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Give Paid Mods A Chance

Paid mods are the realization of Valve's master plan. Don't be so hasty to burn the concept of paid mods at the stake - it's worth making it work.

James Moak, Blogger

April 27, 2015

7 Min Read

Written before Paid Mods in Skyrim were pulled.

       The paid mods debacle (ModGate?) has been generating a lot of fuss recently, from modders angry about the loss of collaboration to the moddees who are afraid their favorite mods will go behind a paywall. To start, I myself am a modder, and have been for 6 years. I’ve been involved in some HL2 total conversions (all of which died as people left for actual $$$), and I’ve enjoyed most of my success through GMod with free workshop mods and paid server mods. I support the hell out of paid mods, and I think you should as well. Hear what I have to say, I hope it makes sense:

        I believe in a future of digital software where the line between producers and consumers are blurred so much that there is no distinction. I personally believe that turning as much as possible into creative platforms and monetizing that will result in more activity, content, and higher quality. I can’t really prove anything with Skyrim until it happens, but all the anecdotal evidence I’ve seen points in this direction: unity’s asset store, UE4’s asset store, GMod, Dota2, TF2, CSGO, etc have caused only good things since they have had paid user-created content (even if not done through the workshop, for example GMod, which has a large paid community!). Because of this, I even suspect CSGO will go free to play sooner than later.

        Through easily moddable titles like Skyrim and GMod, that platform for wild content creation exists – but incentives don’t exist necessarily beyond admiration and subscriber count. Valve wants more people making content, which is why they want monetization. This will drive quality and quantity through the roof, so bored people like me won’t be the only ones making mods.

        It’s scary as shit as a consumer. Like, all these awesome mods that are free will turn around and become paid, right? All my favorite modders will make cheap cash-grabs now right? Well to be honest GMod has had paid mods for years, and this has had no effect on free content.

        Servers pay coders to be their personal coder, sometimes a lot of money based on the size of the server. The guy who made Pointshop, which is on virtually every TTT (a GMod gamemode) server made a website for other skilled coders to sell their work. There, I’ve sold mods for TTT (mods of a mod of a mod, talk about platforms!) and made several hundred dollars, since server owners wanted to outdo their peers with exclusive content. Having that as an option motivated me to add features I was too lazy to add. Players on servers with my paid content loved them, and the server owners would thank me for my work – all of which 100% would never have existed without the motivation to sell it.

        In support of my argument, the site even supported mods for vanilla GMod (sandbox gamemode), but nobody cared. Nobody would charge money for “Billy’s Spell Pack 4″, or “Sange” as a weapon and expect to get anything but at most two sales from it. Hell, having that downloaded 1000 times on the free workshop was worth more simply in the cred and warm fuzzies you get. Coderhire.com, the website in question, went down a while back – but the average free GMod mod downloader didn’t notice it’s rise or fall – Even with this very active paid ecosystem, GMod pumped out free things all the time. Each modder making quality content knew they’d be laughed at for asking money for Fishing mod 2, and rightfully so. People buy content worthy of their money, not garbage, and a billion garbages are never equal to one quality piece of content (except for the mobile game market, but that’s different since it’s advertisement and exploitation based etc, which is another argument for later).

        Once again, the equilibrium GMod obtained with paid content consisted of people charging for server HUDs, Pointshop-level addons, backend work, big meaningful things. NOT “billy’s spell pack 3″ for $5.

        Anyway today, all my mods are free, and any new ones will be. It isn’t worth the hassle of supporting them for the peanuts I get. At least with free mods I get children telling me I’m cool, and it melts my fucking heart because I was like them years and years and years ago!

        These mistakes that have been made by Valve’s implementation doesn’t mean we should remove compensation as a concept altogether – and seriously, it has lots of problems. Just spend five minutes on reddit or another forum if you want more details.

        The modder should be able to choose to sell, not forced to release for free. Likewise, Valve is providing an avenue for monetization, not an order to monetize. Nobody has ever officially made a path for mods to be monetized before, EVER, and in my opinion it’s beautiful. If GMod could remain the same all these years with a large, profitable behind the scenes paid community, why can’t others? Don’t try to harass Valve into removing paid mods – a lot of modders I know would love to have a safe place and market to sell content, so why can’t let we choose to sell things? Why must the community sign a petition, demanding not that Valve redo their system, but that Valve explicitly remove paid mods and never ever ever try it again because a modder’s time is worth 0 no matter how good their work is.

        Through power plays like this, Valve has historically have dragged us forward. Digital distribution exists because of them. Other publishers couldn’t because Gamestop and brick and mortar stores carried their games. If they opened a digital store, Gamestop would threaten to stop carrying their products, and that’s the end of the story. Valve had no obligations, and saw a chance to change everything. They made steam, and for a while it worked only partially, but now it’s always 3-4 steps ahead of anything else. Origin exists only because EA had to step into the digital market if they didn’t want to hand over their PC market to Valve. Valve drove innovation, and they continue to do so. All the work they’ve done with VR? They did it cause they felt PC wasn’t moving forward fast enough. They’ve experimented with custom inputs for computers – after all, mice and keyboard have been around for too long, why haven’t we found something better? Something must exist they reason, and they begin looking. That thinking is what leads them to digital distribution, to steam sales, to popularizing free-to-play games in the West (while probably not the first, TF2 going free was a huge shock – usually these types of games existed in the eastern market). Paid mods are the final step of their master plan – make everyone a producer/consumer, drive the value everyone gets in a piece of software infinitely high through a cycle of positive sums. Everything is free to develop for, to play. All proceeds made through this user created content. It’s crazy and beautiful, and they even tried convincing Adobe to implement it with Photoshop (they told them to implement free-to-play mechanics, which by Valve’s implementation means user created content driving value, like Unity’s current system or UE4’s.)

        With digital content, I believe this is possible. So if you’re reading this and you’re worried about the end of mods as we know it, everything will be fine. There will be controversy. There will be scandals. But the modding community will make something beautiful, and I promise you because I believe deep down that this is the best way to move forward, that things will be better for it.

Valve and new PC input experiments: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/206381/Watch_a_Valve_engineer_experiment_with_his_mouse_butt_controllers.php

Valve and Photoshop: http://www.engadget.com/2012/07/25/gabe-newell-windows-8-is-a-catastrophe-adobe-should-try-hat/


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