Rock, Paper, Shotgun - email@example.com (Graham Smith)
Robin Scott started building websites to support the modding community in 2001 when he was 14-years-old. In 2007, he started a company to support his site, TES Nexus, as it became the main source for distributing Oblivion mods, and today Nexus Mods hosts “115,674 files for 173 games” and has almost 9 million registered users. If anyone knows what the modding community cares about, and exactly what mods can do for the good of games and gamers, it’s him.
In the wake of Steam’s inclusion of paid-for mods, and just a few hours before their eventual removal, I spoke to Scott about whether creators should be able to charge for mods, how he would have done things differently, and what any of this means for the future of the Nexus. Even in the wake of Valve pulling the system down (for presumed later return), his thoughts are an interesting look at the issues at hand
RPS: Firstly, what do you feel about paid mods in theory? Ignoring their current implementation, do you think there’s a way to do it that good for both developers, mod creators and mod players? Are mods something which should be free on principle?
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - firstname.lastname@example.org (Alice O'Connor)
Valve are known for their odd experiments, from Team Fortress 2 hats to – heck! – Steam itself, but they tend to roll with them no matter what the reception, polishing these oddities up with force of will and years of refinement. Their plan to support selling mods through Steam, however, has gone back to the drawing board.
They launched a pilot scheme last week with Skyrim, and had planned to start letting other devs enable paid mods for their own games if they wished. Instead, they’ve removed paid mods from Skyrim, refunded everyone who bought mods, and confessed that “it’s clear we didn’t understand exactly what we were doing.”
[Update: Despite Bethesda publishing this post defending paid Skyrim mods only an hour ago, the program has since been pulled from Steam following discussions with Valve. The original story can be found below, we'll have more as it breaks.]
To put it lightly, the rollout of paid Skyrim mods on Steam hasn't been without pain. An awful lot of people think mods should be universally free, a point they're making by gumming up the works with silliness; others have objected to the relatively small slice of the pie—25 percent—that mod makers will earn on the sales of their creations. But Bethesda says its early discussions with Valve confirmed "quite clearly" that allowing mod makers to earn money on their work boosted both the quality and the quantity of the mods available to gamers.
"We have a long history with modding, dating back to 2002 with The Elder Scrolls Construction Set," it wrote in a new Bethesda Blog post. "It s our belief that our games become something much more with the promise of making it your own." There are downsides: The availability of mods is one of the reasons Oblivion was re-rated from T to M, "costing us millions of dollars," it continued. Even so, "while others in the industry went away from it, we pushed more toward it."
The initial discussions between Bethesda and Valve actually began in 2012, and right from the outset it insisted that the Marketplace had to be open rather than curated. "At every step along the way with mods, we have had many opportunities to step in and control things, and decided not to," it wrote. "We wanted to let our players decide what is good, bad, right, and wrong. We will not pass judgment on what they do."
The post confirmed that Valve gets 30 percent of all mod sales, which it described as "standard across all digital distribution services." Bethesda itself takes 45 percent, and the mod makers gets the remaining 25 percent. But it denied that the relatively steep take represents some kind of "money grabbing scheme," noting that mod sales, even during the past weekend when Skyrim was free, made up less than one percent of its total Steam revenues. At the same time, while the 25 percent cut "has been operating on Steam successfully for years," it left open the door for adjustments, saying, "If it needs to change, we'll change it."
Most people don t know, but our very own Skyrim DLC has zero DRM. We shipped Oblivion with no DRM because we didn t like how it affected the game
As for the long term impact of paid mods, Bethesda acknowledged that there is the potential for damage but said most of the implications are positive. "Not only do we want more mods, easier to access, we re anti-DRM as far as we can be. Most people don t know, but our very own Skyrim DLC has zero DRM. We shipped Oblivion with no DRM because we didn t like how it affected the game," it wrote. "There are things we can control, and things we can t. Our belief still stands that our community knows best, and they will decide how modding should work. We think it s important to offer choice where there hasn t been before."
Our own Tyler Wilde gave some early opinion on the good and bad of paid mods last week, and we also published a guest editorial on the matter from a modder earlier today. Meanwhile, Garry's Mod creator Garry Newman and Gabe Newell have weighed in on the matter, but despite their positive takes the petition demanding an end to paid mods has climbed to more than 130,000 signatures. Offering choice is good, but this is clearly going to be a hard sell for both Bethesda and Valve.
