After days of vitriol from the gaming community (a community that knows its vitriol), Steam’s plan to have gamers pay for mods for ever-popular role-playing game The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim has come to an end. What started as an attempt by Steam to see its most popular modders rewarded for their work has crashed and burned amid cries of greed from its typically fanatical fan base. A post from Steam’s Alden Kroll declared the end of the payment option for Skyrim mods. According to Kroll, “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.”
He couldn’t have been more right about that last bit. To understand the fire, you have to understand the gaming community’s near-Universal love of a little series called The Elder Scrolls. Created by powerhouse developer Bethesda Softworks, whose motto is, “Live another life, in another world,” The Elder Scrolls has been delighting audiences since the first installment, Arena, dropped in 1994. The premise of the series is simple and uniform: you are a person in a fantasy world. That’s it. Sure, there’s usually an overarching quest (and it’s usually epic as sh*t), but the real draw lies in the freedom offered by the worlds so lovingly crafted by the folks at Bethesda.
Even the most extensive world has its limits, though. In spite of the fact that Bethesda’s universe is probably the most in-depth in the world of games, eventually gamers run out of content. That’s where mods come in. If you’re playing The Elder Scrolls, or pretty much any game, on a PC, then once you’re done with the base game you can tap into an extensive community of people who have crafted additions to the core experience. These amateurs spend countless hours adding aspects to the game that aim to extend its lifespan and increase enjoyability. For example, in the nearly four years since The Elder Scrolls’ latest entry, Skyrim, was released, computer graphics have grown by leaps and bounds. Modders have responded by putting out game mods that add texture and detail to the world, that make characters look more human and that add weather effects, just to name a few. For those who are in search of new adventures, ambitious creators have added entire new areas to the Skyrim map. Typically, these additions to the game are completely free.
That all changed on April 23, when one of the Internet’s most popular gaming sites, Valve’s Steam platform, decided to let modders charge money for Skyrim mods. At the time, Valve’s Tom Bui told IGN, “We think this is a great opportunity to help support the incredible creative work being done by mod makers in the Steam Workshop.” That optimism was short-lived. In mere hours, Steam’s community lambasted the decision, calling Steam’s parent company, Valve, the worst kinds of insults. That’s saying something, because video gamers know their way around a slam.
Even the iconic co-founder of Valve, Gabe Newell, wasn’t immune to the backlash. His attempts to respond to the controversy on Reddit were met with a rage he probably hasn’t encountered in the real world since he left Microsoft. The top most comment reads: “If you are looking for Gabe’s Comments you will need to look at his profile as he is getting downvoted so much.” A note to Reddit virgins: getting downvoted, that’s a bad thing.
When he announced the end of the payment option, Kroll was sure to include the company’s justifications for the plan. He went on to add, “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 [and] paid.”
If the comments section is any indication, Steam users don’t buy it. By an almost staggering majority, the community seemed to believe that the decision was a straight up cash grab on the part of Steam. Among the potential solutions offered by the community (“get rekt” was a really popular option), most people seemed to believe that some kind of a “Donate” button was the best choice moving forward. Hey, it worked for Wikipedia.
Given Valve’s track record, it’s tempting to believe that they really did have both their modders and their community in mind when implementing the pay model. After all, if an amateur developer is delivering studio quality work to gamers, don’t they deserve to be appropriately compensated? It’s easy to say that Valve is just trying to squeeze a dime out of their user base, but nothing in their history points to making money as their primary motivation. In a world where all but the biggest game developers are scrounging for funds, Valve is an oasis in the desert, and it’s made that money by giving a voice to the little guy and keeping their users’ interests at heart. Why would anyone expect that to change now?
If you’re new to the modding world, check out the attached slideshow for some of the best amateur creations on the web.