already dwindled.  And now, times are changing once again. 

Those who have a passion and want to release their work for free will continue to do so.    If they are inclined to make a living with their passion but are prevented from doing so, eventually they'll go where they can. And that will have a far more negative effect on the mod scene than allowing those that choose to sell their work to do it.  It's not especially hard to go indie if you are already a modder.  Valve’s move could actually keep the mod scene alive for longer with the rise of indie games potentially luring mod talent away. 

All area of the arts that used to have gatekeepers like publishing, music, movies, gaming and even television have become more democrotized with the advent of self publishing.  Services like iTunes, Kindle, Steam and YouTube have permanently changed the arts.  For the better in my opintion.  Self publishing is only going to keep growing.  And mods have always been an extention of that same idea, in an area of the arts that is unique to gaming.

I think Valve's way is the smarter one in the long run for the health of the mod scene.  Which isn't surprising to me as Valve has always supported the mod scene and helped it to flourish.   I may be biased after they invited me to the first ever Half-Life Mod Expo (circa '99) and to E3 to show off our mod the same year.   They know who gives their games more value.   Despite how they rolled it out and their quick decision to reverse it, I believe this as an attempt by Valve at giving back to the mod community that gave them so much success while keeping while keeping the mod scene competetive with the ever growing indie scene.  As long as Valve can work out any kinks it should be a good thing for modders and consumers in the long run. 

Now they just need to figure out how to make it work.  



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