There's something oddly enjoyable about camping in a game. Walk off into the woods, erect a tent, build a campfire, and sit and gaze at the flames as the world around you slowly grows dark. It's serene, comforting, and a nice change from all the dragon slaying and dungeon crawling.
Skyrim has a few camping mods already, most notably Frostfall, which brings a harsh and challenging survival theme to Skyrim. The Campfire mod, however, is more about simply creating an immersive and enjoyable camping experience.
Through the use of some new survival spells, you begin by gathering materials like deadwood, branches, and stones (bring a woodsman's axe with you). You don't have to manually hunt around for materials—I kinda wish you did, actually—but you select the item you want to gather, and then you're told how much you found. A little time passes each time you search, to represent your gathering efforts.
Once you've done some gathering, you can place your campfire on the ground in front of you. It'll be a fragile campfire, which won't last long, but by adding kindling to it, it'll level up into a better campfire, suitable for a few hours of cooking. Feed some more fuel to the fire and it'll grow bigger, providing a comforting warmth that will give you a bonus to skill gains for the next several hours. Your followers can also join you in sitting by the fire.
In addition to campfires, the mod comes with some camping gear, like tents and tanning racks (these were in Frostfall as well, I believe). Campfire also has backpacks that dynamically represent your camping gear. For instance, if you have a bedroll, cooking pot, and axe, you'll see these items on your back. How cool is that? While Campfire is not currently compatible with Frostfall, it sounds like the next version of Frostfall will support it.
You can use Campfire without SKSE and SkyUI, but as always, those two mods will enhance your experience and allow you to customize your settings. Interestingly, you can also download a devkit for Campfire if you're interested in creating your own custom camping gear. There's even a few tutorials to help you get started.
In yet another sign that the universe is unfolding as it should, yesterday's announcement that Valve will now allow modders to sell their creations on Steam has led to an influx of "protest mods" with high prices, low content, and some admittedly amusing descriptions.
Take, for instance, the Extra Apple mod, currently priced at $35. It does exactly what it promises: adds an extra apple to the counter in The Bannered Mare. Or the Rubbish Bucket DLC, which provides a bucket for your rubbish—or at least it will, when it's done. Currently it's in Early Access, and instead of a bucket it's just a pile of wood on the floor. But you can put your rubbish on it! As long as you've installed the Rubbish Mod, that is, which will set you back another $3.
To clarify, these mods are not actually available for purchase just yet. As Valve explained yesterday, new paid mods must first be posted without a purchase option, in order to give the community time to examine them and call out any abusive or stolen content. And while some of the mods in the queue appear legit—Light Armor Clothing, for instance—the bulk of them seem intended to make a statement; some, like the Micro Transactions mod, even include a link to the petition calling on Valve to drop paid mods altogether.
A few of these mods are funny, but they also have the potential to gum up the works. Some are obviously not meant to be taken seriously, but with others it's much harder to tell: The Chicken Companion, as an example, is literally a chicken wearing a Dragonborn helmet. It looks legit (and awesome!), but... well, it's a chicken in a Dragonborn helmet. You tell me.
The maker of the Rubbish mod said it took him about 30 minutes to learn enough of the Creation Kit to get the job done, then add the items and upload it to Steam. That's not an especially heavy investment of time, which means that if enough users are sufficiently committed to the cause, they'll be able to bury the system with crap in relatively short order. Bethesda stated that neither it nor Valve will be curating the mods for sale on the workshop. While they may be relying on the community to flag objectionable mods, in the end, they may have no choice but to step in and police the mods themselves.
The creator of Art of the Catch, the paid Skyrim mod that was removed from Steam earlier today, has posted a lengthy message on Reddit in which he says he didn't "steal content" to make the mod. In fact, while he acknowledged that using content from the Fores New Idles in Skyrim mod without permission was "a bit crappy," he claims that Valve told him specifically that creating a mod dependent on another mod's content would not cause any problems.
