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Valve has long been a bastion of awesomeness in a sea of shady game developers. The company’s CEO, Gabe Newell, is celebrated with godlike reverence by PC gaming fans.
Unfortunately, that honeymoon period ended in dramatic fashion this week as Valve launched mod stores on Steam. Those mod stores let modders sell their wares instead of giving them away totally free of charge.
Games like Skyrim have already seen mods like “Blazing Ringsword” go up for sale for $0.25. Other DLC-like content is available for $1 to $5. All the content is published by independent modders – the same people who have traditionally given away their mods for free.
So far, Skyrim is the only game on Steam to receive a “Paid Mods” store.
Why This is a Problem
PC gamers have long loved mods. They love to rub mods in the faces of console gaming “peasants”. Mods let you blow up cars in Grand Theft Auto IV as Woody with an army of Buzz Lightyears at your back. In Skyrim, you can download free mods to make some of the most amazing homes in the world.
So why is it such a problem to celebrate the work of modders and reward them for their hard work? Here are some of the criticisms:
1) Modders Only Get a 25% Cut
Perhaps the biggest source of criticism is that the money made through mod sales isn’t funneled directly to the mods’ creators. Instead, Valve gives modders a 25% cut.
Many people have taken that to mean Valve is stealing 75% from each modder’s pocket. The reality, however, is that the 75% cut goes partly to Valve and partly to developers like Bethesda, the creator of Skyrim.
To put that number in perspective, stores like the Apple App Store give 70% of all sales revenue to developers. The Play Store charges the same 30% fee.
Valve doesn’t tell sellers how their money is split between Bethesda and Valve. It does, however, let sellers pick a charity of their choice to which Valve will donate on their behalf.
2) Mods Can Cause Compatibility Problems
Mods are free for a reason. They often have complicated install instructions. They might have serious compatibility flaws.
What happens if you buy $50 worth of mods – only to find that they break your game?
Mods have been popular among PC gamers for ages. But the free price obviously increases their popularity. Are PC gamers really willing to pay money for a product that isn’t always perfect?
Why This Isn’t a Problem
Some people are supporting Valve’s decision to charge for mods. They make arguments like:
1) This Will Encourage Better Mods
Will modders be more willing to develop high-quality mods if they get paid for their work? Dangle some cash in front of modders and they might be willing to spend a few hundred more hours on their work.
Good modders could even quit their jobs. Others could start their own game studio with the money they earn.
A good mod gets downloaded hundreds of thousands of times. Even when charging $1 and with 75% royalty fees, that can add up to a lot of money.
2) It’s Not a Lot of Money
Mods can add hours of entertainment onto a game. Some mods are so good they become more popular than the base game. Look at Dota. Look at Team Fortress. Look at Skyrim’s Falskaar, which added 80 hours of storyline to the game, complete with voice actors and an entirely new continent.
How much is your entertainment worth to you? You pay $60 for a game and might get 100 hours out of it. Is it really that much of a crime to pay $1 to $5 for a mod you really like?
Conclusion: What Do You Think?
Personally, I don’t see the problem with Valve selling mods for under $5. Some mod creators dedicate hundreds of hours to their work. They take time out of their lives and thoughtfully respond to user problems online.
They do all of this for free. How much harder are modders going to work if you dangle some cash in front of them?
Popular mods get downloaded millions of times. Modders who charge $1 for a small mod could potentially earn $300,000.
Sure, the 75% cut seems large, but based on all the criticism, I think Valve will reduce the royalty fee. Many people believe the fee should be reversed, giving 75% of revenue to modders and 25% to Valve and the developer. That seems reasonable. But what do I know?