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Could commercial mods in Steam be a good thing? Why your next project should be a mod.

Valve has ignited a firestorm of controversy with their recent announcement that they will begin to roll out commercial modding. So far the new decision has had a very shaky start. But could the "End Game" of this wind up being very good in the long run?

Isaiah Gilliland, Blogger

April 27, 2015

6 Min Read

Valve recently made headlines with the announcement that they will begin allowing modders to charge for their content. As a result from this there has been a huge backlash from the gaming community when gamers began to find that once free mods were now behind a paywall. Some have even found shady types trying to sell content created for free by others. This was like a spark to gasoline and has ignited a barrage of angry gamers and content creators who found thieves profiting from their work. But what are the actual repercussions of this move by Valve? And, despite a shaky start, could this end up actually being a good thing in the long run?

The future? Maybe not.

The backlash has been pretty vocal. By browsing a popular gaming subreddit you will come across several angry threads directed at Valve. You will also find memes being posted ridiculing the change. Here are a few of the reactions:


This is seriously one of the scummier moves in gaming.

Don't. Buy. Any of them. I don't think it will work, but we should try to show them that nobody wants to be forced to pay for mods. Don't buy them.

That's why your pirate their work. And the authors will change their minds once everyone's getting their shit somewhere else.


It is up to the mods author whether there is a fee for their mod or not. So it isn't an "all mods are going to cost you money" type deal. You can still get them free its just up to the author. As well there are other ways to donate directly and avoid the 75% that valve would take if you did download a mod and want to donate.

These quotes were taken from this thread. For the most part the reaction appears to be all over the place from heated to accepting.

Now to my motivation for taking you're time today. I would propose that despite the backlash, these are steps that could revolutionize the gaming industry and in the end benefit gaming as a whole. Over the past several years, game development has become much friendlier to the community at large. We now have AAA game engines available for free, asset stores full of content (some free), and tutorials and good techniques are easier to find than ever before. I believe commercialized modding is a direct extension of this.


A New Market

The most important impact of Valve's move is that it legitimizes a once grey-area market that developers might have shied away from before. There are several commercial mods that have been sold before, but mostly outside the normal channels or only with a blessing from the original developer. This has limited mod creation mostly to a hobbyist field. With Valve's doing, there is now an open storefront for mods, treating them like first class citizens. Modding can now be a real commercial path available to all of us. And like any new market there will be teething pains, such as people overcharging and thieves trying to make a quick buck. It's possible, though, that this could be caused by a lack of competition and a lack of new policies and understanding of this new market. The biggest implication of this market could translate to better tools and editors for us as AAA developers realize this is a real option for additional income.


A Sustainable Option for Learning

Modding games has always been a great option for new developers to learn the ropes, but so far it's been very limiting. Not many people can afford to invest so much time and energy into making something for free. Many, instead, have jumped into making full games using engines created for professionals. Though this is very much a good thing, it has had the unintended consequence of thousands of low quality content flooding the marketplace made by inexperienced developers. With modding now commercialized, this is an easy route for those hopeful of become full developers. With the availability of tested systems like AI and already made assets newcomers can begin focusing on making better games before jumping fully in, while possibly making some money to support themselves in the process.


A Real Option For You

Now for all you experienced developers out there. How would you love to be able to tell a story in a game world you already love? I for one would love to get into the Skyrim Creation Kit and make my own entry into the series. Or better yet, it would be fantastic to be able to focus on my own epic rpg story without having to reinvent the wheel. It would be fantastic to focus on the story I want to tell and utilize an established dialog system, ready made assets, and an AI system. Now imagine that you can make a career out of this or even a profit. The pluses are evident; less grunt work, already made assets, the ability to focus on higher quality content, and the availability of an already existing audience. At the current rate a modder would receive 25% of profit, if the benefits at least allow a reduction to 1/4 the time it takes to make an original game this is a pretty decent cut. (Also note that this number can be changed by the original creators and will differ between games).



This is a very interesting time to be a developer. There are definitely teething issues happening in this new market. As well as new questions regarding decent percentages, new policies, and regulations. At the end game I believe this could result in an explosion of creativity unseen since the explosion of the indie market. "Modder" could actually become a career choice among us, with popular modders building a following for their work. Older games could live on indefinitely as its community adds on to its universe. And, best of all, we as developers have a new commercial path open to us to explore existing worlds we love.

There's still many questions floating in the air. Who ends up owning the mod? How will we navigate through low-effort content? How will overpriced content be brought down to a reasonable pricing? Will people end up buying mods that break? Is a 24 hour return policy enough? It's possible that these questions and problems could be fixed simply from developers like us getting into the game. As quality content from developers begins to appear, could the market begin to balance itself? Would prices begin to even out? With the current implementation as Valve has it, an open market, it's really up to us developers how this plays out.

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