The mod maker, going by the name "Chesko," wrote in the post that Valve invited him to take part in the rollout of the paid mods program about a month and a half before it went live. He knew there would be backlash, but he also believed that "there was an opportunity to take modding to 'the next level,' where there are more things like Falskaar in the world because the incentive was there to do it." And while he wasn't happy with the 25 percent cut being offered to modders by Valve/Bethesda, he decided to take part because "it was an experiment I was willing to at least try."
The complexities of modding, compressed by the tight deadline, led to "a lot of questions surrounding the use of tools and contributed assets, like FNIS, SKSE, SkyUI, and so on," he wrote. Because of that, he reached out to Valve to determine what was and wasn't permissible, and was told, "I am not a lawyer, so this does not constitute legal advice. If you are unsure, you should contact a lawyer. That said, I spoke with our lawyer and having mod A depend on mod B is fine—it doesn't matter if mod A is for sale and mod B is free, or if mod A is free or mod B is for sale."
That's where things start to get murky. Instead of contacting a lawyer, as it now seems he should have, Chesko went ahead and and built the Art of the Catch mod, which requires a separate, free animation package that contains an FNIS behavior file.
"Was this a risky, perhaps bold, thing to go ahead with? Yes. Was it a bit crappy of me? Also yes," he wrote. "But it was a risk I took, and the outcome was largely dependent on the FNIS author's reaction to the situation. He was not happy, so I took steps to resolve it. I did not 'steal animations' or 'steal content'." He added that he's been in contact with Fore, the maker of FNIS, and that they've smoothed things out.
But he's also been in contact with a lawyer from Valve, who clarified that, in accordance with policies outlined yesterday, the mod, and Chesko's other work, will be marked as unpurchasable but will not actually be removed from the Workshop, despite his demand that it all be taken down completely.
"He stated that they will not remove the content unless 'legally compelled to do so,' and that they will make the file visible only to currently paid users," he wrote. "I am beside myself with anger right now as they try to tell me what I can do with my own content. The copyright situation with Art of the Catch is shades of grey, but in Arissa 2.0's case, it's black and white; that's 100% mine and Griefmyst's work, and I should be able to dictate its distribution if I so choose."
For now, Chesko's work, minus the Art of the Catch, remains available on the Skyrim Nexus.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - email@example.com (Alec Meer)
It used to be that the only way to make money from a mod was a) make a standalone sequel or remake b) use it as a portfolio to get hired by a studio or c) back in the pre-broadband days, shovel it onto a dodgy CD-ROM (and even then, it almost certainly wasn’t the devs who profited). As of last night, that changed. Mod-makers can now charge for their work, via Steam.
Chesko's Fishing Mod is now the holder of a dubious record: it's the first paid-for Skyrim mod to be removed from sale.
An early test for Valve's unique policing methods, the removal came off the back of claims Chesko and aqqh — the fishing mod's creators — were profiting from the work of fellow modder Fore without the latter's permisison.
See, the fishing mod used assets from Fore's New Idles in Skyrim — fine in the world of free mods, but not something that's kosher in the world of for-profit modding.
Screengrabs were, of course, grabbed before things went quiet on the Workshop page:
And since then — well, see for yourself: the mod is gone, and there are just a few confused people milling around, wondering what this brave new world of paid mods holds for them.
We're still in super-early days and teething issues like this are sure to occur, but it does serve as a warning shot to the Old Way of modding. Just make sure you've got permission if you want to sell the thing, okay?
Today, Valve announced that modders can sell their mods on the Steam Workshop. The program requires participation from the game's publisher (by default, most don't allow profit from user-created content), and the first to take the leap is Bethesda, which as of today is letting Skyrim mods be sold and purchased on Steam.
The announcement has not been met well. The broad reaction is that Bethesda and Valve have, to summarize, 'killed the modding community.' It's that, or ASCII art of a middle finger.
I don't think modding is dead, but there are a lot of potential problems with selling mods on Steam. As Bethesda notes in its announcement, this open market "will not be curated." Practically, I don't think a company the size of Valve could ever hope to curate Skyrim's modding scene, but I also worry about an entirely hands-off approach. The lack of curation on Steam proper has lead to some ripe garbage—including games with stolen assets—being sold to people who expect at least some baseline level of quality. I expect it to get even worse on the Skyrim Workshop. The modding scene has always shared work—respectfully when credit is given—but now that money's on the line asset theft becomes a more serious kind of theft.Then there are the crappy knock-off mods, the compatibility issues, and the just plain bad stuff. It could become a mess of differently priced versions of the same thing.
