Mods for Sale: Good News or Bad?

Steve Anderson : End Game
Steve Anderson
The Video Store Guy
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Mods for Sale: Good News or Bad?

A recent move by Steam has launched a firestorm of discussion on both sides of the aisle, and gotten some to wonder, what value is there in derivative works? For Steam, the value is fairly substantial, and is set to allow mod makers to offer up their modifications for pay.  But this may well spark a firestorm of ramifications, some of which some may not have seen coming.

Right now, the idea is limited to Skyrim, as Valve and Bethesda have gotten together to authorize the concept. Essentially, the idea is to allow those who make modifications to Skyrim--which can vary from new skins for characters to new weapons to whole new levels and storylines--to offer up the fruits of their labor for cash. Sounds like a great idea on the surface; independent developers get a chance to make some cash and free up time to make more developments, game studios get a legion of independent developers adding content to a game and giving it an extended shelf life, and players get to run their old favorites even longer. But when the rubber of this mod program meets the road of the real world, problems have emerged that have even some modders reconsidering.

First, there's a split between Bethesda / Valve and the modders, and it's rather heavily weighted against the indie developer. The developer gets just 25 percent of the take, while Valve and Bethesda share in the remaining 75 percent. Some might say that it's reasonable to give the copyright owner and the marketplace a slice of the take, but is there really any value in the indie developer offering up his or her work for just 25 percent of the sales?

Second, this doesn't help Bethesda any; mods give an old game new life, so why is Bethesda so eager to take the lion's share of the proceeds? Considering Bethesda hasn't exactly made a lot of friends with its refusal to talk Fallout 4, this isn't an endearing move.

Third, there's an issue of quality. Remember horse armor? Sure you do; Bethesda came up with it. Now imagine a mod community with five hundred shades and shapes of horse armor, all selling for $5 a crack. Now throw in swords. Armor. Bows. Shields. All those things that make up the Skyrim universe. This blows the doors open for microtransaction hell, and it doesn't make the modder community look good. It makes the modder community look as money-hungry as, well, as Bethesda and Valve look for taking 75 percent of the geetus.

Finally, perhaps worst of all, there's an even larger issue of quality. Some mods have a tendency to break a game and render it largely unplayable with the mod in place. With this new system, users won't be able to find out if this mod is a game breaker until after they've paid their money. While Steam has a 24 hour return policy for mods, it may well take longer than that to even find the bug in the first place. It's like buying a car in Camden on "My Name is Earl"; someone's given that car a "hillbilly tuneup" and it runs great for the first 48 hours...until you're about to go looking for America and you can't even get out of Camden. So you go looking to get your money back, and whoops! Time's up on that return policy. So sorry.

Others have pointed out things like game companies developing a tendency to release broken games, brushing issues aside with "Someone else'll mod it". Don't get me wrong; I love the modding idea. I wish it were available for console gaming. And I don't mind the idea of letting other people into the downloadable content market. But there's got to be a level of quality control, and there's got to be some kind of scale in terms of prices.

There are ways around this, of course; one, Bethesda and Valve get their collective grabby hands out of modders' pockets. I understand you own the marketplace and the IP involved, but for crying out loud, you're not doing any of the work with this! Switch it around, let the modders make you 25 percent of the take with minimal work on your part, and call it a day. Two: modders, if you're going to charge, make sure you've got a handle on the value. I don't mind paying a buck for a cool new weapon, especially if it's fun. Give me an M60, a gyrocopter, or a suit of Predator armor in Skyrim and I'll shell out just for the sheer fun of it. But I won't pay expansion pack prices for it. By like token, if you're adding a whole new storyline, I'll pay expansion pack prices.

The key thing here is that this market has to appeal to the customer base if it's going to really go anywhere. The return policy needs to be extended, vastly, to fit. The prices need to be properly aligned. And the modders' rewards need to fit effort. Otherwise, we don't have much of a reason to carry on here.

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