At least Steam will offer refunds within 24 hours of purchasing a mod from the Workshop. I think that time limit should be extended, though. It isn't always immediately apparent that a mod has done what you want it to do, and experimenting with them, or combinations of them, now becomes a race against your refund.
But none of this is why the early outrage has been so hot. The complaint is more philosophical than that: exchanging money feels to many like it runs counter to the culture of modding. Modding feels like it isn't supposed to be about money. Until now, it's been about passionate fans making stuff that makes games more fun, and then sharing those things so we can all have more fun. It's about taking control away from publishers and developers and making their products our canvases. It's passion, not capitalism that drives modders. And now Bethesda and Valve are inviting the rebels into the boardroom—come in here, dear boy, have a cigar—and a lot of PC gamers are looking on in disgust.
I'm also uneasy about all that, but before I raise my own ASCII finger, I want to give this a chance. First of all, we're not stopped from finding free mods elsewhere. For Skyrim especially, Steam Workshop has been about convenience more than anything. Skyrim Nexus is not gone, and having the choice to instead throw as little as 99 cents at a pay-what-you-want mod on Workshop doesn't distress me (unless, as I fear above, the original creator isn't earning from it). It also isn't unprecedented. Team Fortress 2, for instance, has not killed modding. Many of its player-made additions are fantastic, and they cost money, and the great PC gaming fortress has not crumbled and collapsed.
By paying for mods, we can directly offer an incentive to talented modders—people who have jobs and families and all kinds of things they could be doing other than making mods for us—and potentially help encourage ever more talented groups to undertake massive projects such as Endral. And, if we assume that Valve and the game's publisher take a cut (exact details are unconfirmed, but we're investigating), it could add incentive for publishers to include mod support. One of the biggest things stopping them, I think, is that the people in charge of making money can't assign a profit figure to mod tools. Perhaps now developers will be able to make a stronger case. Instead of banking on DLC, they can allow the selling of mods, and make that money with the community instead of just from it. Daybreak has taken an approach like that with its PlayerStudio.
I'm concerned with Valve's execution of this, and I don't want the Steam Marketplace to become host to a thousand 99 cent Skyrim Flappy Bird mods. I also don't want modders to get screwed, to have their free work stolen and sold, or to make so little on mod sales that the whole thing only benefits publishers. But I don't outright reject it.
It doesn't feel right to celebrate when great modders get job offers from developers, but then balk at the idea of supporting them directly. I love a good success story, in which great talent leads to a good living, but should I be content always letting someone else provide the living while I ride for free? Now that I have the option to support modders directly, I have trouble taking the stance that I shouldn't—at best, it makes me feel like a tightwad, and at worst, unappreciative and disingenuous. So, if a paid mod is good enough, I'll pay for it, and I hope that works out in everyone's favor. And if it doesn't work, it won't take off and we'll be back to where we were yesterday. Modding doesn't need Valve to live, so Valve can't kill it.
We’ve had a long and excellent relationship with our good friends at Valve. We worked together to make the Workshop a huge part of Skyrim, and we’re excited that something we’ve been working together on for a long time is finally happening. You can now charge for the mods you create.
Unlike other curated games on Steam that allow users to sell their creations, this will be the first game with an open market. It will not be curated by us or Valve. It was essential to us that our fans decide what they want to create, what they want to download, and what they want to charge.
Many of our fans have been modding our games since Morrowind, for over 10 years. They now have the opportunity to earn money doing what they love – and all fans have a new way to support their favorite mod authors. We’ve also updated Skyrim and the Creation Kit with new features to help support paid mods including the ability to upload master files, adding more categories and removing filesize limit restrictions.
What does this mean for you?
As a modder, you now have the option of listing your creations at a price determined by you. Or, you can continue to share your projects for free. For those shopping for new mods, Valve is making sure you can try any mod risk free. See Refund Policy.
Modding has been important to all our games for such a long time. We try to create worlds that come alive and you can make your own, but it’s in modding where it truly does. Thanks again for all your incredible support over the years. We hope steps like this breathe new life into Skyrim for everyone.